Now Fortnite is the biggest video game on earth and all the kids across the land rush home from school to play it, our government and mainstream media has finally caught on – with predictable results.
Yesterday, The Daily Telegraph (paywall) ran a Fortnite-related story with the headline: “Fortnite and other video games risk ‘damaging’ children’s lives, Culture Secretary warns.”
The story says Epic’s phenomenally-popular battle royale game is “highly addictive” and risks having a “damaging” impact on children’s lives.
It’s based on comments made by the Culture Secretary Matt Hancock, who reacted to concern from parents about Fortnite.
Here’s the quote: “Too much screen time could have a damaging impact on our children’s lives. Whether it’s social media or video games, children should enjoy them safely and as part of a lifestyle that includes exercise and socialising in the real world.”
Hancock also confirmed that his department is working alongside game developers to improve online safety.
All this sounds like a lot of common sense, but that didn’t prevent the Daily Mail from picking up the story with the headline: “Addictive online shooter games such as Fortnite have ‘damaging impact’ on the lives of children, warns Culture Secretary.”
Ukie boss Jo Twist told me the video game organisation was “disappointed to see some of the mainstream press crassly linking games to a wider comment made by the Culture Secretary Matt Hancock on excessive screen time”.
“The enjoyment of playing with friends online, in a balanced and safe way, is part of 21st Century life,” Twist continued. “There is no conclusive evidence linking games to addiction and it is right that we encourage families and carers to understand how they can balance screen time generally instead of demonising games. Young people and adults alike should enjoy all screen time safely and as part of an active and balanced lifestyle.”
The comments on the Telegraph’s article are interesting in that they largely come to the defense of Fortnite, with most criticising the paper’s misunderstanding of the game and gaming in general.
“If you replace the headline with Pong, Pac-Man, Super Mario Bros. etc, this story has been rehashed for 40 years!” declared Odd Cod.
“As expected this article shows a complete lack of understanding on the matter,” said Phil Page.
“It seems the problem stated is this game is really really fun to play. And parents are really really weak when setting rules for their children.
“The job of a games developer is to create a game people want to play, end of.
“Also the article doesn’t recognise the skills children learn whilst playing. You’d be surprised how much organisation, statistical analysis and strategy goes into playing games.”
My favourite comment on the Telegraph story, however, is this evisceration by Anthony Clarke who says: “Also today in the DT,” before linking to to guide to Fortnite on, yep, The Daily Telegraph.
All jokes aside, it’s clear parents who aren’t instantly familiar with video games are concerned about Fortnite because of the amount of time their kids are playing the game. I have first-hand experience of this via my nephew, who rushes home from secondary school to play the game pretty much every evening. His mother – my sister – once called me up to ask me if I could fix the game. It turned out Fortnite was offline for maintenance.
The UK press has latched onto this concern, which in truth is fuelled by a lack of understanding about what Fortnite is, with a raft of articles that include pictures of worried parents wrestling video game controllers from their kids.
This article in The Sun, for example, carries the headline “Fortnite monsters”, and points to “these mums” who are “footing the bill” for “highly addictive online game Fortnite Battle Royale”.
Apparently, the Sun was set off after Dele Alli scored against Watford on Monday and did the floss dance – a hugely popular emote in Fortnite – to celebrate. The Sun seemingly missed Eurogamer’s report from April explaining footballer’s current obsession with the game.
The Sun’s angle appears to be about the fact Fortnite Battle Royale is free to download and supported by microtransactions.
“Less popular for some parents is that although the game itself is free, you can shell out for add-ons like extra weapons, new outfits, or extra dance moves – leaving them hundreds of pounds out of pocket.”
But there’s also a suggestion that Fortnite is turning kids into aggressive little monsters. Shirley McKenzie, who The Sun reveals is a single mother, says she had to buy a projector for their console after her 12 and nine-year-old smashed a telly in an argument over the game.
Here’s the quote: “Fortnite is just awful. Both my boys are completely obsessed.”
Call centre worker Kelly, from Cardiff, says she’s forked out over £400 over the last three months on Fortnite because her 12-year-old son Tyler is addicted to the game.
“The other day I spent £8 just so his character could do a dance. I give Tyler £15 a week pocket money, which I pay directly into his Xbox account too.
“But he’s always asking for an extra £3 or £4 here and there. The problem is all his friends play it, his cousins and even my brothers.
“It is nice that they play it all together and bond over it.
“But he’s so obsessed he just won’t sleep. Many a time I’ve heard them planning to stay up late.
“I’ve even caught Tyler sneaking downstairs when he thinks I’m sleeping to play the game.
“Then the next day he’s stroppy and moody. All he talks about is the game.
“It’s lovely that he is so passionate about his hobby, but it’s an addiction.
“I’ve talked about banning it but I’m worried that if we do he can’t socialise with his friends.
“I guess that in this day and age, Fortnite is the equivalent to going to the park with his mates.”
And finally, there’s 11-year-old Corey Melville, who racked up secret bills on his mum’s credit card buying extras for Fortnite.
“I didn’t find out until the bank rang me to say I was overdrawn,” his mum, Kerry said.
“Xbox had taken out nearly 50 payments in just a few weeks. Corey had spent £254 on the game and I was furious.
“It cost a further £54 in phone calls complaining to Xbox to get the money refunded.”
If it feels like you’ve read something like this before relating to some other video game, well, you probably have. The press likes to round on the kid craze of the time because concerned parents make for great readers. Still, it’s frustrating to once again see bad reporting on video games from the mainstream media. And yes, there’s a Fortnite guide on The Sun, too.
My concern with this kind of bad reporting is it diverts attention away from the issues that actually matter when it comes to kids playing video games online. My daughter is too young to play video games, but I do worry she’ll encounter toxicity, sexism and death threats when she’s old enough to floss in Fortnite. And aren’t loot boxes still teaching our children how to gamble?
It’s not all bad reporting, though. If you’re a parent with genuine concerns about Fortnite, you should read this useful guide by friend of Eurogamer Keith Stuart on The Guardian, which explains how to use the parental controls to limit the length of gaming sessions on consoles, and states that while Fortnite is a multiplayer shooter, it does not depict bloody violence.