The Fortnite frenzy seemed to come out of nowhere -- almost as if it dropped from a party bus in the sky. And now many parents are taking notice of this rollicking game where players fight to the death. With Fortnite's millions of players and sudden success, you might be wondering: What's it all about -- and is it OK for my kids?
Fortnite is a video game for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows, and Mac (with an iPhone and Android version coming soon) that takes elements from sandbox-building games and adds the fast-paced action of a third-person shooter. There are two modes to the game: a solo version called Save the World and the hugely popular multiplayer version called Battle Royale.
If your kids say they're playing Fortnite, they're probably talking about Battle Royale, the free-to-play multiplayer offshoot of Fortnite. In this version, up to 100 people participate in a match together. Players are dropped onto the game map and must compete to be the last one standing by killing every other player in the game. During the game, players collect weapons, build safe structures, and try to avoid the Storm that damages all players outside of a safe zone. Unlike the Save the World version, there aren't any zombies to kill, which makes it a less scary version to play. However, players can buy items to make themselves look like a zombie or another creepy character.
There are three modes of play in Battle Royale: Solo, Duo, and Squad. In Solo mode, you're dropped into the game alone. In Duo, you're dropped in with a partner. In Squad mode, you play on a team of four. Duos and Squads can either be friends choosing to play together or randomly matched players. All players in a match are playing in the same mode.
Save the World is the traditional solo campaign in the game Fortnite. Unlike in Battle Royale, where players compete against each other, players in the Save the World mode are survivors of an apocalyptic storm where the few remaining humans must band together to defeat creepy zombie-like creatures called husks.
There are many reasons why Fortnite has taken off with kids. One is that it combines two other genres that are big winners with young gamers. Another is that it has a more cartoonish look than some other more gory video games, so younger gamers are drawn to it. Kids can play with friends in Duos and Squads, creating a more social element. And popular YouTube and Switch gamers like DanTDM have also taken to playing the game on streaming sites. Plus, in the case of Battle Royale, it's free (although it does have in-app purchases -- more on that below).
For some parents, the cartoonish, bloodless style of the action in Fortnite makes the violence less problematic than the aggressive gore in other popular shooter games. But the game's online chat feature -- especially in Battle Royale -- could expose younger players to offensive language or mature content from random strangers. Common Sense doesn't recommend games with open chat for kids under 13, but with the right controls and parental guidance, this can be a tween-friendly alternative to violent first-person shooters.
The current cost of the full Fortnite is $39.99, although the developer, Epic Games, has suggested it will make the game free-to-play sometime in 2018. But players can currently download Fortnite: Battle Royale for free.
There are frequent opportunities for players to spend real money on items in the game. Fortniteencourages purchases such as upgrades to editions such as Deluxe and Super Deluxe, as well as in-game currency to buy bonus items. There's also the Premium Battle Pass, a $10 subscription that lets players compete on more levels and win exclusive game skins/costumes.
Fortnite is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows, and Mac. Users need an internet connection to play. A mobile version is also being tested for iOS and Android. Players can play "cross-platform," which means a Windows player can be on a team with a console player, for example.
There is live, unmoderated chat possible between users in Fortnite: Battle Royale. Both voice chat and on-screen text chat are options. This exposes players to random strangers and the likelihood of profanity.
Open the Settings menu in the top right of the main Fortnite page by selecting the three bars, then the cog icon. Choose the Audio tab at the top of the screen. From there, you can adjust several audio features, including voice chat. Turn the setting from on to off by tapping the arrows.
When each match only takes 20 minutes, it's easy to fall into the trap of "just one more" -- sort of how you end up binge-watching an entire season of Stranger Things. But you can take advantage of the quick matches by using them as a natural stopping point in gameplay. Some kids benefit from using a timer, limiting themselves to a certain number of matches per day, or using one of these tips for finding a balance between gaming and other activities.
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This survival-action game is a bit like what you'd get if you combined a sandbox-building game like Minecraft with an action shooter like Call of Duty. On one hand, it's getting major points with kids and parents alike for building teamwork and thoughtful collaboration. On the other hand, it's a combat-based game with tons of guns and violence.
