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If you have children, two things are going to be unavoidable. Internet safety, and Fortnite*. I really shouldn’t have to explain why the need for internet safety exists. It’s a huge problem. Fortnite is also huge. At the moment, it’s pretty ubiquitous, as well. So we are going to help you navigate the sharky waters of online gaming, and help keep your kids safe, while still letting them be kids. Full disclosure, there will probably be some stuff in here that you don’t want to hear. You may be tempted to disregard some of it. If, (and I am not being dramatic) you want your child to be safer online, you need to not skip around and pick the things you like. We’re telling you all of this for a reason. You might not want to do everything in here, but we’re parents, we have to learn as we go. And one more thing. I understand that shooting people in the real world is a violent, brutal, awful thing that happens. This is not the real world, this is a video game. Any descriptive words used in the post will be comparing it to other video games, and not to reality.
*Yes, we know about PUBG, Apex, Minecraft, Realm Royale, even. Right now, Fortnite is still killing it, so that’s the main focus
So What’s the Deal with Fortnite, Anyway?
You may be an internet-savvy, in-touch parent who already knows what Fortnite is. You may even be as awesome as we are, and play it yourself. (More on that, later.) But for the sake of this, I’m going to act as if you are a complete n00b. (I am peppering some important terms throughout this post. The words will be in bold, and the definitions in italics.)
So Fortnite. The free version* is Battle Royale, is exclusively PvP, and is what we are talking about today. The basics: you drop in with about 99 other people, and run around trying to shoot each other. 1-49 of these people could be on your team, depending on the game mode. Play operates around some variation of trying to eliminate everyone else until one player/team is left alive. Then, new round, new 100 people. That’s the basics of the gameplay. Graphics are a stylized version of realistic, but there is no blood/viscera, nothing too brutal. Players can interact by voice chat, or whisper messages while in the lobby. While you can form a party with up to three other people, (or with squads, up to 15 others) most players in the game will be randoms from all over the globe.
*Note, you can spend money in this version, but you don’t need to; you can play everything there without paying.
The fact that you can get teammates doesn’t necessarily mean they will be your friends, though. Which gives us our first vocabulary word: Trolling. Basically defined as being a jerk. A troll might deliberately seek out a single player and kill them repeatedly, aka Targeting. A troll also might dance on somebody they have dropped or killed, a programmed set of movements or emote that they can do to rub another player’s face in it, so to speak. Trolling is usually a deliberate behavior designed to enrage opponents or teammates, not really to progress in the game’s objectives. Other people can be hyper-aggressive, chasing you to the ends of the earth just to kill you. All of these types of people are usually summed up by the word toxic. Pretty self-explanatory. Now here’s the thing about that.
Fortnite did not Invent Toxicity.
I know people who seem to think that Fortnite houses the entirety of toxic gamers in the world. Here’s the thing; I’ve been playing, off and on, since Battle Royale mode launched. I’ve really not seen much toxic gameplay. For some reason, Fortnite is the target of a lot of ire, largely from people who don’t even play it. While there are toxic people everywhere on the internet, Fortnite included, I feel like Epic has done more to limit the levels of toxicity than most other online games I have played. For example, there is no global chat. In other words, anyone who is on that server/lobby/world whatever, can type something and everyone else can see it.
Yes, they usually install software to block well known cuss words, which can be circumvented. They are usually geared towards explicit, obscene, or offensive words. So generally speaking, you could type “kill yourself” and it would show up, loud and proud. If my kids see a bad word, I can discuss it with them. It doesn’t affect their sense of self. But being told to kill yourself can have a major effect, especially on a child. Fortnite doesn’t let people just jump in and do that. There is no global chat. You aren’t automatically put into a voice chat channel with everyone playing, so that means that they can all say whatever they want to. I have played other free online games where one or both of these allowed people to spout all kinds of trash before I even had the option to turn them off. So while no system is perfect, Epic does seem to at least be trying to keep it from getting too out of control.
How to actually keep your kids safe
All right, now that we’re up to speed on some reasons why you need to keep your kids safe, it’s time for the how. For starters, voice chat. Fortnite does have this capability. In fact, for serious players, communication is a must. We don’t allow Bear or Bug to use online voice chat at all; it’s too hard to regulate. There probably will come a time when that has to change, but at their ages, better safe than sorry. The easiest step, don’t let them have headsets. Even wired microphone earbuds for your cellphone will work on computer, mobile, and console. But there is another option. Hit the hamburger button (“start” if you’re an NES holdover like me) and open the options menu.
Select the little gear option and move over to the Audio tab. There you will see options for “Voice Chat” and “Voice Channel” among others. If you switch these to “Off,” your child will not be able to voice chat with anyone, nor will they be able to hear what anyone else is saying. (Please note, they change these options from time to time, but the way to access them should stay the same, so just use your head, here.)
This is the safest route. Now, player’s in your child’s party can still whisper message them while in the pre-game lobby. This isn’t something you can control, but you can monitor who is playing with your children. Also, they log all typed communication in these games, and penalize players for typing obscene/offensive things much more than you probably think. Also, there is another feature, if you don’t want to turn voice chat off completely. For instance, if your kids are playing with other people you know and trust. Simply make sure that they are all in the same party, (but nobody else is) leave Voice Chat set to “on.” and set Voice Chat (filled matches) to “party.” This will let your children voice chat with the people you can trust, but not others.
Know who they play with
Next up, you need to monitor who your kids are actually playing with. As I mentioned, there are about 100 people in every game. Games are random. But anybody can send a friend request to anybody that was just in a game with them. And some people are too nice to reject any of these, no matter how many times I tell Bug not to just accept every request that gets sent her way.
So this is where you will have to get your hands dirty. Review your kids’ friend lists. Pay attention to whom they have in their party. Anytime I see a gamertag that is offensive, I report that player and delete them from the kids’ friend lists. But this is done with their understanding, and not in secret. If you know who your children’s trusted friends are, you can check up to make sure that they are the ones your kids are playing with.
Watch them when they play
It goes deeper. There is one person that both kids play with a lot. He will be called Joe, for now. He’s probably a kid around my kids’ ages. Joe is a great teammate, helpful, backs the kids up, shares loot, etc. I’ve seen him play with them enough times to know that I don’t have anything to worry about from Joe. They still do not communicate directly with Joe, because he could be older than I am. There’s no telling. Since I have limited their online communications, and in the framework of the game he’s always a good person, I have no objections to Joe. But Beth and I had to actually watch. Watch how the games were going with him in the party. Beth even has him added to her friend list. But understand, you aren’t spying. Ask questions. Cheer them on. Involve yourself.
Play Fortnite with Your Kids
Which brings us to the thing you are probably least likely to want to do. Jump in. Play Fortnite with your kids. Learn how it works. One of their favorite Youtuber’s mom does it. You can, too. Beth was sure she would hate Fortnite at the beginning. Now we play as a family. It can be frustrating. Heck, it will be frustrating. But you can learn it. And you will be spending time with your children. You will be engaging with them on their turf. And they will get to see you as something other than just a parent. At the same time, you get to see deeper into a world that is otherwise theirs. You can be there, but not in a negative way. It’s worth it. So grab yourself a Durrr Burger, sit down at the PC, console or mobile device, even, and jump on. The battle bus departs in 5,4,3,2,1…