Ever since the introduction of Pong by Atari (ask grandpa), children have been drawn to video games. Over the past 40 years they have developed in countless ways. Graphics are better, games are portable (they can be played on tv’s phones, tablets, etc), games are more socially interactive (they can be played with groups of friends at different locations), and they have become infinitely more addictive. The new gold standard exemplifying all these qualities is a game called Fortnite.
If you’re already well aware of the ins and outs of this monster, feel free to skip this paragraph. For everyone else, here’s a quick information catch up. Developed in 2017 by Epic games, Fortnite is divided into three distinct type of games. There’s a standard zombie-killing, save the world game, a more creative build your own battle world game, and then there’s the most popular of the three, Battle Royale. Fortnite Battle Royale is sort of where video games meet the Hunger Games. Up to 100 players compete in each mini game to become the final survivor. Well over 200 million people worldwide compete in Fortnite Battle Royale, and the game generates hundreds of millions of dollars monthly.
What has made Fortnite the international phenomenon that it is? There are several answers, all of which were carefully thought out by its creators. While all video games, and games for that matter can be addictive, Fortnite seems specifically designed to be universally appealing, and deeply compelling. While it is loaded with violence, there is no bloodshed or gore. Players just disappear when they are killed. This makes it more palatable for parents, and more acceptable for younger audiences. Parts of the game are decided by chance, giving the gamers a feel of gambling rush. When the final player of Battle Royale wins, the remaining 99 often don’t feel like they lost, but that they almost won, and jump at the chance to give a go in the next game. Finally, there’s a huge social aspect to the game. Not only can groups of friends play together from their own homes, but just playing can link you with all that is hot in social culture. Just ask your kids to floss or dab, and you’ll see.
Your next question might be, “so?” Yes, lots of children like video games, yet have active lives, good academic achievement, and occasionally shower. For other families however, these and similar video games have led to significant sleep deprivation, school issues (failure to compete assignments, study for tests, or even attend school), detachment and isolation from family constructs, and, in worse scenarios, introduction to unknown internet solicitors and predators. There is already a niche of therapy dealing with video game “rehab”.
What’s a parent to do if every child, teenager, and Major League baseball player is hooked on this? As with every aspect of parenting, it’s all about increasing communication and involvement, setting limits, and using reward and consequence as tools to modify behavior.
Here are some tips to keep your little gamer from getting out of hand, or to reel them in if they’re already “knee deep in the dab” (okay, that’s not a thing, but you get the idea).
If your children are just entering the world of gaming:
- Keep all gaming (and as much internet access as possible) in family areas of the house. Internet use should be monitored by parents, not behind closed doors. Gaming is no exception.
- When possible, join in, interact, and use gaming as a tool to bring you closer to your children. (Be careful though…it’s not just addictive for children).
- Set limits and ground rules early. Gaming and screen time, like any other entertainment or distraction, should be thought of as a privilege. If school assignments aren’t getting done, responsibilities at home are being overlooked, etc., you still have to supply food and water, but not video game time.
If you’ve already lost your children to the nite…
- You will be much more effective at altering your child’s habits by adding activity as opposed to subtracting. Instead of saying “no more” of the games, have the alternatives planned. “Today we’re going to ride our bicycles to the ice cream place you like”.
- Understand the timing and social aspects of the games. In Fortnite the games are fairly short, and kids are often playing with a group of other players, depending on each other. Saying, “stop playing the game NOW” may be met with lots of pushback and fighting. Saying, “this has to be the last game for today” may get you to a mutual agreement more easily.
- While Fortnite is a free game, there are lots of purchases that can be made (character costumes. weapons, or the Battle Pass – ask your kids). If these are items your children are interested in, what better way to reward them for getting chores done, getting homework done without a fight, or just being the kind citizens you’re trying to raise.
- If you think your child has a serious issue, with academics, athletics, and social interactions being negatively affected, now is the time to do something about it. Contact your doctor, school counselors, or any of a number of centers to get more information.
Video gaming will not be a passing fad. Companies are making more money, and technology keeps advancing. Alas, parenting isn’t going anywhere either. The more you can involve yourself in your children’s activities, set firm limits, and keep communicating, the more likely you’ll be able to keep a healthy amount of video gaming in your home. You may even wind up with a somewhat tolerable teenager! Good luck out there.