You probably haven’t heard about Fortnite, which is a video game that...
I’m totally kidding. Of course, you’ve heard of it. Despite it having a “Teen” rating similar to a PG-13 movie we recently let our 10-year-old jump into the fray.
Yes, Fortnite is a “shooter game” where players try to eliminate one another. But the violence isn’t as in-your-face as other franchises like Call of Duty. Players spend most of their time looking for resources — weapons, sure, but also building materials that let them craft elaborate structures to find more resources and to defend themselves in the late stages of the game.
There’s a playfulness to it that lightens the whole thing up considerably. For instance, my son’s most recent “quest” had him running around the island looking for cakes to dance in front of. The whole thing is like a "Survivor"/Minecraft mash-up where all the characters are dressed for a punk production of "Hairspray."
As a disciplinary tool, Fortnite is great. The mere threat of losing a gaming session is often enough to curtail behavior that’s headed in the wrong direction.
If you’re considering letting your kids play or if they’re already playing but you don’t know what it's about, be sure to check out some in-game footage on YouTube.com or Twitch.tv. If you’re okay with what you see and decide to let your kids play, you should first deal with the profanity-spewing elephant in the room: the in-game voice chat, which is the worst thing about the game.
While playing, you can hear the voices of other players (mostly kids) while they play. And they must be playing unsupervised because let me tell you, it sounds like drunken Tourette’s-afflicted sailors on shore leave telling inappropriate ethnic jokes. Yes, it’s that bad.
My advice: Before you let your child play, go to the "Settings" menu, find the "Audio" tab and click “Voice Chat Off.” (Look online to find the way to do it for your particular electronic device.) Then queue up a game yourself to make sure the voice chat is disabled.
I should add that there are some definite plusses to our Fortnite adventure. We made our son earn the right to play by proving he was mature enough to handle it: That meant extra chores but, more importantly, he had to start watching his language and acting better around the house. Let me tell you, being allowed to play this game was a motivator on par with mentioning Santa Claus in December.
Fortnite can be free-to-play (called Battle Royale, and that’s the one your kids will want), but our little gamer wanted to purchase a “Battle Pass” which lets you unlock and upgrade your character more quickly, so we made him use his own money for that.
As a disciplinary tool, Fortnite is also great. The mere threat of losing a gaming session is often enough to curtail behavior that’s headed in the wrong direction.
There’s another plus too, one that’s pretty minor, but I am enjoying watching my son learn the game. As with picking up any new task, he’s developing new skills and testing his problem-solving ability.
I’ve watched him figure out spatially where to build structures to help him finish specific tasks as well as suss out new tactics to improve his overall gameplay. Sessions are often like a crash course in game theory and behavioral science rolled into one. Another positive thing is that my son loves to talk about the game, so it’s definitely a way to keep the lines of communication open.
The most important thing to remember — and this is my personal golden rule of parenting — is to do what’s right for your child. Don’t allow your kids to do something just because other parents decided it’s okay for their kids. My kids aren’t allowed to watch PG-13 superhero movies even though it seems like most of their friends are. When our oldest is playing Fortnite, the younger two aren’t allowed to watch, because we decided it isn’t appropriate for them.
As with any new thing your child wants to try, do a little homework first and be sure to set limits. And if you do decide to let your kids participate in the Fortnite phenomenon, make sure to turn off that in-game chat.