There have been many video games that have felt historic in their popularity and their performance… Pac-Man. Super Mario Bros. Tetris. Grand Theft Auto. World of Warcraft. These games forever changed the industry and played critical roles in defining their generation. Yet, none of these titles have had near the immediate impact of shaping their time’s culture as Fortnite has had since late last year. In a matter of months the game went from beta launch to over 125 million players around the world. Professional athletes and A-list celebrities are participating in pro-am tournaments being watched live by millions online. Proms that passed on dance floors in lieu of large screen projectors to play the game.
Yet, for something that has had such a profound – and for the most part positive – impact on this generation of adolescents, most parents speak of Fortnite as if it’s the newest street drug waiting to destroy their child’s life. Hopefully, this guide can offer some high-level information to create an understanding of how you can shift the conversation in your own environment with your gamer from one of the emotionally-charged arguments to one of healthy choices and boundaries.
What is Fortnite? The Basics
Fortnite is a first-person shooter/sandbox game set in a post-apocalyptic environment.
While that description might sound incredibly gory and violent (there’s actually no blood), part of the game’s widespread appeal has been founded upon its cartoonish style of graphics, rapid building mechanics (think Minecraft) and silly in-game antics (characters can dance… and dance they do, even in the middle of battle). And, honestly, widespread appeal might be an understatement. Cultural phenomenon is a more precise term. More than 125 million people have downloaded the game across its many platforms – PC, XBox, PlayStation, Nintendo, and mobile.
Although the game is free to play in “Battle Royale Mode,” a majority of regular users (70% of 40 million weekly players) make in-game purchases to open up other options. This type of gaming format is referred to around the industry as “freemium” – free to play but requiring money for customizations and additional modes of play. The average player spends $85/year.
The Pros and Cons of Fortnite
- Can be great for bonding
- Can teach strategy and improvisation
- Opportunity to learn self-regulation
- It’s fun (duh!)
- Addictive for some
- Source of conflict for parents who don’t understand
To help make sense of the game, there are some additional terms you’ll want to be aware of. And, honestly, it’s not just to make sense of the game but to – more importantly – have intelligent conversations with your back-to-school student. If you don’t understand the game, its lingo, and the culture, then how are you going to effectively parent your child out of his/her Fortnite rut?
Sandbox – Fortnite is considered a “sandbox” game because it’s like a kid’s sandbox– it’s an open world that you’re free to explore and make your own choices. You don’t actually have to shoot at anybody in Fortnite. You can instead build… forts. Or ride golf carts. Or shopping carts. Players are literally free to make their own choices. Minecraft is another game you might have heard of that’s considered a sandbox game.
V Bucks – This is the primary Fortnite in-game currency. As of the writing of this survival guide, you can purchase 1,000 V-Bucks (which sounds like a lot, right?) for $9.99. Yeah, a dollar will get you about 100 V-Bucks. And obviously if you buy larger quantities of V-Bucks, they throw in bonus bucks. These V-Bucks can be spent on customization items, Battle Passes, and such.
Battle Pass – This is a *paid* feature in Fortnite. Players who purchase a season’s “Battle Pass” gain access to rewards such as cosmetic gear, sprays, and weekly challenges, with the opportunity to raise their character’s level by gaining experience points (XP). As of writing, Fortnite is currently in Season 5. The Season 5 Battle Pass will only cost you 950 V-Bucks. But wait! Fortnite states that you can level up your Battle Pass, “unlocking over 100 rewards worth 25,000 V-Bucks”! I mean, you’re basically making money by playing the game! Eh, okay, not really. But, Fortnite does you the favor of telling you how long it will take you to unlock these rewards, which “typically takes 75-150 hours of play.” Some of you at home are doing that math… I’ll do it for you. The Season 5 Battle Pass ends September 25. Let’s say your child purchased this pass on August 1. So, at worst, your child will need to average about 3 hours of gameplay a day to unlock all of those rewards.
Skin(s) – Skins are a purely cosmetic purchase that changes the appearance of our avatar or weapon(s). All avatars start out rather basic in appearance, but players can purchase additional skins with VBucks to alter appearances. The famous picture of an avatar in a rabbit onesie swinging a hammer that looks like it’s from Batman? All of these are skins purchased in-game.
Four Main Game Modes
1. Squads – This is one of the most popular Battle Royale modes. Four players compete against 24 other teams of four for supremacy. Your squad can be made of any combination of personal friends or strangers. If you have a headset, you have the option of verbally communicating with your teammates.
