Beware this scary computer game fad

DOES your child play Fortnite? If you have a child (or grandchild) under the age of about 13, then they probably do.

Fortnite Battle Royale is a computer game in which up to 100 players enter a combat arena and participate in a fast-paced, adrenaline-fuelled game of last person standing — and is causing increasing concern among educationists who feel that parents are blissfully unaware of the dangers it poses.

Although it is recommended for age 12-plus, it is sweeping our Jewish primaries as the latest must-play fad, with kids as young as sixplaying the “shoot ’em up” candy-hued game in every spare moment.

Many Jewish parents seem unconcerned about both age recommendations and the warnings.

Perhaps they are right and there is nothing to worry about. After all, the violence is more slapstick than real, with no blood or gore.

Indeed, Fortnite’s child-friendly packaging makes it easy for parents to assume that it is harmless.

The game is sparkly, brightly-coloured and bouncy and players get to to personalise their characters with fun costumes such as dinosaur backpacks.

Battles typically last around 20 minutes, meaning a game can easily be squeezed in before homework but also giving it what one education site calls “a moreish, one-last-go quality”.

And this then is the reason that Fortnite is causing concern among some. Not only is it violent (even in a “playful” way) with cartoon characters using weapons such as axes and guns to kill other players, it is seriously addictive.

We are talking about high-tension games where wins are rare — but not too rare, making it tantalisingly tempting to keep going.

Getting kids to switch off is difficult; and getting them to do anything else with their spare time is a challenge.

The other risk factor is the interactive element, meaning that children can be contacted by random strangers.

Warnings about the violent and addictive nature of the game, as well as the stranger-risk, have been appearing almost constantly in the media since the game first appeared, with the NSPCC issuing a fresh warning only last month.

Several schools have written to parents urging them not to let their kids play the game.

The Jewish community has not been complacent about the risk either. I have seen warnings issued by at least one rabbi about this game to modern Orthodox parents.

Why then the apparent lack of concern with regard to Fortnite in the broader Jewish community?

The more secular parents won’t be bothered by warnings from rabbis — but nor do they seem to be concerned by the stories in the national press.

Do Jewish parents believe that Jewish kids are immune to addiction and violence?

While there are also many non-Jewish parents who ignore the warnings about Fortnite, perhaps choosing to see it as innocuous fun rather than anything more sinister, I do think there is some complacency in our community about problems that are not perceived to be “Jewish”.

Traditionally, Jews are not violent and aggressive — thus there are probably few parents worried about the research findings linking violent video games with increased tolerance to aggressive behaviour.

There is a long-held view that Jews tend to be under-represented in violent crimes — we just don’t do violence and aggression.

Sadly, this seems to be a myth and it can no longer be assumed that we don’t need to worry about the effects of violent games on our kids’ development.

In 2015, there was a huge leap in Jewish prisoners in this country — one-third of whom were incarcerated for violent crime.

And domestic violence occurs at about the same rate as the wider community. Similarly, there is a myth that Jews do not have problems with addictions, but, as last week’s JT front-page story showed, this is just not true.

But, because so many of the statistics and facts about these issues are swept under the carpet, they are not perceived as “Jewish problems”.

I think Jewish parents are increasingly alert to many problems seeping into our communities from exposure to wider communities, such as drug abuse (something that a previous generation could never imagine Jewish kids being caught up in), but still resistant to the idea that we need to worry about our kids being actual addicts or even violent.

Most Jewish parents are probably more worried about their children being the victim of violence, particularly antisemitic.

While no direct link between Fortnite and actual violence has been shown (yet), the American Psychological Association repeatedly asserts that there is a significant link between violent media (in general) and aggressive behaviour, aggressive thoughts and angry feelings. Though to be fair, there are other bodies which insist there is no link.

Either way, I feel Fortnite is an uncomfortable fad for young children that makes me rather nostalgic for last year’s fidget spinner craze.

I can’t wait for Fortnite to have had its day.


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