Kids + FORTNITE = Violence? - What Effect does FORTNITE have on Children
This has been a long time coming. I have been formulating, researching, interviewing, writing, rewriting, and getting distracted from this piece for a quite a while. The reason for the delay is four-fold:
Finding time to sit with my interviewees was challenging; in the middle of writing this article I came across the podcast “Nerdificent” and their robust footnotes section which helped bolster some of my findings.
That ridiculous Venom article I wrote distracted me for about a while.
Most importantly, a second mass shooting occurred this year in a situation that had a direct link to the topic.
This is my first foray into video games and gaming culture AS WELL AS my first politically and ideologically charged work.
My goal has always been to inform and entertain, and not necessarily in that order. I do my best to write about what I love and what I feel would be most interesting to read. I try to stay positive, or at least not negative, offering opinions, constructive criticism, theories, and alternate takes.
This will be different. The impetus for this work was based on a STUPID, ILL-CONCEIVED, AND FRANKLY DANGEROUS report from Fox News insinuating that the recent rash of shootings, including the Parkland School shooting, had nothing to do with the relative ease of access to firearms but was most likely due to violent video games. I hate this argument. This is the argument of an ignorant person, I don’t care whether you are young, old, Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative, a nobody, or the President of the United States. If I attempt to explain what a moral panic is, how it’s nearly impossible to accurately prove or disprove violence attributed to video games, and when studies are done they largely. show. no. link. to. violence or are simply buried for the few that do, I will LITERALLY never stop typing. Luckily, I don’t have to prove anything here, I have 30+ years of research on the topic and thousands of years of history of panics being used to hide the truth that I really don’t need to put my two cents into it.
What I am here to talk about is the reason for all of this… to protect powerful lobbies from actual persecution and regulation and to further political careers… BOOM ROASTED!... I am sorry, I forgot the immensely sarcastic quotations around the word reason. Let me try this again…
What I am here to talk about is the “reason” for all of this… to protect the child. You see, all of this controversy isn’t because enacting real change is difficult and challenging and could mean doing some actual work, it’s because CHILDREN play video games and they need our protection. From who you say? I mean the politicians and political leaders who largely have never played, don’t understand, and have probably never even seen a video game before. To say they are out of touch with what they are trying to regulate is an insult to things that can be touched! Hell I don’t think most of these people have referred to anyone under the age of 25 as anything other than “those damn kids”. So I did something pretty friggin outside the box, something that none of these other “intellectuals” did before telling the world that the youth was being corrupted.
I talked to them.
I sat down with 10 children between the ages of 7 and 12 and talked to them about video games, violence, and Fortnite.
Let me set my guidelines for what comes next. Every child’s parent(s) was asked permission if I could speak with them. Once it was given, the child was asked if he or she would be okay with me asking them a few questions about video games and if it was okay if I recorded their answers. I asked every child the same questions, ranging from “how often they play video games in general”, to “their opinions on people who stream video games online”, to “whether they prefer playing games solo or with friends”, to “what they think causes violence in schools”. I will not be giving out identifying information except for a first name and age of anyone I quote. These children were kind enough to spend a half hour of their time with me and having seen what happens when a child takes a stand, there is no way IN HELL that I am going to allow anyone to come after them.
Why Fortnite in particular? Simple, it is one of the most popular games today, its player base is about the same as Mexico’s population, and it has become the main target of the anti-video game lobby. Do I need to explain more? Epic Games, the creative team behind Fortnite, just announced that August 2018 set the record for the most usage in the games history as well as being the impedance for nearly 200 divorces!... It's friggin popular.
I began every interview with a few easy “get to know you” questions. I figured let’s keep it simple and easy first then move to the harder questions.
“Would you call yourself a gamer?”
The answer is “yes” right? I picked these children BECAUSE I knew they played video games. It was the ENTIRE POINT of the conversation…
I received a “yes” 6 times, “I don’t know” twice, “no” once, and my personal favorite, “what does that mean?”. This was relatively eye opening to me. I identified as a gamer at their age, it was a badge of honor, I was proud that I was a gamer. I decided to dig in with my follow up question.
“What does that word mean to you?”
12 year old Liam, who had answered “no” to the first question, gave me the most insight into how much times have changed. “A gamer is someone who is really good at playing video games, they do it a lot and they probably get paid for it… I like to play games, but I don’t think I am good enough to say I am a gamer”. It was an enlightening statement, everyone plays video games nowadays, and thanks to systems like the Nintendo Wii, your Grandmother is now a “gamer”. 15, even 10 years ago, a gamer was someone whose defining feature was that they played video games, now, video games are so much a part of the zeitgeist that Microsoft’s answer to Siri was Cortana, a character from the video game Halo, being installed in every Windows device
I continued on, asking them how often they played games, and how much of that was Fortnite? On average, they played between 4 to 7 hours a week, with about 60% (3 to 5 hours) of that being Fortnite. From here we dug deep into the game itself.
