Ask the Mediatrician: Is it OK for kids to play Fortnite?

Is it ok for my kids to play fornite?

Can you please offer guidance on Fortnite? It seems to be all that kids 11 to 14 are doing these days. I do not allow my children to play, but saw my godson play and was horrified — the guns all look real, but the deaths show no blood. As a person who grew up in a hunting family and with firearms, I find the game to be irresponsible and addictive, but was surprised by the seemingly positive review of the game from Common Sense Media. Please advise!

~ Flustered over Fortnite, Milwaukee, WI

Dear Flustered over Fortnite,

Thank you for your timely question, and for including your personal note about coming from a background of hunting and gun ownership. The huge and growing popularity of Fortnite’s “fight to the death” Battle Royale has been raising many parents’ concern. Your knowledge of guns and the seriousness with which they must be handled brings an added understanding that many may overlook to the implications of children playing this game, often for many hours.

Fortnite is considered both a third-person shooter game, where players’ avatars are visible onscreen, and a sandbox game, where players are allowed to roam the virtual environment and choose to partake in different tasks. While the primary thrust of the core game is to build structures and collect supplies in order to survive a zombie apocalypse (think survivalist Minecraft), the most popular gameplay is in Battle Royale mode where up to 100 players are airdropped onto an island and fight each other with the goal of being the last one standing — a virtual Hunger Games. Once they are killed, as 99 of the 100 are, or prevail as the last fighter standing, they are dropped into another conflict, so their quest for victory, and adrenaline level, never drops.

When comparing Fortnite to other popular shooter games, such as Halo, Grand Theft Auto, and Call of Duty, Fortnite’s graphics indeed seem cartoonish, with less graphic carnage and gore when players kill others. Interestingly, the level of detail is amped up when it comes to weapons, as players can obtain a varied arsenal, from battleaxes to assault rifles.  Fortnite’s combination of weapon glorification and cartoonish violence is concerning as the player sees the world through a lens that values weaponry, but downplays and makes abstract the damage those weapons cause. Each bloodless death of another player (not just a computer-generated avatar) is simply one mission accomplished, one step closer to winning – time to hit the next target!

Do not allow yourself to be misled by marketing messages (and even reviews) that seem to say, “It’s not graphically gory, so it’s not harmful.” Research shows when activities such as smoking or drinking are shown without consequence and watched repeatedly, some teens are more likely to try them. Experts warn that the same may be true when children see repeated acts of violence that are bloodless and lack negative outcomes. When violence is coupled with pleasure, such as comedy or sexiness, or a means to a victorious end, violence is more attractive. The player focuses on the good feeling of prevailing, rather than negative emotions such as loss, remorse or guilt for the “life” lost. As an experienced owner and user of guns, you know what it means to actually take a life — Fortnite does not recreate that experiential knowledge, it subverts it.

As an engaged and caring parent, you were right to try to understand Fortnite better, especially once you saw the intensity with which your godson played and multiplied that by the millions of children playing. While game reviews can be helpful, understand that many, including those by Common Sense Media (CSM), are not based in science, but are the reviews of gamers, or in CSM’s case, parents of gamers. What you bring to the the table is your experience both as a parent and as a hunter. You know guns and you know your children. Explain to them what firearms can do and how to responsibly use them, as well as the difference between using a weapon in real life vs. in a video game. And above all, whatever they do to have fun, ingrain in them the value of their lives  and well-being — and the lives and well-being of others.

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,

~The Mediatrician®