Why the moral panic over Fortnite is nothing to worry about | Tech News
Fortnite, the latest video game taking the world by storm, has been slammed for being too violent and letting paedophiles target children. Meanwhile, video game addiction has been labelled a form of mental illness, and a UK government minister wants schools to ban mobile phones.
Anyone would be forgiven for thinking the biggest threats to children in the 21st century come from the digital world. Perhaps the scaremongers should take a deep breath and calm down.
There have been claims made for decades that video games promote violence, but there’s a dearth of clear-cut research showing they make gamers more aggressive in real life. And Fortnite is not, in fact, a particularly violent example of the genre.
True, it involves trying to kill other people in a Hunger Games type play-off, but the deaths are no more graphic than your average cartoon. Rather than being an addictive scourge, its soaring popularity is merely down to the fact that it can be played on smartphones, and for free.
The game also lets players talk to each other, raising fears that paedophiles could use the game to make contact with victims. This does represent a potential source of risk, depending on the child’s age and maturity, but no more so than any of the hundreds of other video games with built-in voice chat.
In any case, children face many dangers in life. They are most likely to die from road accidents, but we don’t ban them from crossing the street – we show them how to do it safely. Parents need to teach all children, whether they play Fortnite or not, the basic safety rules of online interactions, such as not arranging to meet up with people they talk to online.
Part of the problem is that many parents are unfamiliar with these kinds of games, making them great fodder for media scare stories. But some groups that should know better aren’t helping – such as the World Health Organization, which recently added gaming addiction to its list of diseases.
That might sound alarming, but the move was controversial; some experts think it’s part of the ongoing trend to classify ordinary variation in human behaviour as mental illness. Lots of adults are devoted to their hobbies, and spend hours on them, sometimes to the detriment of other aspects of their lives. Are they all addicts too?
Now Matt Hancock, the UK’s digital minister, has called for schools to ban smartphones, having previously called Fortnite “damaging”. This kind of rhetoric might appeal to some voters, but it shows him up as out of touch with modern family life.
Most schools already ban phones from sight in classrooms but let children have a turned-off phone in their bag or locker. That’s for the very sensible reason that lots of children get themselves to school by walking or public transport and parents want them to have a phone for safety reasons.
It’s understandable that some people get antsy about children becoming devoted to activities that literally didn’t exist in their day. But it doesn’t help when those who should know better add to the moral panic.
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