From Director of Student Wellbeing, Matthew Porter
Chances are if your son is anywhere between 10 and 20 you already know about “Fortnite – Battle Royale” and some of the potential pitfalls of online gaming. For those who haven’t come across it yet, the mid-year exam period may be an opportune time to ask “is my son really studying quietly in his room or is he really shooting at his mates?”
The technological landscape is very much the norm for how the youth of today interact, socialise and entertain themselves and each other. In my previous Nurrunga article I shared some tips and strategies to ensure that technology and gaming could be enjoyed in moderation. The DSMV has recently identified “Internet Gaming Disorder” as a mental health condition, however, the degree to which these compulsions can be controlled and established habits modified is still subject to debate.
What is “Fortnite” and why does he love it?
Basically Fortnite is a live action, first-person, multiplayer shoot-em-up game. The concept is relatively simple, up to 100 players enter a game to either compete as an individual or a member of a squad of up to 4 players. The objectives include; shoot other people, don’t get shot yourself, build fortifications and hiding places to avoid detection or add protection. Similar to the “Hunger Games” films, as the match progresses the arena gets smaller and smaller which draws players together. There are bonus items, weapons and ammunition to collect along the way. Once you are dead you are out, last man standing wins.
There are a lot of positives and potential benefits from game play as long as we keep things in perspective. Teamwork, cooperation, problem solving and strategy are all essential elements in order to be successful. The social side of things means that players can communicate either via the in-game text-window or game console headsets. Like it or not, this is likely to be a big part of your son’s social scene and a topic that he and his mates will love to talk about. Those boys who consistently make it to the final stages become sort of cult-heroes and demigods and have bragging rights until the next time. The game is free to download and can be played almost anywhere.
The graphics are mostly cartoonish and the violence isn’t particularly gory as in some other action games. The age recommendations seem to be either 12+ or 13+. Games can vary in length from a few minutes up to about 20 mins. Due to it’s live, interactive, real time player format there is no way to pause or save or go back. Once a game starts you are in it to the death, well the death of your character anyway.
So what can you do to avoid “Fortnite” becoming problematic in your home?
Situate your game systems in a public and open area of the house, try to avoid gaming in bedrooms or other areas unsupervised.
As the game is social and players can interact with one another there is no way to “quality control” the content of their conversation. Agree upon some rules and expectations for appropriate language and conduct.
When I asked my Year 8 class about the game, I posed a hypothetical scenario that I was a member of their crew but I was no good and led to the whole squad getting blown away. Would they ask me to join their crew next time? They all politely declined; so there is potential for exclusion or isolation if a particular person isn’t up to scratch.
The game is web-based which means that your son could potentially play with strangers or people that he doesn’t know. They would then be able to communicate via chat facilities.
In-game purchases and add-ons
Be careful which credit card is connected to your online accounts. There is always the temptation and allure of purchasing a costume for your character or a “skin” covering for your weapon. These small innocent purchases can add up quickly. Especially if you have more than one gamer at home.
As the action is live, there is no way to pause or save during a game. Instead of saying “you need to be off in 5 minutes or I’m disconnecting the modem”… Try saying ”this is your last game for tonight” and then sit with them and watch while they play. Understand the game and why boys love it so much. Ask questions about the game, such as, what happened, how did you go, what do you like about it, etc. You may be surprised how much your son opens up and how much they appreciate you taking an interest.
Setting some boundaries and agreed upon checks and balances is the first step in avoiding problematic online behaviour. Try to aim for at least one game free day per week. No screens 30 mins before bed time, 30 mins before dinner and 30 mins after dinner, as a guide.
Establish acceptable practices that fit in with your family’s routines and your core values in the home.
Make sure that they have plenty of real life face to face social interactions with a variety of friendship groups away from the game.
Make sure that Fortnite or technology in general is not interfering with sleep, diet, study, exercise and other healthy lifestyle choices.
For more info on Fortnite specifically and problematic gaming in general, see below for some useful links.
A parents’ guide to popular online games from The Guardian
What to do if your child is addicted to online gaming
Family Zone: Is Fortnite okay for my child?
Psychology Today: Internet Gaming Disorder
Waverley College: Monitoring internet usage and online conduct
Parents’ Ultimate Guide to Fortnite
News.com: Everything you need to know about Fortnite