As an 8th grade teacher of a school district on the gulf coast of Florida, I’m currently in the throes of surviving, according to my students, “the GOAT……. (Greatest of All Time) video game, Fortnite”. Because I like to be able to not only understand, but speak the language of my students, I’ve quietly listened for several weeks to the lingo and utter excitement in between bell work and core curriculum activities, of middle school students talking about Fortnite, undoubtedly the most popular video game in schools now.
What’s it all about? If you have a child between eight and 18, Fortnite: Battle Royale is a free online multiplayer shooter game. In short, it’s a massive online brawl where 100 players jump out of a plane onto an island and fight each other until only one is left. One of my advanced female students said, “It’s kind of like the Hunger Games.” But with cartoon-like graphics and silly items and costumes such as dinosaur outfits and space suits. Weapons such as rifles, grenade launchers and crossbows are hidden around the island that players must collect while exploring the buildings and landscape, as the playable area of land is continually reduced so game participants are forced closer together. The winner is the last survivor.
Why is it so popular with kids? It’s free and it has a silly offbeat sense of humor. One student said, “It’s like the Disney version of PUGB,” which has a more serious, realistic visual style. Fortnite is an almost cartoon-like, bright game that has taken on a cult appeal in schools around the globe. It allows players the possibility of teaming up with a friend, a group of friend sand competing as a duo or a squad. This adds a social element and participants are able to chat as they play using headsets and microphones.
Is Fortnite violent? Although Fortnite is a multiplayer shooter game, it does not depict bloody violence. Hopefully, the obsession will eventually pass for all but the diehard and most committed players. One of my students said he spent $100 just last night on V-Bucks, which is used to purchase Battle Passes. A Battle Pass will unlock new items such as clothing and items. Remember when we were kids in school and wanted the latest pair of Nikes or Jordache jeans? It’s like that, but virtual.
Some surprising data I collected….a large number of girls are playing Fortnite. Most of my students play every day. At least 50% of the students who admit they are playing everyday, say they are addicted and laughed at me when I asked them if they would agree that they play three or more hours a day, which leads me to my next point….
Perhaps most alarming, and the heart of why I’m writing this is the answer to this question I posed to my students, “How many of you have a parent or guardian who restrict the amount of time you spend playing Fortnite?” Over 72% of my students who admitted they play, say that the person or people who love them at home don’t restrict their game time. Even though this game seems to be pretty harmless, these kids are forming addictive behaviors for gaming and screen time. And Lt. Col. Dave Grossman hits home with this point from his 2014 revision of Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill, “...to the extent that they desensitize themselves to screen violence and fear, they are also becoming more tolerant of violence in the real world. And more tolerant of themselves as perpetrators of violence.”
Phil’s take on Fortnite is that although it isn’t as violent as the Grand Theft Auto games, it is still a shooting game where players shoot each other. Kids need to be monitored and limited in not only their screen time, but also what they spend hours upon hours immersed in. This generation of children, more than any other generation, need to spend time outside and remain physically active in this dark, movie-theater environment that is replete of sunshine and face-to-face interaction with their peers.