If you’ve not at least heard of Fortnite then allow me to welcome you back to the world. How was the cave? Joking aside, Fortnite is the newest game to dominate the hearts and minds of the nation’s gamers, many of them children and if you’re not particularly familiar with modern games then the whole thing could be rather daunting. I’m going to attempt to break down the basics for the uninitiated (and possibly mildly terrified).
What sort of game is it?
Fortnite is fundamentally an online multiplayer warfare game, but is part of a new sub-genre of shooter known as the Last Man Standing or Battle Royale*.
Individuals, duos or teams are pitched against each other in armed combat on an island. The objective is to be the last person or team left on the island and to achieve this a storm surrounds the island and shrinks the available battlefield to a smaller and smaller area until trapped in a small enough flashpoint to achieve total victory (referred to in the game as “Victory Royale”).
*The term ‘Battle Royale’ comes from the popular Japanese movie of the same name where a group of unruly schoolchildren are dropped on an island and forced to fight to the death. The movie was the inspiration for the name and does echo the style of play but in no way are the combatants depicted in Fortnite intended to be schoolchildren.
Why is it so popular?
Fortnite is not the first game of this type to achieve notoriety. It is very similar to a game called PlayerUnknown’s BattleGrounds or ‘PUBG’ for short. PUBG was a very similar game developed by PUBG Corp/Bluehole from an old mod for survival game H1Z1 where combatants are similarly restricted geographically and brought closer and closer in a battle to the death. The games share a lot of similarities but there are some key differences. PUBG has a rather muted visual style and concentrates more on depicting realism and encourages strategy and precision. Fortnite has a much more cartoonish style both in the environments and in the ways characters can be customised. It also features a unique ‘battle-building’ mechanic that allows players to create their own fortifications on the fly. These are probably helping Fortnite gain more mass-market appeal than PUBG although it’s important to recognise that PUBG is created by an indie developer whereas Fortnite is the brainchild of established game developer and publisher, Epic Games.
What are they playing it on?
Fortnite is available on PS4, Xbox One and PC. Epic Games have also recently released a mobile version but it is likely to be a scaled-down version of the console/pc experience.
Does it cost money?
Like many popular multiplayer games of recent years, Fortnite operates under a ‘freemium’ model. It costs nothing to install and play the game* but players are encouraged to purchase a ‘Battle Pass’ to enjoy unlocking everything the game has to offer. The game also has a store in which in-game equipment and costumes can be purchased for the in-game currency called ‘V-Bucks’. This currency is available in small quantities within the game but players wanting to buy a lot of goodies in the store will need to spend real money to get a larger balance of V-Bucks.
*While it is free to play on PC, console players will also be subject to whatever expenses that platform requires for online play i.e. Xbox Live Gold, etc.
Is it a ‘violent’ videogame?
It’s not a particularly ‘graphic’ depiction of violence. There’s no blood and defeated players simply drop to the ground and are beamed away to bring the player back to the lobby screen ready to enter another fight. Players are required to use of a number of weapons and items to defeat each other within the game so there will be frequent use of handguns, machine guns, grenade launchers, sniper rifles, shotguns etc. There are also handheld deployables such as grenades, spiketraps and remote explosives. These are all presented in a fairly innocuous way but they are what they are.
Is it suitable for children?
Fundamentally it is a competitive game about shooting each other. If you don’t feel comfortable with your kids playing that kind of game then you should definitely be having a conversation with your child about Fortnite. In the UK, which uses the PEGI rating system, Fortnite is rated as being suitable only for people of 12 yrs of age and older, due to its ‘mild violence’. I would also urge caution for parents to also consider whether their child is emotionally mature enough to handle a competitive gametype situation.
Whilst many children of 12 yrs and over may be able to stomach the playful homogenised violence of Fortnite, they may not be mature enough to experience defeat at the hands of other gamers. Many of the reports critical of the game tell stories of young gamers throwing violent rage fits or becoming sullen or anti-social. This isn’t specific to Fortnite but it is a symptom of young gamers that are not emotionally ready to play online games with regularity.
Is it dangerous?
Fortnite is no more dangerous than any other online game but there are things to carefully consider and be wary of.
Fortnite is a game that utilises real-world money to buy cosmetic items and elevated privileges within the game. Any platform that you let your child play Fortnite on should be locked down and passworded so that they are not able to make these purchases without your intervention. Without these controls it is incredibly easy to make purchases and spend a lot of money in a small amount of time.
Fortnite is an online game. Online games bring people into direct contact with one another and as always caution needs to be used when young people are exposed to the internet as not everyone is acting in good faith. Fortnite does not require strict age or identity verification so it is technically possible for people to misrepresent themselves.
There are two main methods of communication in Fortnite. The initial lobby has a text chat facility through which players who have become ‘friends’ can talk to each other. Be advised, you should discourage your children from ‘friending’ strangers and only let them do so with peers they know in real life.
Secondly, Fortnite players often use voice chat. This could be within the game itself or (especially if playing on PC) a third-party app like Skype or Discord that allows players to use group communications during games. These are all potentially risk factors for children as they can provide avenues for bad actors to access a child. It is not in any way unique to Fortnite, simply a rule of conducting yourself safely in an online game.
It is my personal recommendation that children under the age of 18 should be discouraged from engaging in text or voice chat with strangers. If voice chat is required for team games this should only be with known friends. Keep an eye on the friends list within the game to make sure no-one has been added that you’re unaware of.
Fortnite is a colourful and exciting new shooter but it does carry the same risks that all online games do. If you keep an open dialogue with your kid about risks, they are mature enough to understand the content and enjoy a competitive multiplayer experience without getting upset then there’s no reason that they shouldn’t play it.