If you have kids, especially a boy or male teen, you probably know a little bit about Fortnite Battle Royale already. It’s a 3rd person survival-shooter that game that can be played across multiple platforms (e.g., Xbox One, Playstation 4, tablets). As of March 2019, it has 250 million registered players. At any given time, over 10 million people are playing simultaneously (not in the same game, of course!). I did a video blog covering this topic on my Tech Happy Life YouTube channel (below) or you could read the transcript of that blog on Psychology Today. I’m going to provide a (slightly) abbreviate version here though to address the question: Is Fortnite bad for kids?
What’s the Appeal of Fortnite?
There are a number of reasons that Fortnite is so popular. These include:
- It’s not gratuitously violent like the M-rated Call of Duty series. It’s rated “T” as being appropriate for teens and up, by the ESRB. Players are “eliminating” rather than “killing” other players. Thus, parents are more inclined to allow their kids to play Fortnite over the more graphically violent games available.
- One hundred players are dropped into the same game at once. The world shrinks over time, which forces players to engage one another eventually. There’s no hiding behind trees or in buildings indefinitely. The average game time is about 15 minutes long.
- Players experience a “near-miss effect.” So, as they play more frequently, they get closer and closer to winning games. More frequently than not, typical players will “almost” win a game. That gives them the feeling that, “Ah! Next time, I just might win! Let me try again!”
- Related to the above, there is a “Vegas Effect” built into Fortnite. It is also known as a variable ratio reinforcement schedule. Every game is a little different, which means the odds of earning the reward of a victory is always tantalizingly close. This activates the dopamine reward system in the brain, which is the same system activated in addictive drugs. This does not mean that Fortnite is “truly” addictive, but it can be strongly compelling.
- Since the game is cross-platform, players with different consoles or devices can play with or against one another.
- Given the popularity of Fortnite, it’s almost like a social media platform so that groups of kids and young adults can “hang out” with their respective friends.
But Is Fortnite “Bad” or Harmful to Kids?
My short answer is “no.” In fact, Fortnite can be a lot of fun for players of all ages. In addition to interacting with one another online, many players discuss Fortnite offline. So, it facilitates social interaction for a large number of players. At present, there’s no compelling evidence that playing violent video games substantially increases aggression in players. Thus, I would say that for the majority of players, Fortnite represents an enjoyable activity that, if anything, probably enhances their well-being.
My main concern is that Fortnite is so fun and engaging that important physiological and psychological needs get pushed aside. For instance:
- Some players are so “into” Fortnite that they are staying up late, especially on school nights, to play. Our need for sleep has not changed in tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of years. So, kids and teens who are losing sleep because of Fortnite will suffer. Chronic sleep deprivation results in a host of negative physiological and psychological outcomes.
- Hours and hours of sedentary time playing video games might also contribute to some negative outcomes. This is compounded by the fact that all of us are sitting quite a bit these days – in school, at work, on commutes, watching TV, on the couch on our phones, etc. Fortnite becomes another sedentary activity that displaces physical activity. We have to keep in mind though that, for many people, if they were not playing Fortnite, they would just be using some other form of screen time.
- While it’s true that many players interact with their friends online while playing Fortnite, there are many benefits of in-person social interactions. This is also in line with our evolutionary heritage. Historically, practically all of our social interaction took place in-person. Too much time playing video games and other on-screen activities might be displacing important in-person social interactions.
- For at least some students, Fortnite can have a negative impact on their grades as they spend time and attention on the game rather than on their schoolwork.
How Much Fortnite is Too Much?
Honestly, no one has a definitive answer here. Flipping this around a bit, if a child/teen is getting enough sleep, is physically active, spends quality time with others in-person on a regular basis, and is doing “good enough” in school, I wouldn’t worry much about Fortnite. If I’m really pressed for a number, a very loose ballpark figure would be 1-2 hours of recreational screen time during the week and maybe 3-4 hours of recreational screen time on weekends, summers, and holidays.
We must remember that none of us did everything “right” when we were kids, teens, and young adults. No one ever maxes out his/her happiness by having the perfect diet, exercise regimen, hobbies, relationships, etc. Fortnite, as with everything else in life, falls under the broad category that there can be “too much of a good thing.”
As a parent, I would draw the biggest “red line” regarding video game/screen time at sleep. When are kids are not getting enough sleep because of screen time, or because of anything else for that matter, then there are likely to be problems. We must also remember to be role models ourselves with regard to our screen habits. We might not be playing Fortnite, but we know that it’s easy for us to overdo screen time too.