Ob­sessed kids are play­ing ‘Fort­nite’ in class

Poll: Teens say game helps build team­work

USA TODAY US Edition - - MONEY - Ed­ward C. Baig

If get­ting the kids and teens in your home to dis­con­nect from “Fort­nite” feels like a bat­tle royal, take just a lit­tle bit of com­fort.

Par­ents, you are not alone.

Not that that’s go­ing to com­pletely re­lieve your stress over the widely pop­u­lar third-per­son shooter game, played by more than 200 mil­lion mostly ob­sessed peo­ple, your kids very likely among them. The game can be played solo or in teams or squads as part of a mul­ti­player match known as “Bat­tle Royale.”

Kids play “Fort­nite” in class when they should be pay­ing at­ten­tion to their teach­ers. They play on phones, tablets, PCs, Macs and on video game con­soles hooked up to wall-size TVs.

What’s more, they may be chat­ting up strangers, ex­posed to (car­toon­ish) vi­o­lence and tak­ing in in­ap­pro­pri­ate lan­guage. Oh yeah, they’re play­ing at the ex­pense of their home­work or en­gag­ing in phys­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties.

While the game is free to play, the kids are spend­ing gobs of money. Pub­lisher Epic Games has made at least $1.2 bil­lion on the sale of V-Bucks, the ingame cur­rency used to pur­chase dances (called “emotes”), skins and cus­tom out­fits for your in-game al­ter-ego.

“There is no ques­tion ‘Fort­nite’ is the big­gest pain point in terms of me­dia and tech for kids to­day, and cer­tainly their par­ents,” says Jim Steyer, CEO of Com­mon Sense Me­dia, a non­profit ad­vo­cacy group for kids and fam­i­lies. “In the big pic­ture, me­dia and tech are de­signed to be ad­dic­tive, pe­riod. This is em­blem­atic of the fact kids and teens are liv­ing their life on de­vices and on­line.”

To get a bet­ter han­dle on the cul­tural phe­nom­e­non that “Fort­nite” has be­come, and its im­pact, Com­mon Sense teamed with Sur­vey-Mon­key and in Oc­to­ber polled a na­tional sam­ple of 19,063 adults – in­clud­ing 2,111 par­ents with chil­dren be­tween 8 and 17 years old – and 1,348 teenagers ages 13 to 17.

Among the high-level re­sults of the study, which have been re­leased ex­clu­sively to USA TO­DAY and timed with the launch of “Fort­nite” Sea­son 7, about 1 in

5 par­ents find it at least moder­ately dif­fi­cult to get kids off the game, and about a quar­ter say they’re con­cerned about how much time their kid is play­ing.

Mean­time – and this has to be a bum­mer for you moms and dads to hear – 27 per­cent of teens said they were play­ing “Fort­nite” in the class­room.

Heck, when you were 15, you’d have prob­a­bly pre­ferred sur­viv­ing “Bat­tle Royale” than ge­om­e­try, too. But the is­sue is se­ri­ous for par­ents and ed­u­ca­tors. “This is some­thing that we have to deal with. This isn’t a small story; this is a big story,” says Jon Co­hen, di­rec­tor of re­search at Sur­veyMon­key, com­ment­ing on the class­room rev­e­la­tion.

❚ There’s good news, too: For­tu­nately, there are glass-half-full re­sults in the sur­vey, too: Half of the teens re­vealed that “Fort­nite” helps them keep up with friends, and half say it helps with team­work. An­other 44 per­cent say they’ve made a friend on­line while play­ing, and

39 per­cent say they’ve bonded with a sib­ling. Yes, teen girls (47 per­cent) play as well, though not as of­ten as their broth­ers (75 per­cent). And about 22 per­cent of boys play at least once a day, com­pared with 9 per­cent of girls.

As pop­u­lar as “Fort­nite” is, 61 per­cent of the teens over­all say they’ve played, but the per­cent­age is lower com­pared with teens who say they use Snapchat (73 per­cent) and In­sta­gram

(74 per­cent), al­beit in a prior sur­vey. Still, Co­hen calls the num­ber of kids play­ing “Fort­nite” “stag­ger­ing” and a phe­nom­e­non given the game’s re­cent emer­gence. Adds Steyer: “This is the arms race for kids’ at­ten­tion, and whether it’s ‘Fort­nite’ or In­sta­gram, the tech in­dus­try is win­ning.”

But is this re­ally all that dif­fer­ent from gen­er­a­tions past with eyes glued to TV screens in­stead of hand­held, por­ta­ble screens?

“The sci­en­tific stud­ies about the im­pact on brain de­vel­op­ment, etc., be­tween video games or on­line and so­cial me­dia ver­sus you sit­ting there and watch­ing ‘ Ho­gan’s He­roes’ is a to­tally dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence,” Steyer says. “By the way, most peo­ple didn’t spend eight hours in a row just watch­ing ‘Gil­li­gan’s Is­land’ or ‘Let’s Make a Deal.’ ”

❚ Es­tab­lish lim­its: So how can par­ents di­vert Ju­nior’s at­ten­tion away from “Fort­nite”? One tip is to play the game your­self, some­thing 1 in 5 dads has al­ready done com­pared with 18 per­cent of moms. You might end up hav­ing a nice bond­ing ex­pe­ri­ence while dis­cov­er­ing tricks of the game and just what it is you are up against.

Set clear lim­its, which might vary de­pend­ing on how your kid plays. “Fort­nite” has a “play­ground mode” that al­lows play­ers to “respawn” or come back to life; in that mode, set lim­its by time. The length will vary by fam­ily, of course, but some­thing rea­son­able would be a half-hour to 90 min­utes a day, with the higher limit re­served, say, for the week­end.

Tell your kids they can’t play after a cer­tain hour of day and don’t let them take a de­vice to bed. In fact, some par­ents might choose to let their kid play only in a com­mon space of the house.

“It re­quires ac­tive par­ent­ing. You just can­not ig­nore this,” Steyer says. “And, by the way, if they don’t fol­low the rules, take ‘Fort­nite’ (or the phone) away … It’s tor­ture, but too bad. And they do get the mes­sage.”

Com­mon Sense also di­rects par­ents to set­tings within “Fort­nite” to limit con­ver­sa­tions to peo­ple whose han­dles the kids know. You can turn off voice chat. And if all else fails, im­pose parental con­trols that are on the phone or com­puter the kid uses to play or that may be part of your Wi-Fi router.

EPIC GAMES

“Fort­nite” is a sen­sa­tion.

FRED­ERIC J. BROWN/AFP/GETTY IM­AGES

“Fort­nite” is played by more than 200 mil­lion peo­ple, your kids very likely among them.

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