Why Children Love the 'Fortnite' Video Game So Much, In Their Own Words

'Fortnite' (Epic Games)

A couple of months ago, I was hanging out with my friend's three children (11-year-old Bruno 9-year-old twins Zita and Lucas) when they told me quite firmly, "You should write about Fortnite. Everyone at school is obsessed with it." What I gathered from them was that this was a video game causing a fervor not seen since the Pokémon GO craze of summer 2016 -- only this was significantly less cute.

"It's really out of hand," Bruno said. "Parents don't let their kids play Call of Duty or Assassin's Creed, but Fortnite is more allowed because it looks so animated and you don't blow up when you get shot." Zita audibly sighed: "A lot of people in school play it because they think they're cool when they do."

Then, last week, I heard from my sister, who lives in Australia with her two young daughters. "Have you heard of this Fortnite game?" she asked. "The school just sent us a letter about it and they've never done that about a video game before."

She forwarded me the letter, which offered a detailed description of play: "Much like The Hunger Games, 100 players are dropped into a world (that's 100 strangers) and work to collect resources to eliminate other players using weapons they've collected. The game takes on a cartoon-like narrative and does not have any graphic depictions of blood and guts." The letter closed with a suggestion that, if children wanted to play, parents should do it with them and monitor them closely.

In the UK, recent newspaper reports about Fortnite have been far less measured. According to the Daily Mirror: “Primary school heads across Britain have urged their pupils to stay away from 'highly-addictive' video game Fortnite... Teachers say the violent game is behind an increase in poor behavior by students and is distracting pupils from their work… A nine-year-old girl was forced into rehab after she became so addicted she refused to leave the screen to go to the toilet, according to one report.”

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Given the pervasiveness of Fortnite on a now-global level, KQED Pop decided to talk to both parents and kids to find out what impact the game is having on them. The kids have a wide variety of reasons for loving the game, while parents, across the board, expressed a combination of frustration and despair.

Elizabeth Boucher, a mother of two boys, aged 9 and 12, says that "the game has been a massive pain in our family." She agreed to allow her oldest son to start playing six months ago, after he complained that “it’s all everyone talks about in school. I can’t join in with conversations.”

But Boucher has found it hard to get him away from the game. "As an example of how it affects family dynamics," she says, "we’ve offered to take them to their favorite Italian restaurant tonight, but they would rather just [stay in] to increase their game time. I spoke to them last night about whether they felt the house had been happier without the game and they both agreed it had. They thought we were all less angry. It doesn’t matter how long they play for, it's never enough. There's nearly always an argument when they are asked to come off."

Andy Fyfe, father to Junior, 11, and Nell, 9, echoes Boucher's thoughts. "It's a constant source of conflict," he says. "Because it’s so addictive, we ration it very strictly. When he’s told to stop playing, Junior’s often extremely combative and pissed off, and it takes a few minutes to get his head out of attack mode, which I guess testifies to Fortnite's immersive nature. He’s getting better at modifying that behavior and, when he does snap out of it, he’s incredibly apologetic -- almost ashamed sometimes. But it's never enough game time, and the constant 'When can I go back on?' wheedling is a huge source of friction. Nell wasn’t bothered about the game until she realized that demanding Fortnite time wound Junior up, so she started playing it out of spite. Now she’s hooked as well!"

Junior explains why: "The variety of the gameplay is really exciting. Each battle is different and created in a random way, so you never know what you’re going to have to deal with. The reason I like playing with my friends is the 2x2 matches, where you team up with a friend and there’s a ton of other pairs. You’re fighting 49 other teams for the victory. You can build places to hide, and the variety of weapons is exciting. When you get the latest gun you feel like you’ve won already."

The primary concerns that come up repeatedly from parents are both the violence involved in game play, and the fact that their kids are coming into contact with so many strangers online. Which, it turns out, are two major appeals for the kids themselves.

One 9-year-old boy says, "It’s really fun. It’s a shooting game without any blood in it. I love it because there are so many different weapons and challenges. It’s just so fun!"

Max, 11, says, "My favorite parts of Fortnite are communicating with kids and getting high kills."

Nell says, "Being able to talk to friends is really exciting. It’s like a virtual playground. Except with guns and killing. I wouldn’t want that in my real playground."

Olivia, 11, says, "I like that you can talk to people through your headset. I like playing with everyone around the world; anyone can play it. My mum tries to stop me because she doesn't like the violence, but I don’t really listen. I don’t usually like video games, but this one I really like. I played it once and it was just like that [snaps fingers]."

Lucy Murphy, a mother of two boys, aged 7 and 9, says, "It frightens the life out of me regarding [them talking to] strangers. A big reason why the Xbox is in the living room rather than being away in a play room -- so we can keep a close eye on them. I’ve always hated shooting games. I just can’t get my head around all the violence. When we go into gaming stores, I look at all the posters and games and it amazes me how many are violent. It makes me sad that this is what's popular."

What becomes clear from the kids though, is that, if Fortnite was only about fighting to the virtual death, it probably wouldn't hold their attention for so long. Characters are appealing because of special victory dance moves and "skins" -- costumes available to buy using "V-Bucks," a virtual currency.

"It’s not just about killing other players," Nell says. "You get to build things by using the stuff left around, or cutting down trees and mining materials. The new dances are really great too." Her brother, Junior agrees. "The most intriguing thing for me is that there’s always new games and game modes," he says, "and new skins too." Justice, 11, likes other virtual accessories, "I love the jetpack! That's the latest addition to Fortnite."

When Olivia confirms that a major appeal for her are "all the skins," her mother asks: "Why do you want to spend V-Bucks on things that aren’t real? It’s nothing you can bring home and have forever, so you can’t get anything from it really."

"You can!" Olivia objects. "I just really like them! The best skin is Omega. I haven't got that yet."

USGamer.net theorizes that "skins are a mark of wealth in the free-to-play world. They show off to other players on the battlefield that hey, I have the money to spend on this game."

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While she doesn't play the game herself, 9-year-old Zita wants everyone -- kids and parents -- to keep the Fortnite craze in perspective. "I think Fortnite's not the best, but if you think about fidget spinners and Jake Paul, those were things that everyone got obsessed with for a few months, and now no one cares at all about them. Fortnite," she concludes, "is probably just a phase."

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