Epic global popularity
Fortnite from Epic Games, has surpassed the long-time popular game of Minecraft to become the #1 ranked video game. It also holds the record for the most game-related uploads on YouTube within a single month. In this article, we examine the psychological constructs of the game, what happens neurologically speaking, in our brains, as we play, and parenting tips to help you make informed choices for your kids and family. Thanks to play therapist Melissa Fellin, MSW, RSW, MA, Ph.D, for her contributions.
Fortnite in a Nutshell
Fortnite is a survival shooting game, with three modes of play, Save the World, Battle Royale and Creative. It has a cartoon aesthetic, a unique language and fun touches like a player being able to perform an ’emote’ – to signal or taunt other players – the Floss, the Dance Moves, The L, the Best Mates and the Llama Bell. Weapons and shooting to kill are a part of all modes; one second a guy might be throwing cute purple cuddle fish and the next he might pull out a handgun to explode them. The game has Vbucks as its currency, to buy skins and weapons, available as rewards and in-game purchases. There are both voice-chat and text-chat capabilities within the game, but not with solo play, so chances are good that players are exposed to swearing. Free Fortnite versions are available, and it is played on seven different platforms, with more than 200 million registered players worldwide. The game is rated T with Violence, Common Sense Media’s rating is thirteen and up, saying parents give it eleven and kids rate it for ten and up.
Why Is Fortnite So Addictive?
Child and Adolescent brains are 1) still developing the pre-frontal context, responsible for assessing risk and making decisions and 2) more sensitive to dopamine, the neurotransmitter that has us feel happy. It makes sense in this context, that kids have an inherent propensity to be more compelled by Fortnite than adults, and a relatively undeveloped ability to self assess when they have had enough play.
Is Fortnite Kid Friendly?
Fortnite offers a shared digital world and community of practice, that use higher cognitive executive functions, like decision-making, collaboration, literacy and learning, cooperation, competition, and attention to detail skills. The compelling social environment has players compete and cooperate, using a common unique language. Fortnite has become more than a game, now a social platform, with players chatting, dancing, even watching concerts together.
“In a way, the video game model is brilliant,” says Judy Willis, M.D., neurologist, educator, and American Academy of Neurology (AAN) member based in Santa Barbara, CA. “It can feed information to the brain in a way that maximizes learning,” she says.
What Parents Can Do About Fortnite
Especially during this time of covid, most parents are extending boundaries around screen time and playing video games. Here are some tips for parents to feel comfortable about kids playing Fortnite and other video games.
- Consider adding screen time and payment controls to your child’s Fornite account.
- Set boundaries. Kids cannot track their gaming time without aids. Discuss and set time limits together, in advance, and then suggest tools, like setting a timer, to set your child up to be successful. When the timer goes off, so does the game. Not a thing to assess, or decide, in the moment. The current health recommendations are limits of one to two hours of gaming per day.
- Understand your child. You know if your child’s behavior is changing, such as withdrawing or becoming depressed or disconnecting from friends, in which case you might add more family activities and reduce screen time. “Effortful control is temperament we are born with and it is important for people to know this means that some young people have a harder time with self-control than others. For instance, children with ADHD have less effortful control with temperament. This means the key is meeting your child where they are at and teaching them effortful control habits and coping skills.” Melissa Fellin, MSW, RSW, MA, Ph.D. Effortful control is the ability to manage attention and adapt behavior, especially when a child does not particularly want to do so. If your child is spending more time on screen, yet they continue to be engaged in life, gaming boundaries can be an empowering discussion to have with your child.
- Play with them and model moderation. Experience the game for yourself, have the game to relate and talk about together, even give your child the opportunity to teach you or be better than you at something. And show them you can walk away after a set time, whether from a game or another entertaining screen activity.
- Understand your child’s brain is still forming. They are not being defiant, or aggressive, sneaky or bad. They are not likely to be addicted or violent. But they are at the effect of dopamine when they play, more so than adults, and they are unable to stop on their own. Explain dopamine to your kids, to help them understand boundaries are to help, not punish them. If we think of Fortnite as a big bag of sugar, mainstream parenting strategies can apply…
“Set limits on the amount of time, as well as the ways they express themselves on Fortnite. Talk to your kids about how they feel when they stop playing and help them to be mindful of the way the game makes them feel after they play. Children often feel a withdrawal or almost sick feeling, emotionally irritable. Also give them opportunities for more healthy activities with their family and/or friends such as riding bikes, playing a sport, going on a hike or playing a board game. Sometimes these have to be pushed a little bit once they start to feel good doing these things they are more likely to do more. If all of their social relationships are over video games, figure out a way to get them also connected to like-minded friends in the face-to-face world.” Melissa Fellin, MSW, RSW, MA, Ph.D