“Can you describe the game for me and what do you like most about it?”
You can imagine what it sounds like to hear a video game explained by a child, they aren’t known as a concise bunch, so I will skip most of that part. What I will mention is that only 3 of my interviewees used the word “kill” in the description. Most of them focused on the survival aspect, my lone female spent a large majority of her explanation talking about the dancing, and Liam, who explained that he much prefers Minecraft, had me believing that this was a quick build simulator with a time limit.
What was even more interesting was what they liked most: “Dancing”, “dancing”, “the skins and the dancing”, “the building is really really fun!” 9 out of 10, without hesitation, listed the emotes as the most fun part of the game. This actually makes a lot of sense. Violence and competition is an inherent part of… well… pretty much every video game ever, so it falls to the intangibles to make a game stand out. The same things that create the biggest pop culture shake-ups are the things that people tend to like the most.
Video games don’t make killers, they make dancers, they make memes, they make Twitter trends and Instagram stories. They make touchdown celebration dances.
Devon, 10, explained it a little better. “The dancing is fun, you don't see it in other games. My favorite is the... Llama Bell!” The funny part about the final sentence is he paused for… What felt like an hour before finally choosing his favorite. He had, without hesitation, explained the in's and out's of not being a noob for a solid 5 minutes, and froze when he tried to pick his favorite emote. The game was incidental to him. It was just a way to get to what he really liked. He came for the Royale and stayed for the Infinite Dab.
I followed that up with what their least favorite part of the game was but didn't really get anything worth touching upon except Madison raising her voice WAY too loud and saying “when my mother tells me I have to get off!”. I will be perfectly honest, I had to pause for a few minutes before regaining my composure. I touched upon their skill levels and found a few winners. Devon pointed out that he was really good but since his best friend wasn't he would pretend to be offline whenever it was game time and Brian, 8, wrecked me when he explained the complex system he had set in place for his older brother. You see, Brian is a savant at Fortnite, I'm not even exaggerating; I've played with him before and had to pretend I was experiencing lag to explain why he was playing so much better than I was. His older brother, Jason isn't. So to protect his K/D ratio and win percentage, Brian only allows Jason to play “X” amount a games per day with additional games for good play. I'm going to be honest, Brian is my new spirit animal.
“Do you watch any Fortnite streamers? Which ones? Why them in particular?”
I clearly need to get better at interviewing because I go in expecting certain answers and it burns me every time. Only 4 of my pint-sized pals watched streamers in any real way, a few had watched with friends but not enough to be knowledgeable on the topic. Some of the streamers they followed were Myth, Ninja, Mongraal (a very young streamer so this makes sense), and Nick Eh 30….
Sidenote: I want to step aside for a second to talk about Nick Eh 30. He was the only streamer I hadn't heard of and only Liam had mentioned him. Nick’s claim to fame is that he is an exceptional builder and getting to know Liam better, this was very interesting. Liam likes to play Fortnite but LOVES Minecraft. As a matter of fact, Liam recently built a model of his town on the video game and already knows that he wants to be an architect when he's older. He was and is a big fan of LEGO’s and came upon Minecraft and realized that it is pretty much an infinite sandbox for a fan of building. He asked me to mention that if the Fortnite creators ever read this to “please make the Playground mode permanent… it's the best part”. He follows the other streamers for the reasons I will mention soon, but spends hours a week ‘YouTube’ing’ the best building gamers and streamers to see what crazy patterns they come up with off the cuff. He came across Nick Eh 30 and found someone who excelled in fast and creative building and was drawn in like a moth to a flame. I don't have any real insight to add to this, I just find a sort of simple beauty in it.
… most of these streamers are top notch players, no doubt about that. They are generally players who you can trust to win a lot and get a ton of eliminations in the process. That's not why they spend hours a week watching them though. “I like a lot of really good streamers but I like some okay ones as well,” Will told me. “They are really cool because they will talk to you while they play and they're funny and cool and don't curse too much so my parents let me watch it.” That was the most common trend among my stream watchers, they cared most about how funny/cool/charming/smart the streamers were and their excellent gameplay was just a bonus. Similar to the reasons behind liking Fortnite, they gravitated towards the characters and their personalities. People like Ninja don't average 15 to 20 THOUSAND followers per day while live and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of views after it has been archived by just being talented at a free-to-play video game, they also have to be fun to watch.
