Fortnite: Harmful Influence or Innocent Fun?

Popular online video-game, Fortnite, is currently a juggernaut of the gaming industry and a raging mainstream success. The Battle Royale game drops players into an open world where it’s survival of the fittest, in a Hunger Games style of death match. However, its grip amongst children has been the subject of international debate, raising concerns that many children's passion for the game borderlines on obsession, leading to negative impacts on their behaviour.

Noah Vowles, a 10-year-old player of Fortnite, spends his pocket money every week on the game to keep up with its latest trends. His father, Gregory Vowles, says he’s now spent more than $100 on the in-game currency in the last 6 months. “He sees it like owning a pair of Nikes,” says Noah’s father, referring to the endless amount of skins someone can purchase on the game using V-Bucks, the in-game currency

V-Bucks are a huge source of revenue for this game, branded as being free-to-play. Forbes revealed in June that 68.8% of Fortnite players have spent money purchasing the in-game currency. Of those people, the average amount of money spent on V-Bucks is a stunning $84.67 — about the same price as a typical new release game off the shelf. It’s no wonder this game has now grossed over a billion dollars.

The option to customise the player character has been a driving factor in the game’s success. Participants can play as a number of different characters, often with quirky and interesting outfits called skins. This immersion allows the player to feel as though their character is really an extension of them self. This feature is often themed amongst holidays throughout the year — such as the recent skulltrooper skin for Halloween. This encourages a form of popularity contest surrounding who can have the coolest or rarest skin, which can be purchased with V-Bucks.

Much of Noah’s motivation for the game comes from the sense of community he feels by playing online with his friends. “I get to play with my friends, and I enjoy the teamwork,” says Noah. He suggests that Fortnite serves as a digital location where his friends can simply hang out as if they were in real life. “Everyone I know plays the game. It’s all we ever talk about”.

His father, Gregory Vowels, can see both the positives and negatives for the game that has entrenched itself in his son’s life. He worries that Noah spends too much time on the game — up to 20 hours a week. “He obsesses about it and all his conversations are based around it at home,” says Gregory. “It’s also very hard to get him off it. Things like dinner are very hard because of the nature of the gameplay — you can’t just press pause because it’s an online game”. Gregory is also aware of the peer pressure surrounding the game. “His friends never want him to get off.”

Still, Gregory speaks optimistically of his son’s desire to constantly engage and communicate with his friends, as they’re constantly working together in squads. “There’s a real competitiveness to it,” explains Gregory. Noah confirms this, boastfully stating, “I’m really good at the game too. I think it’s awesome”.

Darren Sugg, the creator of Fortnite, initially tweeted at the launch of the game in 2017 that he was,“Absolutely humbled by the response to this week’s @FortniteGamelaunch. 500k+ digital pre-order sales and just getting started!”. He was right. Since its launch, Fortnite has been played by over 125 million people worldwide on PS4, Xbox and PC.

The games rise to fame has prompted a media frenzy. Stories about Fortnite have become a common theme for almost every major news outlet. Before this interview, Noah defensively asked if I was conducting a similar news story that was trying to get people to stop playing the game.

Such concerns have even been raised in the Australian school system. The Guardian has reported that Sydney’s Bondi Beach Public School has issued a statement that it has seen “a noticeable change in some behaviours in the classroom and in the playground, that are directly linked to Fortnite”. Shepherd Lutheran primary school in Victoria also issued a warning earlier this year, urging parents to educate themselves about the games influence.

Gregory, a father of three, echoed an outlook shared by other parents. “They all complain about it the same as we do. Some of us are stricter on it. Others seem to just let them go”.

Despite its success among children, the game actually has a PEGI 12 age restriction and is rated M in Australia — meaning it shouldn’t be played by anyone under the age of 12. However, due to the inoffensive nature of the graphics, it’s hard to enforce any real age restriction. That duty again falls upon parents’ shoulders.

Despite its mainly positive reviews from critics, not everyone is a fan. South Australian gamer, Josh Golding, says he feels like the battle royale design lacks sophistication. “It’s not for me. I just don’t like the style of the game,” he explains. Instead he prefers to play other popular titles, like Dota 2, Counter Strike Global Offensive, and Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege.

Fortnite has been dubbed by some as the biggest game in history, but Its future remains uncertain. Many gamers now believe Fortnite simply cannot sustain such a high initial level of popularity. Analytics suggest that their overall revenue is slowly declining, having raised just 2% since June this year. Fortnite celebrity streamer, Ninja, has even instructed chatroom monitors to immediately ban anybody proposing the game is ‘dying’ or ‘dead’.

Noah Vowles seems uncertain if he’ll be playing in a year’s time. “It depends on if my friends still play it,” says the young gamer. Despite such uncertainty, the game’s still on pace to earn over $2 billion USD this year, without being at the full peak of its power.

Fortnite has also been criticised for halting the success of other titles on the market. Although the game has arguably pioneered the battle royale style of gameplay, it may be its very kryptonite in the end. The game is in constant competition with new and upcoming releases, like the October 12, 2018 release of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. The game features none other than its own adaption of the battle royale feature — sending gamers into sheer pandemonium.
 
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is just one of the many threats Fortnite will have to overcome to maintain its spot at the top of the gaming pedestal.