Fortnite obsession driving schools crazy
Educators say video game is huge distraction
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.’ ”
Casey Klapisch plays Fortnite with others in person and online at Gamers Paradise in River Vale, N.J.