Ladies and gentlemen, I regret to inform you that Australia’s legacy media has simultaneously discovered the wildly popular video game Fortnite, and have collectively decided over the course of two days that it is an epochal catastrophe on the scale of, say, the Black Death or perhaps World War II.
For those who have somehow managed to avoid the hype altogether: Fortnite is a free-to-play multiplayer shooter from Epic Games which went mental in popularity when it unveiled a ‘battle royale’ mode much akin to the one offered by the zeitgeisty game PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. As is often the case with online shooters – and compounded by the fact that it runs on basically every single platform known to humankind including smartphones – it has become very popular with teenaged boys.
Historically, the media hasn’t been particularly fond of anything the teens are up to. Whether it’s selfies, smashing vodka premixes, reading Harry Potter or being fascinated by the wild, untamed sexuality of Waluigi, the commitment to truth beloved by our media institutions goes right out the window. This holds true both for the hysteria of breakfast TV as well as the supposedly urbane, cosmopolitan sensibility of the Fairfax papers. They all lose their damn minds when teens are doing something.
Take this article from the Sydney Morning Herald last week – headlined provocatively as ‘Parents are losing their sons to Fortnite, the hottest game in the world’, which makes it sound like an actual war with real casualties:
Some parents are at their wit’s end. One group of year 9 mothers has joined forces to ban all their sons from using it. There’s power in numbers.
Others are dealing with ugly friendship fallouts, simply because one of their sons “killed” another in a game that generated more than $220 million in one month – March – alone.
Teachers say Fortnite has in some instances changed the “pecking order’’ in classes, with the top positions reserved for those who do best on the game. Others have sent notes home to parents, pleading with them to refocus their sons away from the game, and back to their homework.
You could transpose this article to the year 1999 and sub in the word ‘Pokémon cards’ and it would still read perfectly cogently. Or to the year 1899 and sub in the word ‘hopscotch’, I guess.
(The article inexplicably describes Fortnite as the male version of ‘topless selfies’ which is a comparison so absurdly off-base that it could only have emerged from the fractured subconscious of a baby boomer.)
The Seven News report on Fortnite is just as good, painting a delightful picture of the game through a few vox pops before quickly pivoting to claim that it is training children to commit murder or something.
— 7 News Brisbane (@7NewsBrisbane) June 13, 2018
The final line is extremely funny: “A game with violence aimed at young, impressionable minds – that’s coming at a cost.” The ‘cost’ they describe here is kids buying cosmetic items through in-app purchases, which seems like it might not necessarily herald the end of civilisation, annoying as it is.
Benjamin Nichols, who operates Brisbane arcade bar Netherworld, appears incredibly briefly in the above report saying that Fortnite is “the most popular game on Twitch at the moment“. He tells PEDESTRIAN.TV that he actually spoke to 7 News at length about Fortnite and what he liked and didn’t like about the game – but clearly he didn’t say enough about how it was turning our beautiful children into mindless murder zombies.
“I had a genuinely good chat with them about the game before being on camera because they didn’t seem particularly aware of the nitty gritty,” Nichols says.
“I chatted a lot about how it’s a fairly colourful, not particularly violent – comparatively – game that’s pretty harmless as far as ‘satanic panic’ reactions go.”
“Your grandad playing Candy Crush is in greater danger to lose a couple hundred bucks to get a leading edge than your kid is racking up outfits on your credit card.”
The Today report is also very good stuff. They literally brought in two cherubic blonde-haired children to play Fortnite on beanbags while Karl Stefanovic has a solemn discussion with a psychologist about how the unmonitored play sessions are obliterating our kids’ capacity to feel empathy.
You can see these formerly innocent babes in the woods becoming serial killers in real time – truly chilling stuff:
— The Today Show (@TheTodayShow) June 12, 2018
The psychologist argues that the purpose of Fortnite is to “kill, hurt [and] maim” other players, and that extended play affects the “pleasure centres of the brain” and the “frontal lobe”, citing “over 130” pieces of peer-reviewed evidence which back that up.
Such studies are often cited, but as a helpful summary of the literature in The Conversation pointed out, there’s also a huge body of evidence which suggests violent video games don’t really affect kids’ behaviour at all. Here’s Christopher J. Ferguson:
My own research has examined the degree to which violent video games can – or can’t – predict youth aggression and violence. In a 2015 meta-analysis, I examined 101 studies on the subject and found that violent video games had little impact on kids’ aggression, mood, helping behaviour or grades.
At the very least, it seems like what sort of media content a kid is consuming is a drop in the bucket compared to a number of other material factors when it comes to understanding violent behaviour.
Of course, this is not the first time Australia has lost its mind over video game violence – take this old report from Peter Harvey clutching its pearls over the first Mortal Kombat game, which is probably less violent than your average cornflakes commercial these days:
As we know, the popularity of Mortal Kombat in the mid 1990s led to a spate of Aussie tweens tearing their classmates’ spines out which has continued to this very day. Unacceptable stuff.
These kind of moral panics are cyclical and aren’t really predicated in trying to earnestly understand the psychology of kids. They’re driven by the same impulse which leads to hysterical media reports over explicit hip-hop lyrics, or nude Snapchats, or satanic messages in Harry Potter. It’s a fear of what the kids are up to in the hazy realm outside direct parental supervision. Wasn’t like the old days where we listened to the wholesome pop rhythms of Fleetwood Mac and just bloody got on with it.
Look, if we really want to dig down into what has fucked kids’ brains up in 2018, perhaps we can direct some attention to how rich boomers looted the economy and turned the world into a demented casino where everyone is treated as a replaceable gear in a big hungry consumer machine, trapping us all into a void of social dislocation where pop culture is the only familiar anchor we can rope ourselves to. Ah no, sorry, it’s Fortnite. The colourful shooty game on your mobile phone. My bad.
I for one am very excited about which game/musician/movie/book/trading card we’re going to lose our minds over next.