September 7, 2018

Why it’s OK if your child plays with strangers on Fortnite

Fortnite has taken over the gaming world, and if you have a child between ages 8 and 18 you’ve almost certainly heard of it. Our team at The Social Institute has previously written about why Fornite is so popular, and there is a another side to the game that is positive, yet is not getting enough attention. We huddled with three rising 8th grade students to learn when and why they play with strangers — and why parents do not need to be worried about it.

Before we dive into the students’ responses, let’s get on the same page about why students play with strangers on Fortnite. The first reason is to fill out a team. Fortnite requires you to play in squads of 4, so if you only have 3 friends you know online, you may request a “random” to be the 4th member of your squad. The second reason to play with strangers is to complete a task in the game. As one student put it, “There are challenges you have to do, and they require multiple people. If you don’t have friends online and you have to do those challenges, it makes it easier to get random people to help you out.”

It is important to know that if your child does play with strangers, they need to understand how to navigate potentially tricky situations, like someone asking them for personal information. A family huddle about not sharing personal information is an easy winning move, whether your child has started gaming online or will be in the future.

To get the full scoop on playing with strangers, social media coach Sean Kelly sat down with three 8th graders who love Fortnite. Here is what they* had to say.

*Names have been changed to keep students’ identities confidential.

SEAN: Parents are understandably concerned about their kids playing with strangers. Should they be?

Jerry*: You have to be careful, but if a parent speaks to their kid and tells them to what to watch out for and how to handle situations, it should be fine.

George: It has never happened to me. Mostly it’s good feedback, not negative. “Good job” and stuff like that. I never get negative messages from people I don’t know.

Kramer: I haven’t had to block anyone personally. Most people you find in the game are pretty nice.

SEAN: Do you only talk strategy?

George: We definitely talk about other stuff….World Cup, school and the stuff going on where we are.

SEAN: Have you ever been asked for personal information?

Kramer: No, nobody asks for super personal information. They do ask what state you’re in, which isn’t really weird. Parents always say, “beware of people on the internet that ask for your address”, but I honestly I don’t know anyone who’s been asked for personal information. Nobody asks for stuff like that.

SEAN: Have you made new friends because of Fortnite?

Jerry: Yes. My friend on my soccer team was playing in the three-game mode, and he accidentally went into a duo’s game and his teammate was wearing a skin (costume) he wanted. He called me and said we gotta play squads with him and he’s really good. He doesn’t have a mic, but we’ve texted through the Xbox. He lives in Scotland and is 15-years-old.

Kramer: Yeah, I’ve made some friends from auto-pairing with other players. If you want to play with other people and you have no one to play with, you can play with random people. Usually when you play with random people, they don’t have a microphone so you can’t talk…it’s an advantage to talk because you can help each other.

SEAN: What makes the game better and different from some of the more violent games parents are worried about?

Jerry: The difference is that it’s different every time. You can do so many different things — different skins, pickaxes, guns, new game modes, it’s so colorful. You have no idea what you’re getting into every time you start a game. You never feel like, “I do this every time.” I don’t think with Fortnite there’s anything to worry about. It’s easy to control and it’s not very violent — if you kill someone, they fall over, and a robot thing picks them up and flies away with it. When you’re playing with up to 100 people, you’re only talking to your party/squad of 4. You can mute them and mute your mic, but there’s no way to turn off talking to your team. That’s what COD is — you’re talking to everyone that’s in that lobby. So, if you kill another person, he could go off on you.

George: Fortnite is better because there’s no blood or cussing. It’s just a game that’s more animated than real life. It’s not COD with “real” people. The ability to play with friends is much better and I like the concept of adding more stuff and building something.

SEAN: Is there trash talk?

Kramer: Friendly trash talking, not meaningful. Never had to block someone for trash talking, it is typically not that bad.

SEAN: What would you say to a parent about why there is no need to worry, or what advice would you give them?

Jerry: Not to freak out.

George: They don’t really understand because there are so many different things that go on in the game and all they hear is the bad stuff. So you have to give them good news, not bad news.

Kramer: The game is marketed mainly towards teenagers, but there are some adults. For the most part, all the people are similar age or even younger. Ages 8-20, most people are pretty friendly, they’re just trying to do the same thing you are. They’re trying to find new friends to play with. They’re not trying to find any problems, they’re just trying to play with someone.

SEAN: It would be like playing pickup basketball at the park. You don’t know everyone, but everyone just wants to play.

Kramer: That’s actually a really good way of putting it.