What is Fortnite?
Fortnite is the latest gaming phenomenon sweeping the world. Children worldwide are obsessed with this game and parents worldwide are stuggling to manage the time that their children spend on it. Recent reports state that there are 125 million players of this game, and up to 3 million concurrent users at any point in time.
Fortnite is a ‘Battle Royal’ style of game, available on various platforms – newer iPad/iPhones, Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC and Mac. (It is not currently available on Android devices, although there are reports that it may be launched on this platform during the northern summer.)
Its cross-platform accessibility - and the fact that it is free - has made it the most popular game in history, played by girls and boys alike. Even children who were previously not into gaming are playing this one. Players on iPhone or iPad can play the same version of the game with and against players on Xbox, Playstation or computer.
What is a 'Battle Royal' game? Wikipaedia says “Battle Royal is a video game genre that blends the survival, exploration and scavenging elements of a survival game with last-man-standing gameplay”.
What is Fortnite's rating?
Fortnite is rated M or for Mature Audiences by the universal game rating system. It is rated 12+ on the iTunes App Store, for
The reason this game isn’t MA15, as are games like Call of Duty, is that Fortnite doesn’t feature any blood or gore.
Instead, when a player loses all their ‘health points’ and is therefore defeated, the player simply falls over and is teleported away by a drone that appears above their head.
What is so appealing about Fortnite
Fortnite games are short and sharp – only 20 minutes for each match. You don't actually win anything - but a record is kept of how many wins you have, and kids do discuss how many 'wins' they have under their belt. So there is 'status' that comes with lots of wins.
Another key feature that makes this game more appealing than other games of the ‘Battle Royal’ type is that Fortnite features the ability to harvest materials such as wood, brick and metal with a pickaxe, or as the game refers to it, a harvesting tool.
These tools can then be used to build walls, ramps, floors and pyramids. These can be edited into all forms of shapes, such as a wall with a window or a spiral staircase. This ability allows players to take fights more tactically by building forts and not exposing themselves to fire.
What are the dangers for children?
As with many other games, a key danger for children is the ability to play with and talk to people that they have never met before.
In Fortnite there are three diverse types of game mode;
A single player wanting to play in the duo or squad modes can turn on an option called ‘Fill’, where they will be put in a team together with players who are also using the fill option – people who are not their ‘friends’.
In ‘fill’ mode, voice chatting is available between the players in the Duo or Squad team (not with opponents during the match). No text chat capability is available when playing in this ‘fill’ mode.
However, there is then the ability to ‘friend’ the players you play with in ‘Fill’ mode and invite them to future games.
All this happens outside a battle, in a place called 'the lobby' - where you choose what you will wear, what game mode you are going to play and whether you want to 'fill' or not.
When you 'friend' someone, you can invite them to your lobby or they can join you in your lobby and, in this screen, they can send you text messages and voice chat with you.
This can obviously be a danger, as a person could attempt to befriend a child without speaking during a match, become in-game friends with them, and then portray themselves as a child with the use of the text messaging.
It is also worth noting that, in game settings, a child can choose to play on another country’s server, and therefore play with people from all over the world.
Beware of in-app purchases?
Fortnite is free to download and play, but it is essential for parents to understand that this game has ‘in-app purchases’ that range from $14.99 to $159.99.
In-app purchases allow players to purchase the in-game currency called ‘V-Bucks’.
V-Bucks are used to buy cosmetic only items. These cosmetic items do not affect gameplay or the player’s performance - just the look and costume of a player.
These items include skins/costumes, different looks and sounds for the pickaxe (also known as the harvesting tool), different emotes that can be used in matches and the lobby (emotes are dances and gestures).
Importantly, a player can also purchase an item called the ‘Battle Pass’ for $14.99, which gives the player a levelling system in which, for each tier that a player reaches, a new item such as a skin, harvesting tool or emote/emoticon is earned. (An emote/emoticon is a small 2d image that the game developers have created that lasts for a couple of seconds – for example as a smiling emoji).
Battle Passes reset at each new season (70 days) when a player must buy a pass again. To get the most out of a Battle Pass and earn the rewards, a player needs to clock up lots of game hours.
Should you allow your child to play Fortnite?
Parents should definitely be aware of whether their child is playing Fortnite and understand that it is a game that involves killing opponents - although it is often portrayed in the media as being more dangerous than it is.
As with any game your child plays, make sure you understand what the game is and does, and what traps there may be for children playing the game. Talk with your child about why they like it, and about staying safe in the game. Discuss the issue of screen time, and look at setting limits around how much time your child spends playing this (and other) games.
For most parents, the best approach is to disable in-app purchases on the i-device and console and attempt to discourage a younger child’s use of the ‘fill’ option, to avoid stranger danger.
(Written by Jacob Coulston, age 15.)
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