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By Stephanie Thurrott

You’ve probably at least heard of Fortnite — the wildly popular online game that has reportedly earned over $1 billion in in-game purchases. And while the game’s revenue growth may be slowing, players are still spending plenty of time trying to outlast each other and watching friends, celebrities and top players duel it out on Twitch and YouTube.

Along with that popularity comes parental concern about how much time kids are playing, especially now that the school year is in full swing.

Fortnite season 6 is slated to launch on September 27 (though launch dates have shifted in the past). What does that mean? Fortnite runs in roughly 10-week seasons, and each season might bring a new or updated theme or map, as well as new skins (outfits) and emotes (dances) to tempt your son or daughter into more gameplay. If your child bought a season 5 battle pass, they’ll likely want another one for season 6.

WHY IS FORTNITE SO FUN?

To encourage your child to strike a healthy balance between Fortnite and real life, it’s important to understand what’s driving the game’s popularity. To find out, I didn’t have to look far to find players. My 20-year-old son, Mark Thurrott, and my 13-year-old niece, Kayla-Lynn Perez, shared their thoughts on what makes the game attractive.

  • It’s free. “My friends and I normally don’t all have the same games, so I feel like Fortnite is more fun because everyone plays it. We get to know each other better while we’re playing,” Perez says.
  • It has broad appeal. “Almost everyone I know plays Fortnite,” Thurrott says. “It’s become such a big thing that I’ve even had a professor talking about it in class. Teachers can use it as an example and everyone knows what’s going on, because everyone has seen it, played it or heard about it.”
  • It’s accessible. New players are joining all the time, so it’s unlikely you’ll finish dead last in the 100-player games. Players can band together in duos or squads of four. Newer players pick up techniques by watching top players play online. And the cartoon graphics make the violence feel less, well, violent.

IT’S NOT ALL BAD

With all that appeal behind it, what’s a parent to do? First of all, recognize that Fortnite can be a force for good in your family, and I don’t mean coaching your kids to victory in the $100 million 2019 Fortnite World Cup.

“Kids do have to reason through a lot of different scenarios and make decisions about how to best advance in the game, and of course there’s eye-hand coordination. There are certain skills that are transferable from video games to life and work after school, says Leonard D. Reeves, MD, a family physician in Rome, Georgia, and a member of the board of directors of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Kids also build camaraderie within and outside the game. “We rely on each other when we play,” Perez says. And talking about the game offline with peers can help kids make social connections.

That said, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours of screen time a day for kids age 2 and older — and that’s from all sources: phones, tablets, computers, video games and TV. And the best way to enforce that limit is to model that behavior ourselves. Managing screen time in Fortnite is the same as with any other technology, points out Keith Smith, PhD, assistant professor of marketing at Northeastern University, who specializes in digital products, social media and online environments.

Along with screen time, it’s important to keep an eye on stress levels, too. Reeves says, “The player really does react in ways as if it were an actual situation. When you really get into the game the adrenaline gets pumping, the heart rate goes up, blood pressure goes up. It’s good to have some down time,” he says. If your child is dealing with stress in other areas of life, limiting play time is especially important. “You’re adding stress on top of stress,” he notes.

GIVE IT A GO

Reeves recommends that parents play Fortnite with their kids. “That’s a good way to model what we’re saying. You can say, ‘OK, we can play for so many minutes,’ then do it and enjoy it. Any time parents get involved with their child it’s a plus for both.” Once the time is up, move on to another activity, ideally something that requires some exercise or movement.

Playing even a couple of games with your kids will help you understand what limits can work. Since Fortnite is a last-player-standing game, arbitrary time limits like 20 more minutes or turning the game off at a certain time won’t go over well. A better limit? Telling your child they have to take a break after they win, or after two or three losses (wins take longer than losses.)

That’s how my son Mark balances his game time with his studies (or at least that’s what he tells me). “If I win I stop there. I get that sense of accomplishment and I’ll do some homework. If I lose I’ll play one or two more games. I know when I lose I’ll want to keep playing, but it’s hard to get a win when there are 100 people playing,” he says. “You can really get yourself involved to the point where time is flying by.”

PLAY OFF WHAT KIDS WANT

Just like in the real world, kids want cool stuff. In Fortnite that translates to emotes, skins and bling for your weapons and backpack. (You can’t buy anything that improves your gameplay.) “Players can use these items to adorn their avatar or dress their avatar in a certain way to allow them to express their identity,” Smith says. These items are generally only available for a limited time, so their scarcity makes them coveted.

You buy items with an in-game currency called V-Bucks, with 1,000 V-Bucks costing $9.99. You can purchase items individually, or by a Battle Pass for the season (950 V-Bucks). A Battle Pass lets you complete challenges in the game to unlock additional rewards.

With season 6 starting, you can use the promise of a new Battle Pass, or V-Bucks, to reward behavior you want to encourage in your child. (Of course, supervise any online purchases. The game’s popularity has attracted scammers selling fake V-Bucks.) Just save some money for next month’s inevitable request — Fortnite Halloween costumes.

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