In Defense of Fortnite (A Response to Prince Harry)

Prince Harry and his wife, American actress Meghan Markle, recently welcomed their first child into the world. This is no doubt exciting, as the new parents have publicly professed, and they’ve certainly got a lot of help when it comes to raising little Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor.

Childhood in the House of Windsor is steeped in tradition. The young royals attend certain schools, take classes in etiquette, and their every move is closely monitored and chronicled.

Megan apparently has some thoroughly modern notions about child-rearing, though we’ve already seen the Queen put the kibosh on the new mother’s desire to raise the child vegan. Maybe a little further down the road yoga will be okay?

One thing we do know is that another staple of many modern children’s lives – video games, particularly the massively popular Fortnite – is a no-no in the Prince’s point of view.
During a recent event at a YMCA in west London, Prince Harry said quite definitively that, in his opinion, Fortnite simply “shouldn’t be allowed,” adding:

“Where is the benefit of having it in your household? It’s created to addict, an addiction to keep you in front of a computer for as long as possible. It’s so irresponsible. It’s like waiting for the damage to be done and kids turning up on your doorsteps and families being broken down.”

Prince Harry, who, by the way, recently launched official Instagram and Twitter accounts with his new bride, went on to deem social media “more addictive than alcohol and drugs.”

In case you’re not in the know, or don’t happen to be the parent of a ‘tween, Fortnite is the mega-popular video game where you and up to three friends face off against 100 other people to be the last man or squad standing. You pick up weapons, armor, and materials on a large island map while trying to survive by building forts and evading and/or shooting enemies.

As for Prince Harry’s comments about Fortnite, well, there’s a lot to unpack for a short quote, but it’s quite clear from the outset how much of a bubble the Duke of Sussex is living in.

“That game shouldn’t be allowed. Where is the benefit of having it in your household?”

I have played a bit of Fortnite, and it’s not one of my favorites. Building structures and shooting rely on more twitch reflexes than I have, and I would end up dying as soon as I joined a game and dropped in. This happened a lot.

To get a better perspective on how enjoyable Fortnite can be, I sat down for a brief interview with 10-year-old Zelak Max, an avid gamer and fan. (Full disclosure: He is my nephew)

I asked him what he likes about the game. It’s not the shooting, or the dance moves you can unlock through loot boxes, or the battle pass. His answer was simple: “I like playing with my friends.”

The simplicity and honesty of that statement speaks volumes. How a child maintains friends is an oft-studied topic, but socializing a child is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Here, my nephew has an opportunity to play a game with friends in a safe environment, one that can be monitored by an adult with relative ease.

During my interview, Zelak also mentioned that he has made a new friend or two from Fortnite, as well.

“There was a kid at school that I knew but I never talked to,” he said, pausing for a brief moment of reflection. “I guess I would have never become friends with him if I didn’t play Fortnite with him.”

“It’s created to addict, an addiction to keep you in front of a computer for as long as possible. It’s so irresponsible.”

There is no doubt that Fortnite can be addicting. There have been documented cases of Fortnite addiction causing divorces. Some desperate parents convinced their kids are hopelessly hooked on the game are reportedly turning to professionals – even rehab facilities – for help.

But “created to addict?” That is a stretch. As often happens when it comes to addiction, Prince Harry is confusing correlation with causation.

There are video games more clearly built to addict and rope in impressionable consumers than Fortnite. As anyone who’s played a timegated game on their phone, or a Zynga-produced game like Farmville knows all too well, there are greater evils out there.

Fortnite’s loot system and purchasing practices are virtually genteel by comparison. You know exactly what you’re getting, and if you choose to buy an item, you know exactly how much it costs. Try playing a game from EA or 2K and see how far you get without being repeatedly asked to spend real money on an in-game item. It won’t be long.

It could be argued that Fortnite’s game system has addiction built in. But if the gameplay loop is satisfying – and millions of kids agree that it is – decrying a developer for making a game that people just want to play becomes another symptom of the sanctimonious grandstanding and the outrage culture that we currently live in.

If Harry decided to go after loot boxes – predatory digital lottery tickets that entice players to keep playing in hopes of earning new cosmetic items or emotes – then perhaps his argument would have been in sharper focus. But instead we have this generalization of a blanket denouncement.

Game developers tend to follow popular trends. At one time, everyone wanted to make sports games because that’s what gamers were playing. Then it was fighting games with gratuitous amounts of gore. Then there was a brief period where every game came packaged with a plastic musical instrument.

Now, everyone wants to make battle royale games.

Why is this important? Fortnite, and the battle royale genre is the current trend. Every executive at a publisher wants a battle royale mode in their game. Call of Duty, Planetside, Battlefield, and Counterstrike – all well-established franchises – are adding battle royale modes to current or upcoming games. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) and Apex Legends are two other popular battle royale games that have a significant amount of market share.

Here’s a prediction that mostly just common sense: This oversaturation will splinter and shrink player bases. When that happens, the addiction will fade.

The sun may be setting on Fortnite as other games look to take its place, eventually collapsing the entire battle royale genre in on itself like a dying star.

“It’s like waiting for the damage to be done and kids turning up on your doorsteps and families being broken down.”

The language Prince Harry chooses to use here is sensationalizing at its most British, evoking Oliver Twist in saying that video game-addled kids will turn up on your doorstep, ostensibly to break down the family.

What is the accepted modern definition of “family” anyway? Certainly not the model presented to us by the British monarchy. But that’s a subject for another post entirely.

Opportunistic members of the political class seeking to vilify a societal ill to score points with constituents is a well-worn trope, and video games are routinely targeted. Now, it has gone one step further. Now, games are heralded as the sword in the breast of the family unit.

Video games, despite the stigma, have been shown to increase cognitive, spatial, and visuo-motor skills. Teachers in some areas have forgone traditional flash cards and history lessons, replacing them with more interactive and rewarding experiences – often to great success.

Are video games a factor in childhood obesity? Certainly. Are they the biggest factor? No. Access to computers, screens in every surface, a life of convenience, lax school lunch standards, parents working too many hours, fear of strangers, are all contributing factors in obesity. The symptoms are myriad, and the solution is anything but easy.

Do games like Fortnite create a culture of addicts that will destroy the family as we know it? I’d like to say no, but I’m not a fortune teller. Prince Harry should not worry about the destruction of the family unit, or the corruption of his little Archie.

His wife has been through worse, and she survived – quite nicely.

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