Primary schools across Australia have begun sending letters about the video game Fortnite to parents, warning of its “negative effects” on students.
Several schools in the Australian states of New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria have issued newsletters about the popular multiplayer game, which is played by an estimated 40 million people worldwide.
Sydney’s Bondi Beach public school told parents there had been “a noticeable change in some behaviours in the classroom and in the playground, that are directly linked to Fortnite”.
“We are noticing the negative effects of this game, particularly on boys and most concerning, on boys in K3 to Primary Two,” it said.
Shellharbour public school in NSW told parents: “The ability to communicate online whilst playing these games is leading to moments of online bullying, the use of inappropriate language, and abuse.”
Fortnite is a free-to-play online game where up to a hundred players can play at once. Drawing inspiration from the 1999 Japanese novel Battle Royale and The Hunger Games, players must scavenge supplies, build structures and find weapons to eliminate each other until only one person is left.
Players can play alone or in teams, and can opt into audio chat with their teammates. It has been classified Mature by the Australian Classification Board.
Dr Marcus Carter, a lecturer in digital culture and gaming from the University of Sydney, said the concern was, at times, excessive.
“The media panic around Fortnite is indicative of tensions that exist between parents, young people, and any new media. When kids do things that kids didn’t do when we were kids – that can make parents concerned and worried.”
He said parents should play Fortnite with their children before making their minds up.
“I say the best thing to do if you are concerned about your children playing Fortnite is to play Fortnite with them. To turn it into something that you share with your child.
“Parents can quite rightly not want their kids playing with adult strangers online [but] digital gaming on its own, is not bad. It’s no different to any other form of media.”
A letter from Good Shepherd Lutheran primary school in Victoria told parents to educate themselves about Fortnite, and to teach their children to be safe online.
“Each family has their own set of boundaries and opinions about what is appropriate for their children,” it said. “I would encourage you to educate yourself about the game before making any decision … With any luck, this fad will pass with the same speed as Pokemon Go did last year!
“The most important thing to be wary of is that there is an opportunity for your children to connect with strangers in the game, and there is minimal monitoring of who is online and what is being said in the chat.”
Owen Wolahan, a parent at the school, said he thought the advice was balanced.
Wolohan said that although he was a frequent gamer he wouldn’t let his children play Fortnite until they were older.
“I grew up playing games. I’ve let my five-year-old play Zelda: Breath of the Wild – although it has sword fights, it’s not realistic. Fortnite isn’t that graphic, but it does have realistic weapons. It’s not something I’ve fully decided on, but I feel like they need to be a lot older.
“I thought the school’s letter was pretty fair because it didn’t feel like scaremongering to me. It seemed to take concerns seriously while providing accurate information. It seemed to accept that this is something that people do and it left it up to the parents which I think is quite important.
“If kids are letting other responsibilities slide because they’re playing Fortnite every night, if they’re not getting homework done, that’s a problem. But I don’t know if it changes their behaviour, I’m sceptical of that. It depends on the child.”
Both the NSW and Victorian education departments said they had not issued any official advice to schools about Fortnite.
“This type of communication is not unusual and is an example of a school working with parents and the wider school community for the well-being of students,” a NSW education department spokesman said.