I host a series called “Boymom Video Game Hacks” on my Instagram account, @boymoms_unite — tips and videos to help parents set reasonable limits and educate themselves & their kids about video games. Find the full series here: #boymom_videogamehacks
Let's talk about the big elephant in the room when it comes to video games: FORTNITE. This game is everywhere — I see it on backpacks at my kids' school, watch people doing the dances, listen to my friends talk about how they can't get their kid to stop playing it. What's the big deal? Well, let me tell you.
What IS Fortnite?
Fortnite is a third-person shooter game with "cartoon style" violence. You can play it on every type of video game console, PCs and Macs, and phones and tablets. More than 200 million players have registered with the game since it debuted in 2017.
Does it cost money to play Fortnite?
Fortnite is a free game BUT when you play, there are "vanity items" (funny new clothes, rare weapons) you can buy for a couple bucks a pop. Seems like a pretty flimsy business model but guess what — Fornite has made over $2.4 BILLION (that's billion with a B). That's more than EVERY single blockbuster movie in history except one (Avatar, FYI) — in less than 2 years! Yikes.
What is Fortnite about?
The premise is this: 100 players are dropped onto an island and fight each other until one person is left. Weapons & resources are hidden around the island that you're supposed to find as you explore & defend yourself. A lot of it is super silly — cartoon-like graphics, space suits, dinosaur outfits, players doing The Floss. (If you've seen a kid do this dance, you have Fortnite to thank.) Despite not having "blood & gore" — you're still shooting & killing people. The game is recommended for ages 13+.
Why do kids love Fortnite so much?!
Fortnite is appealing to kids on multiple levels. It’s full of bright colors and cool characters — it’s funny and silly and entertaining. Then there’s the social aspect: you can play alone or team up with friends or groups, via the internet. Players can talk remotely to each other through headsets — for a lot of kids this is how they now "hang out" with friends. Kids love to play it AND they love to watch others play it — Fortnite is the highest-rated game on streaming services like Twitch. Kids, especially boys, spend a TON of time on Fortnite, as you may have observed firsthand.
Is Fortnite addictive?
I don’t think there’s anything particularly sinister about Fortnite that would make it more addictive than other video games, besides the obvious appeal to kids. (Despite a few seriously disturbing news articles like the one about the girl who peed her pants because she was so into playing Fortnite or the boy who logged in 12 hours a day. OMG.)
All video games, however, hijack the brain in certain ways and deliver a dopamine reward whenever you “succeed.” This is especially appealing to boys, who have a natural inclination toward conquering and building. As with ALL screen time activities, Fortnite needs to be enjoyed in moderation and with limits in place to keep kids safe.
How do I set parental limits for Fortnite?
First, learn all you can about Fortnite — a good resource is The Parents’ Ultimate Guide to Fortnite from Common Sense Media. Studying the effects of video games in general is always a good idea too — I’ve saved a bunch of my favorite articles and research on my Screen Time board on Pinterest.
The MOST important thing, in my opinion, is to talk with your kids about the real risks and issues involved with video games. If left unchecked, kids will play way too much — we might even let them because we don’t want to deal with the tech tantrums that come when they turn it off! — and this gets in the way of sleep, homework, creativity, actual real-life friends, chores, and your family’s culture. Set limits as a family, discuss why you have the limits and make sure your kids know that real life comes before gaming.
Once you’ve reviewed the game and decide to allow it in your home, try these tools to help you keep the Fortnite monster in check:
Limit who your child plays with. Go to Settings > Privacy and set it to “Privacy: Private” or “Privacy: Friends.” Check their Friend list regularly to be sure you know who they are. Open chat & open play mean that your child could be exposed to inappropriate language, mature content, or sketchy people (there have been reports of people grooming young boys for abuse & trafficking via Fortnite, ugh) — so regulating WHO they are playing with is a big step in monitoring this.
Don’t give them a headset. That’s how they communicate with friends & other players, but if you don’t let them have a headset or ear phones — they can see, but they won’t be able to hear.
Keep them in Battle Royale mode & tell them they can play X number of rounds. This is where the game is played in <20 minute rounds, so there’s a natural stopping point. If they’re in Creative mode, it’s just an open & indefinite playground — they could keep going forever, which definitely sets you up for battles (no pun intended) about when to stop.
Set time limits. Kids can easily get sucked into Fortnite, but helping them recognize regular times to shut it down is helpful. You can set a time limit on iPhones or iPads / set playing limits on monitoring devices like Circle by Disney / turn off your WiFi when their turn is up.
The internet is THE way this game is played. No internet = no Fortnite. Don’t be afraid to be a mean parent and shut it down if your kid is abusing your family’s rules.
I’ve got videos on my Instagram (tap the “Fortnite” highlight bubble) that show you exactly how to implement these tactics. I hope this post helps you make smart decisions about how and when your kids use Fortnite in your home!
Follow me on Instagram for more conversation about video games and kids.