Alex Sobel: Five top tips for responsible gaming
Addressing parents’ valid concerns, experienced gamer and father of two Alex Sobel sets out some advice for responsible play
As someone who plays video games – and has done so fairly regularly since the age of eight – I am one of the first generation of parents who not only expects their children to play games but expects to play with them, and, by and large, to enjoy doing so. Just as parents have been playing sport, watching films, collecting Panini sticker books, reading books, riding bikes and (most relevantly) playing board games for generations, I play video games with my sons.
We own a PlayStation 4. Roughly five years ago, my eldest son, who was five at the time, heard about Minecraft. I bought him a copy. To begin with, I played it with him. Soon he was playing on his own and then eventually with his little brother. He grew to love the game. My wife and I bought him books and he watched Youtube tutorial videos. The experience was generally very positive. Minecraft taught him a lot about construction, resource management, collaboration, self-direction and problem-solving. His interest in Minecraft videos led to him watching gaming Youtube videos in general. There was a period where all you could hear in our house were the voices of Youtube personalities like Dan TDM or Blitzwinger.
Tablet and console games received some attention at home but nothing had the appeal of Minecraft – until Fortnite! Fortnite, as my ten-year-old would say, is this year’s ‘viral craze’. As an ‘old schooler’, I would roughly describe the game as a third-person shooter. However, it’s much more than a traditional third-person shooter, like Duke Nukem or Doom. There are two main versions of the game with the Battle Royale version attracting the most attention. Each game is a one-hundred-person battle where there is only one winner. You collect weapons, shields and other items to help you survive. You can also buy other items like skins, emotes (expressive animations) and gliders which players can use in-game. Players are eliminated in predictable video game fashion but no blood or gore is displayed on the screen.
Fortnite is so successful because it combines popular video game features such as procedurally generated landscapes, base building and lots of interesting weapons, traps and upgrades. It is intuitive for beginners but with a steep and rewarding learning curve. Fortnite is also an endless source of compelling and shareable social media content that players can generate as they play. There is also the microtransaction system and currency, V-Bucks, that facilitates in-game purchases for various desirable items.
In my opinion, there are three controversial aspects to the game. The first is its apparent addictiveness. There is a story of a nine-year-old girl who secretly got up in the night and played until dawn and neglected to go to the toilet because she could not bear to leave the screen. Then there is the issue of simulated violence which is completely central to the game. Third, there is the fear that adults could use the co-op mode to befriend and groom children.
Fortnite’s maker, Epic Games, seem to have acknowledged some of these concerns by creating ‘playground mode’, which is similar to Minecraft Creative Mode, where only approved friends can play together.
These are all very real fears. However, just like in other areas of life, parents need to exercise some responsibility and control over their child’s access to games like Fortnite.
Here are my five tips for responsible Fortnite play:
Play either with your children or after they have gone to bed. Having an understanding of the game will help you understand them and the issues with the game. Also, you need to judge whether it is suitable for your children.
Keep playtime limited to one-hour blocks. My boys usually want to intersperse their gaming slots by watching Youtube videos – although we are keen to suggest homework!
Fortnite sanctions ought to be applied for poor behaviour. If my boys begin to express their frustration with the game with bad language or by acting up I immediately limit use for a period.
Don’t use your credit card on the account! Use a third-party method to buy the V-Bucks like a PayStation gift card, so the spend is tightly controlled.
Ensure you have password control and approve all friend requests so you know who they are speaking to in Co-op mode.
I hope that this has been helpful.
Alex Sobel is Labour MP for Leeds North West and vice-chair of the Video Games APPG