2. Solo – Yeah, you’re by yourself against 99 others, every man (woman) for himself (herself). Good luck.
3. Duos – 50 Teams of two players each will duke it out to be the final survivor(s) of the map.
4. Playground – One of my personal favorite modes. No shrinking storm. Unlimited weapons and building resources. The main issue for parents is the fact it’s untimed (since there’s no storm to urge along the action). So if you tell your gamer, “play until the game is over,” he/she could be playing ALL night.
Other important terms
The Storm – The Storm is Fortnite’s way of forcing the action. The purple storm forces players to fight within a shrinking circle on the map. When the timer begins a safe space (the eye of the storm) will be randomly generated on the map and players will have a period of minutes to move to that zone. Get caught outside of the safety circle and your avatar will lose health points until it dies. Because of the storm, a Fortnite game can last up to 20-25 minutes (obviously, games can be quicker if you die quickly or are efficient at taking down the competition). Knowing how long a game can last is crucial in your parental armory–especially if you want them down for dinner (or ready for sports practice, or practicing piano, or really doing anything) in 30 minutes. Your child could play 8-10 three minute games in that time span or 1 twenty-five minute game. Make your dinner announcement then add, “if you start a match at the 25 minute mark, you better be prepared to abandon your squad after 5 minutes.” Boom.
Tilted Towers – Fortnite’s map consists of an island with multiple marked locations. Each game begins with all 100 players in a zeppelin flying over the island. After a brief countdown, players launch themselves towards the island, with or without their teammates. Salty Springs, Greasy Grove, Pleasant Park…no location strikes more fear (or joy) into the hearts of gamers than Tilted Towers. Hordes of gamers land there for just the thrill of encountering others. Surviving there earns you mad respect.
What does a parent need to understand?
Fortnite’s popularity is unequaled at the current time. Yes, it’s not a game filled with delinquent acts or gore. Still, there’s much parents should be aware of when allowing their children to play the game.
The game can be addictive. There are three key reasons for why Fortnite has proven so habit-forming. First, the game promotes teamwork for a common mission, whether with strangers or – as often is the case – with real-life friends. It’s an online “Band of Brothers” experience if you will. You can’t abandon your friends in the midst of battle! What kind of friend would that make you? Second, the dopamine hits are real for any video game and are driven by even the smallest of accomplishments. Now, multiply that by our first item concerning collaboration with friends. Last, the game has mastered the psychological phenomenon of “lose by a little, win by a lot” far more than any game before. When you die in Fortnite you almost always were killed by someone you were just a single shot of yourself eliminating. You lost by the skin of your teeth! And, even though there are 100 players per match, the winning player almost never has more than a handful of kills. So even when a player dies in a Fortnite match, their brain processes the experience as if they were almost to the point of winning… and surely the next match will swing their way. And that next match is literally 30-60 seconds away. When you “die,” you simply hit one button to respawn into the next battle royale within a minute or less. That previous defeat is forgotten within mere minutes. Fail, try again, fail, try again, repeat. And throw an occasional win in there and you can see just how addictive this game can truly be. Even failure doesn’t feel so bad in Fortnite if you improved on your previous battle ranking (“I finished in the top ten!”).
The game can quickly become expensive. Yes, Fortnite is free to download and to begin playing in Battle Royale mode. This is also a game that is projected to blow past $2 billion in revenue this year. The game promotes a unique user experience, and the in-game shopping provides a continuously evolving system to customize your character and your gear. These customizations occur mostly through microtransactions and range in USD cost from $8 to $20 each. Additionally, if you want to level your character up and climb the game’s ranking system, then you’ll need to purchase a battle pass for that season for around $10 in V Bucks. Seasons typically last around 2 months. But to be 100% clear, these accessories and customizations provide NO COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE. You are simply spending money to look good. To look unique. To make your friends laugh.
The game simulates battle, so expect fight or flight mode. Yes, the battle is an online simulation done in a cartoonish environment. However, your central nervous system still processes all of this information all the same. When you go to interrupt your stimulated adolescent who is in literal fight or flight mode, they’re going to have the same response to you on a biological level as if you were a saber tooth tiger from a million years ago. Of course, you should expect conflict when you try to get them to unplug and come to dinner if you’re bursting into their room ready for conflict yourself.
How do we transition back to school?
Q: How do I cut the Fortnite cord? Carefully, obviously. Your gamer has likely been playing this game for more than 3-4 hours a day this summer. Some of you are rolling your eyes at that number because you know it’s higher than that for your gamer. You can’t just cut them off cold turkey… well, you can, and you’ll get a gamer that acts like a withdrawing drug addict… because that’s kind of what the game feels like to them after months of getting that dopamine rush.
