It feels like every 9 year old is playing Fortnite; every 9 year old other than ours. And before you put us in a bucket of overprotective parents that don’t support games, I should explain that I’ve spent 20 years of my life dedicated to the game industry: building games, teaching game development, and presenting at game conferences. Heck, a few of my former students are developers and producers at Epic working on Fortnite. Our son was the first to get a Switch and is known as the “gamer” in his school.
Here’s another twist. I don’t believe playing Fortnite will affect his behavior in a substantial way, including violent behavior. The research on violence in games is mixed with some studies showing near term effects and others showing no effects over longer periods of several months. Personally, I think it depends on the kid. Our kid? He wouldn’t hurt a fly. Seriously, he once, and I mean once, got in trouble and it caused him real anxiety for a several weeks, thinking he was going to make a mistake again.
So why no Fortnite then?
Let’s start with the ESRB rating. Fortnite is teen, which in my mind starts at 13. Now, I’m not a hardliner on this. I’ve let my son watch PG-13 movies with me. The difference here is that a movie is 2 hours and he would play a teen game for days. If he would only play Fortnite for 2 hours, we’d probably allow an exception, but he would rack up 40 hours as quickly as we let him.
Next, let’s talk about peer pressure. When I talk to parents of kids who play Fortnite, most of them don’t want their kids to play Teen games. When I ask them why they allowed their kids to play Fortnight, they said because their friends are playing. In my mind, this is a trap that is pretty easy to fall into, a desire for our kids to not be “left out”. We are trying not to fall into this trap. When I returned from a Boy Scout camp, every kid was talking about Fornite. I almost gave into the trap but my wife helped me stay in line with my beliefs.
We hope that we are setting a standard for the next big game. Fortnite is definitely the game du’jour and I think it’s popularity spread even faster than Minecraft (largely due to Twitch and Ninja). But it won’t be the last big hit. We hope that by standing our ground, we help set an example for the next big game.
I do believe there is a small set of kids that probably shouldn’t play shooters at 9 -and I don’t think my son fits that profile (now my younger son…different story). All kids develop differently and some are not as good at separating fiction from real life. Those kids parents; however, will further alienate their kids if every other kid is playing a shooter. I’m ok with delaying my kids entrance into shooters for the benefit of families who’s kid may have a harder time walking away from the game.
As a society, I think we should be more mindful of our social norms, especially when it comes to technology. If we agree on standards like ESRB, we should set an example for our children by being mindful of them. If our standards need to adjust (i.e. If ESRB is too conservative) we should adjust them. To do this, we need to communicate better as parents and society.
Managing how our children play games, and the difficulties therein, is why my family is supporting a youth esports league. For the kids, it’s an opportunity to play games socially, be competitive, and have fun. For parents, it’s an opportunity to set standards and build a culture where we can get the best out of games (e.g. leadership, instruction-following, multi-tasking, sportsmanship, friendship) and leave the worst behind (e.g. toxicity, misogyny, addiction) . You can learn more about the efforts at http://www.gamerleague.org.
By starting at a young age, we believe we can create a culture where parents and games can co-exist, without friction, and with the same reverence as Little League or AYSO.