Read Common Sense Media's full review of Fortnite, and learn more about how it works. Then find answers below to parents' most frequently asked questions about the game and how to use it safely.
Related: Why you should care about your kids' privacy
Parents should care about kids and online privacy
Parents should care about kids and online privacy
Your kid could be spied on. Smart toys including My Friend Cayla, Hello Barbie, and CloudPets are designed to learn and grow with your kid. Cool, right? Unfortunately, many of these toys have privacy problems. As the 2015 data breach of Vtech's InnoTab Max uncovered, hackers specifically target kids because they offer clean credit histories and unused Social Security numbers that they can use for identity theft. These toys also collect a lot of information about your kid, and they aren't always clear about when they do it and how they use it.
Your kid could get accused of a crime. Everyone has the right to privacy, especially in their own home. But home assistants such as Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and Mattel Aristotle are designed to butt their noses into conversations. These devices collect -- and store -- untold amounts of data. It's unclear what the companies do with the extraneous "noise" they pick up. And if it's subpoenaed, they might have to hand it over. Say your kid jokes about terrorism or something else illegal; if there's an investigation into those activities, the companies might have to cough up the transcripts. In Arkansas, a prosecutor asked for a murder suspect's Echo smart speaker in case its information could shed light on the crime. The suspect agreed to hand over the recordings, and Amazon was compelled to make them available.
Protect yourself. Turn off your home assistant's microphone when you're not using it. You also can prune your data in your devices' app settings, deleting stuff you don't want to store on your phone or in the companies' cloud servers. Or choose not to use a home assistant until the privacy regulations are ironed out.
Protect yourself. Turn off location sharing on your kids' devices, both in the phone settings and in the apps they use, so their status updates and photos are not automatically tagged with their locations. Make sure your kids never tell strangers their address, their school name, where they hang out, or where they're going to be. Teach kids to choose "no" when asked to share their locations.
Protect yourself. Tell your kid not to share photos of questionable activities on the internet. If those kinds of photos do wind up online, tell your kid to ask his or her friends either to take them down or not to tag them so the photos can't be traced back. And remember to model responsible online sharing; don't share photos of your kid without asking permission, and share them with a limited audience -- for example, only grandparents.
Protect yourself. If you know that your kid is going to be using third-party programs at school, find out what the software opts them into and what they can opt out of. Tell your kid to only supply required, not optional, information. If you have the time (and the stomach for it), you could read through the privacy policies of all the software your kid uses at school. Otherwise, talk to the principal about how the school vets companies' policies. If you're not satisfied, raise the issue with other parents (say, at the PTA meeting) to learn how your school can do more to protect student privacy.
Your kid could be limited. As schools automate procedures, they create student records with sensitive -- and potentially damaging -- information. Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), schools are allowed to share certain information without getting parents' consents. That means that an individual education plan (IEP), attendance records, a disciplinary record, prescribed medication, or even a high body mass index could be disclosed and used to unfairly disqualify your kid from opportunities, such as advanced classes, government services, or special schools.
Protect yourself. Schools are required to send parents information on how they handle student privacy. Find out what information your school collects, how it's stored, who gets to see it, and what future administrators are allowed to do with it. Under FERPA, you have the right to request, correct, or add an amendment to your kid's records through your district's educational department.
Your kid could be humiliated. Sharing fun stuff from your life with friends is fine. But oversharing is never a good idea. When kids post inappropriate material -- whether it's a sexy selfie, an explicit photo session with a friend, an overly revealing rant, or cruel comments about others -- the results can be humiliating if those posts become public or shared widely.
Protect yourself. Talk to your kids about keeping private things private, considering how far information can travel and how long it can last, and how they can talk to their friends about respecting one another's personal privacy.
Protect yourself. When you sign up for a social media account, only provide the basic information needed to set up your profile. Services such as Facebook ask for a lot of information, but often it's not required to register. When you use third-party apps, such as a downloadable quiz on Facebook, review the information the app says it's taking from your profile. If it's over-reaching, for example taking data it doesn't really need or taking your friend's data, just say no.