The experts at the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend no more than two hours of entertainment screen time a day. That includes all devices. Mobile phones, consoles, laptops, iPads. Your child has likely exceeded this quota quite easily this summer. Hey, we here at Gamer Wellness can admit we’ve had moments of weakness this summer, too!
Q: How much do you want to play? Talk with your gamer about how much they want to play Fortnite during the school week. You might be surprised how close (or far away) your expectations are! Have an honest conversation about it! Research shows when parents and teens co-create expectations the teen is significantly more likely to respect the rules. Fair warning: be prepared to compromise. It will be good for both of you!
The demands of school (sports, after-school activities) will create some natural boundaries, but for those who still find time and health management to be a struggle you might want to check out our simple Gamer Wellness Assessment (GWA). This two-minute survey will give you a sense of just how bad (or good) things may be for your gamer. If you don’t have time for our survey, consider some of these basic questions from our Fortnite Scripts to spark conversation with your gamer (abridged Q&A below):
Q: Are you getting exercise?
Incorporate movement into gaming (pre- and/or post-) for those not in organized sports. Try our Fortnite Workout! Coming soon…
Q: Are you eating healthy?
Your teen should be eating three to five meals a day, 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day, and adequate protein intake (meat or plant-based) based on their level of physical activity.
Q: Are you getting enough sleep?
Discuss screen time cutoffs before bedtime and talk about how you feel about having screens in the bedroom (Hint: they shouldn’t be there).
Q: Are you happy?
Acknowledge anxiety about the school year and the pressure to perform. Does Fortnite provide a healthy outlet or has it instead become a form of self-medication? Can we work on turning potential weak ties into strong ties?
Q: Who do you play with?
This question matters almost as much as playing the game itself. Are these friends from school? Are these friends from an old school? Are these friends from that city you used to live in? Or are these just random strangers? If your child is playing a lot of Solo mode on Fortnite or playing Squads with random people, you might suggest that he find friends to play with. Fortnite can be such a pro-social game, that if you’re going to play then play with friends or people you want to have a deeper relationship with. Knowing who your gamer plays with might also explain the colorful language they may be using while playing. It’s ok to correct your gamer on inappropriate language while playing games – you want to create a good online gaming citizen. It’s also important to be aware that bullying can often occur in online interactive gaming platforms like this, so knowing who your gamer is playing with is really important. And the truth is… maybe they want to play with you sometimes….
- What can we do instead of Fortnite? Your gamer might be spending his only afterschool free time playing Fortnite. So is that taking away from the quality time you want to spend with them? We suggest you come up with a list of alternate activities to do with your gamer, working together collaboratively. Humans want to have power over what is happening to them, so creating a menu offers them the ability to “choose” what they do. Here are some ideas for your menu:
- Play/watch Fortnite with them. I know this sounds painful to some of you, but this is a great way to both bond with your gamer and help them learn how to game well.
- Play a different game with them whether on their console, a board game, just play! Play is important! Especially during a long busy work week, we – including our kids – need breaks!
- Get outside and exercise/be active with your gamer. Throw a ball around. Do a 7-minute workout. Jog with the dogs. Just do something active.
- Expand your gamer’s sphere of influence. These are the 3-5 friends he spends the most time with. In positive psychology, we talk about weak ties and strong ties in terms of relationships. Weak ties are individuals with which you have limited layers of communication/relationship. Friends who you only play online games with are weak ties. But friends you online game with, in person game with, hang with after school, AND play sports with are strong ties. It’s better to have more strong ties than weak ties. If you don’t want your child to game all the time, ask yourself if you are helping him/her cultivate relationships that facilitate strong ties. Make dinner dates for your child, facilitate sleepovers, whatever it takes to build these stronger ties.
Q: What if it’s time for dinner/sports/some other activity?
So much of the parent/gamer conflict occurs from a lack of understanding and/or failure to communicate expectations (on both sides). But, now you understand the game. You understand why your gamer is screaming for joy or out of frustration. You understand the different game modes. You understand how long a Fortnite “match” can take from start to finish. Armed with this new knowledge you can define very clear boundaries for your beloved gamer.
