To say Fortnite: Battle Royale is popular is an understatement. The third-person game is massive. Officially the most downloaded free-to-play console title of all time, the game has captured the thumbs of nearly 3.4 million players. It’s easy to see why: Fortnite is free to download*, available on both on the console and as a smartphone/tablet app, and honestly, it’s whole Minecraft-meets-Hunger-Games-vibe is lot of fun.
But, like many online video games, however, it can also be incredibly addictive. It’s live. It’s gripping. It’s an easy way to hang out with friends. Players can’t just hit “pause” and walk away. Plus, when a battle has ended, it’s easy to get sucked into another match. For many kids — and parents — that pull can be very dangerous.
Bill Fish, a father of two sons aged nine and 13, was reluctant from the start to let his kids begin online gaming. He was worried that other adults playing would try to talk to his kids online. But when he saw that other parents had relented, he did, too. And then Fortnite hit their household. Bill noticed things he really didn’t like: his kids would play for hours on end, miss dinner, and be late to sports practices. Even worse, they’d fight each other to get on the console. They were, in his words, “crazy addicted”.
Here, Bill talks about how he confronted his kids addiction, the plan he put in place to their usage, and how he’s trying to stay level-headed about the whole thing.
My kids playing online video games is probably my worst nightmare. My wife asked around and a lot of other moms were allowing it, but not allowing kids to have a headset. And this was before I really understood what Fortnite was. The more and more people I talked to, the more of an issue I thought this game would be. But they played.
My kids became crazy addicted to Xbox. It got to the point where, I guess growing up as a kid of the nineties, it was like, you could pause the video game whenever you wanted. Or you could invite your buddies over to play Mario Kart or whatever. But this is just a whole different thing.
There are so many times where my kids wouldn’t come upstairs, or they were late to this, and late to that. They wouldn’t have all their stuff together. It was super infuriating. Not to mention, we would sit at the dinner table and all they would talk about was some lingo of assault rifles on this game. We have all these school shootings!
But I thought, I’m overreacting, because everyone else is letting their kids do this. So then I walked in on them a couple of times, and I saw the game in play. They were so rabid about it. My 9-year-old would be crying about, Well, Johnny said he didn’t want to play with me, whatever, blah blah blah, and I’m like, This is literally taking over our lives.
One night after the kids went to bed where my wife and I were just like, we have to nip this in the bud and figure out a way to control it. I literally think they could sit in a room and probably piss their pants and not even go to the bathroom to play this game.
That’s when we started to put together rules of when they could play it and things of that nature, to figure it out that way.
During the school year, we would let them play Friday after school until Sunday evening. That doesn’t mean 24 hours a day during that time, it’s just that those are the only times that they’re even eligible to play. So, during the school week, it was just not allowed one bit. And then, on a Friday they get home from school, we let them play for a while and then we probably go to dinner as a family, and they have sports, whatever.
The whole idea was that was the only window that they could even do it. We probably instituted that rule in April. School got out on June 1st, so we knew we had to come up with a different plan for the summer, and that’s when we decided they could earn minutes to play Fortnite by doing real-world things.
Every minute they walk the dogs, they get a minute on Fortnite. If they’re outside, legitimately exercising, playing basketball, every minute they’re at a sports practice, if they are reading a book, they can be earning minutes. We want them to be reading more and we want them to be outside more, and not just sitting in front of the darn screen. So really, school work and exercise, those types of things.
My wife found an app called Circle. You hook it up to your router and then you register all of the devices in your house. You go through and assign each device to a person in the house, and there’s a scrolling wheel where you can see a headshot of everybody. I can just click on my oldest son, see his lovely face, and hit pause on any device that he owns and he’s just immediately off wifi. With the Xbox, there’s no cell connection to that, so before we go to dinner or anywhere, sports practice, we shut off Fortnite 15 minutes before — they’ll be in the middle of the game — they’ll throw a tantrum. But there have been so many times where I drive my son to Baseball practice — I’m the coach — and he forgets his shoes and his glove because he’s sprinting out of the house because he was still in the middle of a game.
After they go to bed, my wife will put together a job list for the next day. Put the clothes basket away, take the dog for a walk, and Fortnite will be available for 11 a.m. 2 p.m. And that’s it. They have to divide up their time for that. Because they’re doing other things that actually normal kids should be doing this summer. They have never used all of their minutes, but I think that by giving them a scheduled time, they feel like, Oh my god, we can play it for three hours in a row?
At first, they were super against the new rules. What I said to them, is that we only fight about this stupid video game. We have to put our foot down in some way. Carter, my youngest, he’s crying, Charlie is fighting him because he wants to be on the game. It’s just one thing after another after another. It got to the point where it’s like, this is not good for them.
I don’t even care about sitting in front of a screen. It’s the emotion that it gets out of them: this rage of getting killed in a game.
I also see dynamics from school. There’s a kid that my oldest goes to school with. I’m sure they pick on this kid a little bit, and I hear them saying: “Oh, let’s wait until Timmy goes over here,” and let’s all gang up on him on the video game. Here’s the real world, now, gone into this online video game.
*Like many games, Fortnite has in-game purchases and made $223 million in the month of April alone.