What parents need to know about the video game Fortnite

If your kids are begging to play Fortnite—or maybe they're already playing but you still have questions—then check out this handy guide.

Photo: Epic Games

If you haven’t heard your tweens or teens talking about Fortnite yet, chances are it’s just a matter of time. Fortnite is a new video game available for consoles (like Xbox and PlayStation 4) and computers, and soon mobile devices, that anyone can download and start playing for free. Its developer, Epic Games, recently reported as many as 3.4 million concurrent players, and its popularity is still growing. That puts it on par with some of the biggest games around.

The game is a “third-person shooter”—meaning it involves shooting enemies, and the player views the action as if from a position behind the character they are controlling.

A game that involves shooting people might sound best suited to older teens and adults. But at least half of the kids in my daughter’s grade 7 class play regularly, and it’s not hard to find parents reporting that even younger kids—eight or nine years old—are avid players.

So, what exactly is Fortnite? Is it appropriate for such young players? Is there anything specific you should be worried about if your kids play, and are there any potential benefits? We dig into all of these questions below with our Fortnite guide for parents.

What is Fortnite?

Fortnite is a third-person online multiplayer shooter game. It offers a couple of distinct modes, the most popular of which by far is the free-to-play Battle Royale mode, which takes inspiration from books and films like The Hunger Games and the Japanese cult hit Battle Royale. The game drops up to 100 players onto an island, where they try to find weapons to both defend themselves against and attack other players. The playable area gradually shrinks, forcing players into encounters with each other until just one player remains and is declared the winner.

There’s another mode, called Save the World, but it’s probably not the mode your kid is playing (or is asking to play) because it’s currently available only to people who pay a minimum of about $50. In Save the World, players are pitted against computer-controlled zombie-like enemies. This mode has some basic Minecraft-style play mechanics that involve scavenging resources and using them to build fortified structures and weapons.

How violent is Fortnite?

Fornite is noticeably less graphic and gritty than games like Call of Duty or PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (another popular battle royale-style game), but the action is still squarely focused on gun-based combat. Its presentation slants much more towards cartoon than photo-realism, and players are given a third-person perspective of the action, which makes the experience a bit less intense than a first-person shooter. There’s no blood or gore, and bodies of defeated enemies simply disappear. Still, keep in mind that the player’s goal is to use familiar looking weapons—shotguns, automatic rifles, and the like—to try to kill pretty much every other character they see.

Will playing Fortnite make my child violent or more aggressive?

Short answer: No. Despite what some politicians might have you believe, multiple studies—including one last fall from The Netherlands that followed almost 200 kids who were exposed to a violent game at age nine, then tracked their behaviour—suggest that violent video games do not increase aggression in kids. There’s a slight chance that playing too long and too often will affect your child’s mood, but that’s likely less a function of the specific activity or content within the game, and more a sign that your kid might have a tendency to fixate on games.

What do you need to play Fortnite?

Anyone with an Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Windows PC, or Mac—and, any day now, an iOS or Android device—can download and play Fortnite’s Battle Royale mode for free simply by supplying an email address and creating a password. Unless you’ve got your kids’ devices firmly locked down with parental controls, they probably won’t have any trouble finding a way to play.

Does Fortnite lure kids into spending money within the game?

In-game purchases, such as emote animations and outfits, require an exclusive virtual currency that players can buy with real money via a credit card. These items aren’t necessary to win, but they allow players to better express their personality within the game. Players are also currently encouraged to purchase special editions of the game that provide access to the Save the World campaign mode, which can be played solo or cooperatively. (It’s worth noting that developer Epic Games has said this mode will eventually be released for free sometime in 2018.)

Will my kids encounter strangers playing Fortnite?

Players can interact with each other via voice chat. That means your kid could not only be exposed to bad language, but also potentially endure bullying, hear racist, sexist and homophobic comments, and could potentially even be petitioned by other players for identifying personal details. The good news is that voice chat can be switched off with just a couple of clicks in the settings menu, eliminating this danger.

Are there any benefits to playing Fortnite?

Its popularity among tweens and teens is making Fortnite a bonding topic within certain social groups at many schools. Kids who play may be able to more easily fit in with these cliques as they’ll have a shared extracurricular interest. What’s more, variants of the game’s primary Battle Royale mode allow players to form small teams, which means kids can play cooperatively with their friends. This kind of play encourages communication, teamwork, and strategic thinking.

Should I let my kid play Fortnite?

That’s a decision every parent will need to make for themselves. The Entertainment Software Ratings Board has rated it “T” for Teen, which means ages 13 and up. That’s a pretty good starting point, but you know your kids best. Some older tweens can handle the action easily enough, while some teens with a tendency to go a little overboard on their gaming might need supervision and limits placed on play time to reduce the risk of obsession.

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