Fort­nite ob­ses­sion driv­ing schools crazy

Ed­u­ca­tors say video game is huge dis­trac­tion

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - MONEY - Christo­pher Maag

On one day this win­ter, more than 3.4 mil­lion peo­ple around the globe played on­line video game Fort­nite si­mul­ta­ne­ously. And many of them were teens.

“It’s kind of hard to ex­plain how pop­u­lar it is,” said Ulysses Mi­naya, 13, a sev­enth-grader at Ge­orge G. White Mid­dle School in Hills­dale, N.J. “Ev­ery­one in my school is play­ing it.”

The re­sult is ad­dic­tive — and, for ed­u­ca­tors, an enor­mous dis­trac­tion.

In Mis­souri, a sci­ence teacher and coach has started con­fis­cat­ing smart­phones from stu­dents caught play­ing Fort­nite in class. Ad­min­is­tra­tors at one British school sent a text urg­ing par­ents to ban­ish the game, say­ing it is “un­suit­able for Pri­mary pupils and needs to be banned at home,” ac­cord­ing to The Sun news­pa­per.

Maker Epic Games is aware of the prob­lems. The com­pany added a warn­ing to the game’s load­ing screen ask­ing stu­dents not to play dur­ing class.

Fort­nite started as a co­op­er­a­tive game in which play­ers team to­gether to fend off a zom­bie apoc­a­lypse sparked by a world-end­ing storm. In Septem­ber, Cary, N.C.-based Epic launched Fort­nite Bat­tle Royale, a free-to-play ver­sion fea­tur­ing the pop­u­lar game style bat­tle royale, which essen­tially puts a con­test like The Hunger Games into a video game.

By late March it was the top-selling iPhone app in the United States, the United King­dom and 11 other coun­tries, ac­cord­ing to PC Games News.

It’s at­tracted some high-pro­file play­ers, adding to the buzz. A re­cent match pit­ted the rap­pers Drake and Travis Scott against JuJu Smith-Schus­ter, a wide re­ceiver with the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers, and Tyler Blevins, a pro­fes­sional gamer who goes by the user­name “Ninja.” More than 600,000 view­ers fol­lowed the match on livestream­ing web­site Twitch.com, set­ting a record.

The game’s only bound­ary is age. It’s played by the young, al­most ex­clu­sively.

Chris­tian Nole was one of 15 peo­ple who gath­ered at the Gamers Par­adise video ar­cade in River Vale, N.J., on a Fri­day af­ter­noon for a Fort­nite tour­na­ment. The top prize: $100 cash for the player with the most kills.

“I like it be­cause it’s ex­cit­ing, and there’s a lot of strat­egy,” said Nole, 17, from Rochelle Park, N.J.. “Plus it’s re­ally col­or­ful. It’s ac­tu­ally re­ally pretty.”

“Fort­nite has gone crazy. It’s every­where, at ev­ery school,” said Guy Cal­abro, 37, who founded Gamers Par­adise in 2010. “I re­ally haven’t seen a game as pop­u­lar as Fort­nite.”

Con­tes­tants in­cluded Evan Vomero, 18, who plays video games com­pet­i­tively for prize money.

“I stand be­hind him as he plays. I serve as his eyes and ears, look­ing for peo­ple so he can go and kill them,” said Lauren Kreutzer, 18, Vomero’s girl­friend. “We play Fort­nite at least two hours ev­ery day. I love it.”

An­other con­tes­tant was Ro­man Par­rotta, 11, from Tap­pan, N.Y.

“He plays a lot with one kid in Swe­den and an­other kid in the U.K.,” said Joy Par­rotta, 45, Ro­man’s mom. “He’s never met ei­ther of them in real life. They met through play­ing the game.”

Watch­ing a Fort­nite game for the first time is a dis­ori­ent­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Shootouts come in quick bursts and end in sec­onds. The en­tire world spins, jerks and zooms with the slight­est twitch of the player’s thumb on the con­troller.

Af­ter an hour, the game comes into fo­cus. Yes, Fort­nite is a vi­o­lent free-forall in which 100 play­ers board a fly­ing blue school bus sus­pended from a hot air bal­loon (not im­por­tant, don’t ask), sky­dive onto an is­land, scav­enge for weapons, build forts for pro­tec­tion and kill any­one they en­counter. The last one stand­ing wins. It all sounds pretty grim.

Af­ter one’s eyes ac­cli­mate, how­ever, Fort­nite re­veals it­self to be play­ful, even lovely. Avatars re­sem­ble car­toon char­ac­ters. Cars are ren­dered in ex­ag­ger­ated form, like a Hot Wheels set. Play­ers can dress up in pink bunny suits, ride rock­ets, and bash build­ings to bits swing­ing a rain­bow-col­ored bat­tle ax shaped like a uni­corn’s head.

“It’s very funny,” said Bryan Mul­vaney, 22, an em­ployee at Gamers Par­adise. “It’s like, ‘Oh great, I just got shot by a pink panda bear.’ ”

VIOREL FLORESCU/BER­GEN RECORD

Casey Klapisch plays Fort­nite with oth­ers in per­son and on­line at Gamers Par­adise in River Vale, N.J.

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