Can your kids learn from playing Fortnite? I believe so. First, let me say that I am uncomfortable with younger kids playing this all-for-one game and what some kids may be learning from playing Fortnite. The solo Battle Royale version fosters an every-man-for-himself culture in which there are no friends, only survivors. Is Fortnite teaching kids to care only about themselves? Fortnite also teaches kids about finding the best ways to kill other players. Wonderful stuff, right? I’m not too worried about it making kids more violent, because the research just doesn’t support those fears: the overwhelming majority of kids will not become violent because of playing Fortnite. My concern is that games such as Fortnite may make kids who are prone to violence less sensitive to the impact of aggressive behavior.
So what types of skills might a child learn while playing Fortnite? One of the main things that draws kids to Fortnite is its intensity. They are on the edge of their seats while playing, tuning into everything that is happening around them. This is a characteristic of action games. Players who are engaged with Fortnite are practicing the executive-functioning skill of focus. We delineate three separate subskills in our definition of the executive-functioning skill of focus: task initiation, sustained attention, and persistence.
Action games often require players to traverse long and difficult levels, requiring a significant investment of time and attention. It is imperative that players be able to maintain attention to the game over a sustained period of time in order to make it all the way to the end. Given that everyone else is an “enemy” in Fortnite, vigilance, attention, and not allowing distractions are vital. In addition, most action games contain tricky sections that task players with focusing on multiple factors at once: dodging enemies, timing perilous jumps, and learning new skills, all of which entail deep concentration. Players will meet setback after setback if they allow themselves to become distracted.
Here are some of the ways that Fortnite practices the skill of Focus:
Know how to get started quickly and efficiently. In Fortnite, players must use task initiation at the crucial moment when they are dropped out of the plane at the beginning of the game.
Turning on one’s autonomic nervous system. Fortnite calls for the flight or fight of basic biological responsivity, which is highly focused and persistent. Fortnite is a fast-paced, constantly moving game in which players have little chance of winning if they do not keep moving, acting, and persisting in their efforts.
Sustaining focus on your own situation and that of others. Players must keep their focus on their materials/weapons, enemies, and overall surroundings at all times Constant attention is the key to success, whether it be the sound of a shot in the distance hinting at where another player may be or keeping attention on the safe zone of the map and using that information to keep moving forward.
Other strategies beyond playing Fortnite to improve children’s executive-functioning skill of focus include:
This article is one of a series of posts about Fortnite. In the past month I’ve been approached by many new services, including Fox News.com, WBZ radio, and Bloomberg News, to provide an expert opinion about the pros and cons of children playing Fortnite. My basic message has been that Fortnite is inappropriate for children under the age of 13, as it is built in a way that can encourage overuse or, in rare cases, even addiction to the game. However, it can also provide opportunities for developing skills such as planning, organization, flexibility, problem-solving, and collaboration. At the same time, I have a sense of discomfort with the storyline of Fortnite, where the objective of the popular Battle Royale game is to kill everyone so that only you survive. This one-for-all motive in the game promotes a selfishness and lack of empathy for others that permeates our societal and political environment.
Photo courtesy Whelsko