If you’re a parent and your child is over the age of 5, you’ve been asked the million-dollar question, “can I play Fortnite?”
The answer, of course, is “I don’t know, can you?” Then you get your phone out of your cargo pocket and play the hip hop air horn sound as you waddle out of the room pleased as punch. If you’re a mom, it’s more or less the same, minus probably the cargo pocket.
The real answer is: it’s complicated. But let’s go through some of the details that will help your decision.
1. Fortnite is free. Kind of.
Your child wants to play the “Battle Royale” mode and that mode is free to download and play. Yay!
But it’s not that easy, and this is going to be the longest section because of how complicated this issue is.There are two modes in Fortnite: Save the World and Battle Royale. Save the World mode is a story mode where you play single-player AND co-op missions. It is not competitive or player-versus-player (or PvP, as industry folk say). This mode does NOT come for free — and there are multiple “bundles” you can buy, each coming with a different amount of “V-Bucks,” (the in-game currency), skins and other gear.
WARNING: NONE OF WHAT YOU GET/UNLOCK/PURCHASE IN SAVE THE WORLD MODE CARRIES OVER TO BATTLE ROYALE MODE! Do not buy a larger, more expensive bundle in order to get skins if your child just wants to play the Battle Royale mode!
The most heartbreaking face I’ve ever seen on my son was (not when his pet fish died) when he hastily spent $60 on a higher-level Fortnite bundle, thinking he’d unlock skins to use in Battle Royale. Once he realized that he just spent a ton of birthday money on something he didn’t want, the face he made was haunting. I laid in bed that night and cried. I mean, not hard, but man, that face. I considered giving him money to pay him back because he’s too young to know about online game bundles and how companies intentionally and vaguely word things so kids will think they’re getting more than they are. The instant regret kills me because I’ve felt it myself after buying things. Ugh.
(I think that since then, Epic Games has rewritten some of their purchase descriptions to be more clear because they now have a message about things not carrying over. Or maybe we missed it initially?)
So, hey, Battle Royale mode is free! BUT — and this is the killer — your kid doesn’t want to play for free. In Battle Royale mode, there is a shop with rotating digital stock. Players can buy skins for their characters, gliders, pick-axes, dances and emotes. These are all cosmetic only and do not give anyone a competitive advantage. But they’ll cost you. Things in the shop can go from 200-2,000 V-Bucks. You can buy V-Bucks with YOUR REAL EARTH MONEY and you’ll usually get more than you put in (there are sales and specials depending on your system, but if you put in $24.99 you might get 2,500 plus a bonus 300 V-Bucks). But the baseline economy seems to be that you should expect 1,000 V-Bucks per $10 of your money.
And so you know what to expect, everyone (including my kid) went ape-crap recently over a 2,000-V-Buck skin called Raven. $20 for one skin. I wouldn’t let my son buy it because according to him, I’m a terrible father and I’m an idiot and I’m stupid and everyone else has it. (I’ve since confirmed through watching hours of my son playing with his friends that not everyone has it. Some do.)
You can also use V-Bucks to buy your way through the Battle Royale “tiers,” which is their ranking system. If your kid wants to level up through those tiers, they first need to buy the Battle Pass, which costs a couple hundred V-Bucks itself. Womp womp. On the bright side, some cosmetic items like skins, pick-axes, stickers and emotes are unlocked at different tiers, so your child can earn some cool stuff even if you only invest in the Battle Pass.
1.5! You can earn v-bucks through Save the World mode!
You just earn them slowly. But I do have a friend that says he earns enough V-Bucks in Save the World to buy his Battle Pass in Battle Royale.
2. All your kid’s friends play Fortnite
“All” is an estimate. In my 9-year-old son’s class, roughly all but two of the boys play. I know this because of the names I hear getting yelled over and over. More on that later.
Should you let your child play something just because everyone else is playing? Of course not. But you should know what you’re up against.
3. It’s got guns and killing, but it’s not bloody
This is a tough one that’s up to you and your family alone. Some families don’t mind their children playing more violent games. Some families have a “no guns” policy. That’s all up to you. The most important thing in my family is that we talk about violence — especially gun violence. We talk about the reality and unreality of games and the feelings that come from them. I think it’s a healthy way to parent, but I’m also far from perfect, so you’re on your own here.
As far as content in Fortnite goes, there are no bad words in the game. There is no blood. Characters are cartoony and have superhuman abilities. But, it’s still a game where you take control of a character and your goal is to kill people. In the team modes, when you deplete someone’s health, you “knock down” players before killing them. They’ll get down on their hands and knees and can crawl behind cover as their health slowly reduces to zero. This allows their teammate a chance to revive them, but it also then gives your kid a chance to kill someone who is crawling away from them. Honestly, as a parent, this scenario, where my son is stalking someone down and shooting at them as the victim tries to crawl to safety — it’s the only real imagery in the game that makes me think twice. But, I fall back on the idea that the imagery is cartoony and unrealistic, and I fall back on the talks I’ve had with my kid about violence, guns and reality.
4. Fortnite can be frustrating to less skilled kids
Fortnite has two mechanics to learn: the third-person shooter mechanic and the building mechanic. Because of this, a lot of matches come down to who can build the cover the fastest and most effectively. But, there are certainly matches where I’ve seen my son (or my wife! Or me!) hide for almost the entire match and place in the top 10. There are a lot of strategies in Fortnite, and while shooting and building are the two top ones, just learning a little stealth goes a long way.
5. Fortnite can be frustrating to kids with many friends
This seems weird, right? Here’s why having a lot of friends can be frustrating in Fortnite: while your child’s video game system of choice probably lets him/her create as big of a chat party as they’d like, they can only play with three friends at once. Fortnite has a couple of modes: solo, duo, squads, and a couple of others that don’t matter for this topic. In solo mode, it’s your kid versus the other 99 players. In duo mode, it’s your child and a partner versus 50 other teams of two. In squads mode, it’s your child and three friends versus teams of up-to-four, in the game of 100 players. So, inevitably what happens is that our kids aren’t strategic enough to just create multiple teams of four and stick to them. They all fight over who is going to play with whom. There is yelling, there is disappointment. People get kicked out of groups, people get hurt.
It’s, I’m sure, part of growing up nowadays; before online gaming, kids just had schoolyard sports that caused them to fight over picking teams. Now, it’s online too. So, just be there to remind your kids what’s important.
Want to watch someone play Fortnite to see what it’s all about? Check out “ONE_shot_GURL” on YouTube. My son and I enjoy watching her live streams. She doesn’t use bad language and has a really positive attitude. It’s great to watch someone who just has fun playing the game, and she’s a good model for behavior.
So, is Fortnite right for your child? I don’t know. But I hope that this incomplete guide has helped confuse you into a state of frozen terror. Or, I hope I’ve covered a couple of the little nuances you might not have known about. Does your kid play Fortnite? How’s it going? Let me know in the comments!