From the preliminary questions on video games, I began to shift my focus to the main questions for the interview. I began by asking how they prefer to play video games, solo or online with friends or strangers. Without fail, everyone said online with friends or solo (as in a single player game, not online). I asked if they knew anyone who wasn't allowed to play for any reason and no one answered in the affirmative. Then we finally got to the heart of the matter…..
I explained that I asked the previous question to lead to this…
“Do you think Fortnite is a violent video game?”
I honestly didn't know what to expect here. I felt uncomfortable asking the question for the first few interviews because I felt like it was almost a leading question, the game is literally called a Battle Royale.
So when I was told “no” by 9 out of my 10 kiddos I was a little confused. “But there are guns and you can die, how is it not violent?”, I said. Most explained, in painfully simple and patient tones, that the “video game makes it clear that your character doesn't die, that when they take too much damage they get teleported back to the starting island, healthy and ready for the next match.’ James, the youngest person I spoke with at 7, hit me with the hard truth, “Matt, when you get shot in the game a number pops up, that's not very realistic”... And you know what? They were FRIGGIN right! I had never even noticed that those number indicators are clearly things in the game that occurs. The game shows damage counters and health bars, has potions that you can drink to gain shields, and when you are eliminated a little robot actually teleports your body away. These are generally little details that help the player in the game, but Epic Games has clearly used those little bits and pieces to make the game more friendly for all ages and my jaded ass never even noticed.
My next questions were ruined because I was going to ask if the violence scares them and if the violence was what made it fun, I already knew the second answer anyway…. Dancing, in case you're having trouble keeping up. This wasn’t the end of the world for me honestly… interviewing children and hoping for them to pay full attention is a practice in futility unlike anything else I have done in a while.
“Do you ever feel angry or want to do violent things during or after you play Fortnite?”
This question scared the shi…. crap out of me. After all of my work and research and writing and rewriting would be for naught if even a few said yes. The answers were pleasantly honest and measured. In all honesty, I think this is when most of the kids realized this was about a little more than just a fun video game. Most said “no”, but all explained that they would get frustrated sometimes when they felt like they had been cheated or were particularly playing poorly. Many also explained to me in simple words that “it’s just a game, Matt”. Devon really took this question seriously. Of all of my interviewees I was most moved by his response. He is intelligent WELL beyond his 10 years and took this entire interview process as serious as a job interview or something similar. He explained to me that “video games make you mad sometimes, but it isn’t the games’ fault, you just need to get better, and when you finally do you feel SO good about it.” I asked him what about those times that you just can’t get better and he answered in the simplest way…., “that’s why I play Squads with my friends.”
How powerful is that? What happens when you can’t do it yourself? Your friends help you, and you help them. I remember getting that hot burning behind my eyes with how sure he was of his answer. Without fail, each child talked about getting annoyed and mad at a bad game or run of losses, some having to shut the game off to cool down, but always returning to that response, “it’s just a game.”
I asked a few more follow-up questions and moved along to ask them what was their most violent game that each of them had played. They all said Call of Duty; Like, every kid. Is that weird? I don’t really know. I just found it kind of funny. What made it interesting was that none of them played it for long. Some were frightened by the more realistic violence, others simply found it boring, but the consensus was that no matter how cool the game looked, it was pretty much just a shooting game.
I did a quick, off the cuff follow-up question to the Call of Duty response, asking them what type of game Fortnite was. Responses didn’t quite pan out. It shouldn’t be shocking that asking a child to determine the genre of a video game isn’t going to produce coherent answers. Not only did a single child not know what the word “genre” meant, but even if he or she did, Fortnite isn’t exactly a game to easily classify. If you want to give it a shot yourself, play (or watch) a match or two and try to classify it as something as broad as “action/adventure”, it isn’t easy. I CAN CONFIRM that Fortnite is NOT a shooting game, because, to me, they are boring and Fortnite isn’t boring.
“Do you think playing violent video games makes you a violent person?”
A heavy question for a kid I know, but you have to really hit them where it HURTS sometimes. Most of them were not sure exactly how to answer. It was interesting watching them sit there for a second, really thinking. I am not sure how many people have questioned a kid about, well pretty much anything, but they will begin answering you the second the question leaves your mouth. It doesn’t matter if they even know what they’re saying, they just know that they need to answer. So getting a young person to pause and consider the weight of a question is a sight to see. “I don’t really know,” Logan told me (yeah I interviewed a kid named after Wolverine, he’s awesome), “it could, maybe.” I don’t understand why though. Games are supposed to be fun but maybe if he or she is really sad or something, maybe.” I could see the gears working to allow his young mind to comprehend how something that was meant to bring joy could make someone hurt another instead. I saw similar mental gymnastics between some of the other kids as well as they tried to answer this question. I thought it was strange since this is such a commonly discussed topic, which made me ask the question…
“Have you ever been told that video games cause violence before?”