So, for example, if you want your gamer to be ready for dinner at 6:00, then perhaps beginning the conversation about when Fortnite should be turned off should begin either before gaming begins or within 30 minutes of dinner time (since that’s the maximum time a Fortnite game can last). You might give a reminder like, “If you die within 10 minutes of 6 pm, don’t cue up a new game. Instead, you can observe your friends playing, get on Twitch, or plan your next “Fortnite date” with your friends. Here are a couple other scenarios:
→ If your gamer is playing “Solo,” jump in and play a couple of games or sit and watch for a few minutes, setting the expectation that dinner will soon be ready and you’ll go down together.
→ If your gamer is playing Squads, Duos or in the Playground, make sure he/she gives his friends a heads-up that he’ll need to log off around 6. Maybe even incentivize your gamer to end a few minutes early (“If you get off before 6 and come set the table, I’ll make sure that you’ll get a little extra time to play later”).
Positive reinforcement of good behavior/gaming well will reap huge benefits in the future. The reverse can be true, too (“You finished all your homework/worked so hard at practice, take some time to relax and Fortnite with your peeps!”)!
Q: Will I be policing Fornite play forever? I don’t want to always be the “video game bad guy.”
Sometimes as parents, our gamers make us feel like FOMO cops (Fear Of Missing Out). We are taking them away from the game they love playing so much, what if they miss out on an epic match, an epic reward? And I’ll be honest, depending on the age of your gamer, that’s a normal way for them to feel. Your younger gamer is going to experience these emotions more intensely than your older ones. But… your goal as a parent is to facilitate the gradual release of responsibility. You want them to develop to the point where they can self-regulate, so any effort should have the focus of gradually allowing them space to manage themselves. Where they might actually choose exercise over Fortnite. Where they cut the vegetables, set the table, then go jump online. Where they turn off the gaming console twenty minutes before the deadline because they felt tired of playing and were ready to do something else. This self-regulation, that we typically view as an adult-level style of behavior, can absolutely be learned and embraced by our children. We as parents just have to help facilitate it.
We, at Gamer Wellness, find that it helps to articulate this release of responsibility to our gamers. “We want you to be able to play within limits, to turn the game off on your home, to make sure your other obligations are met before you start gaming. I want to trust you to do this yourself.” And this declaration comes with our honest acknowledgment as parents that our gamers won’t be perfect at this. That they’ll screw up. That sometimes they’ll play for way too long. That sometimes they’ll pitch fits. That sometimes they’ll sacrifice eating, sleeping, and even accept punishment, just to play their video game. The solution is not “scorched earth,” to punish them by taking away everything they know and love. It may not even be to take away the video gaming itself. The solution may be to lovingly show the downsides and consequences of their poor choice (consequences discussed IN ADVANCE of the mistake). And to teach them how to make a better choice and all the benefits of good decision-making.
Here are some quick tips. Remember, enforcing these self-regulation tips takes LOVE and PATIENCE:
- Timers (on phone or gaming console) to set clear gaming parameters
- 3 reminder system. Every 15-20 min, give your gamer a reminder that their time is almost up.
- Debrief each week (how did we do? Do you feel like you gamed well? Review exercise, diet, sleep). Plan for the next week (do you want to play more or less? Are there other video games to play, games we can play together? Can we substitute some video gaming time for a board game or active play time?).
The ability to self-regulate is a lifelong skill. Using video games to teach your gamer these skills is brilliant. These skills will apply to his YouTube watching, his mobile usage, and a lot of other things he/she may do. Don’t get stuck in the short game, this is a marathon! Not every gaming conflict has to be a world war! Or even the Battle of Gettysburg! No one has to win or lose or retreat to their room. Focus on having a rational discussion, that can end in smiles (and if you’re lucky hugs!).
Fortnite is a ridiculously fun game. There’s a reason why our kids are playing it A LOT.
Fortnite can be addictive, expensive, and trigger strong feelings.
But it’s not all bad.
What are some of the benefits of Fortnite?
Gamer Wellness thinks that Fortnite can promote collaboration, creativity via it’s sandbox environment, healthy competition, and perseverance. Play hard and with your friends and celebrate a win. Build the visuo-spatial cortex of the brain, hone hand-eye coordination while building forts to protect yourself from attackers. Fortnite “lose and play again” cycle may actually be a huge positive– especially if parents spin it correctly. Struggling in a certain school subject? Try, try again, just like in Fortnite. Video games are not the bad guys, here. It’s how we raise and train our kids to use them.
Use our guide. We hope you find it as a useful roadmap. Share it with others! Check out our website, follow us on Twitter, Instagram! Make a comment, ask a question, and we’ll do our best to get back to you!