“No”. Across the board. Madison and James both asked if that was true and I explained that some people will say yes but that I believed the opposite (I will explain my beliefs later).
“What do you think about kids shooting other kids in school?”
To bring a little context, I did explain to them that recently there have been a few situations where kids have brought guns and weapons to school to hurt other students and teachers. I didn’t want to scare them but I wanted to make sure they knew what I was talking about in as simple and basic as possible.
The majority of the children gave pretty understandable answers, offering condolences and sympathies to the families and survivors. When I asked if they felt video games could have been a cause, the most revealing response came from Devon again, “I don't think so… I think people get mad and hurt others because THEY are sad or being picked on. I feel bad for them”... I don't know what else to add to this. What can I say that analyzes, breaks down, or explains that sentence any better? All I can do is say my final question:
“Do you have anything to say to older people about video games?
“They're fun, you should try them.”
“Stop being so serious about them.”
“Video Games are fun and kids really like playing them.”
“It's okay if you don't understand them, they're probably not for you anyway.”
“It's sad that kids have gotten hurt and I really hope that video games aren't (the reason) why.”
“Don't take it so seriously, they're just games.”
“Why do adults care so much? They're just games.”
“What should I tell them about video games? They're just video games, who doesn't know about them?.”
“They're just video games.”
“Yeah, just games”.
Weird how a child can see what a politician and “adult” can't. It is so important to have a scapegoat, an “other” to build up as a villain that it becomes easy to overlook what it is you are blaming. The video game industry is huge, don't get me wrong, but it's a single branch of the entertainment industry. It competes with movies, television, books, and audio medias; all fields that have been accused of horrible things: corrupting youths, causing violence, even creating devil worshippers. We have since moved past such stupid accusations for the most part and it's time to move past them for video games as well.
There is no easy solution to violence and violent acts, ESPECIALLY those acted upon by or towards children.
That isn't what this article is meant to be. I am not deluded enough to believe I am the man who can solve violence in schools. I know I am not smart enough, or studied enough, or clever enough to come up with any lasting and permanent solution that could encompass every factor that leads to someone harming another on purpose. If that’s what you are looking for, this is not that article.
This article is simply meant to shed light on the fact that younger people are being affected by this violence while people who are possibly too old to play Pong pretend they understand the cause. If these people (read “politicians”) actually cared about enacting lasting policies to protect children in schools, that person would stop pretending that they knew the answers and would actually dig deep enough to research them. I only spent 5 hours speaking to children and I could see that the scapegoat of “video games cause violence” is no longer an acceptable response.
To be honest, I'm exhausted writing this. I have gone through this article hundreds of times over a span of a few months and I'm mentally drained from this research.
I've twice considered deleting this research all together and doing something more fun because I know this will go nowhere. No politician will read this and if they did, would they care? Who cares what kids think, right? But I didn't write this for them.
I wrote this because I saw some of the children in my neighborhood outside on a particularly beautiful Saturday recently and something happened that caught my eye. They had Nerf guns and were using chairs and blankets to build oddly shaped forts. After a minute, I noticed a girl, who fell to her hands and knees and started crawling (while the shooter began a familiar dance), so I had to ask what they were doing. They told me they were playing Fortnite. Outside. With friends.
They were being social and creative and exercising and doing all of those things we have always been told that video games destroy and diminish. I wrote this for them. I did this because these children weren’t being corrupted by video games, they were being inspired and encouraged to think outside the box.
I did this so the next generation knows that at least one F@#$&?! PERSON is paying attention to what they think. I believe in them. I believe that they are smarter than I was at their age and in some aspects smarter than I am now. They see the world in different, more advanced ways than I do and they don't even realize it yet.
They learned responsibility and compassion from Pokemon, structural design, geometry, and survival skills from Minecraft, and strategic planning from Mario vs Rabbids. And what did they learn from Fortnite? They've learned to think fast and think creatively. These are skills crucial to becoming an adult. 10,000 years ago these skills were learned through actions. 5,000 through language. 1,500 through books. 25 through television. And now… do I have to say it?
If you somehow have been living under a rock and have only been able to keep tabs on my works alone and nothing else, Fortnite is a free to play video game that just launched its 6th season earlier this month. I suggest you check it out. You won’t be disappointed.