If you’re a parent of tweens and teens, especially boys, you’ve probably experienced firsthand the frenzy around online games like Fortnite Battle Royale and Apex Legends (aka, online player-versus-player “battle royale” games). The parenting struggle is real. Missed it? Just search for “Fortnite Floss Dance” on YouTube.
As researchers, and parents, we were curious to understand the battle royale phenomenon, its place in popular culture, what parents think about it and what strategies they use to keep their kids “in check”. We tapped into Engine’s Cassandra, CARAVAN Omnibus and Expert Network teams to start digging in.
License to Kill
Battle royale games are a genre of online video survival games presented in a kill or be killed competition with several or hundreds of other players. The last player or team standing wins a round.
According to a recent Engine CARAVAN survey, 41% of parents with school-age children have kids who regularly (at least monthly) play battle royale games. The percentage rises to 52% when filtering on households with kids between the ages of 13-17 years.
The game that fueled the rise in popularity of the battle royale genre, Epic Games’ Fortnite: Save the World, first launched in July 2017. Its most popular title, Fortnite: Battle Royale, launched in Mar 2018. Electronic Arts followed suit with its “Fortnite killer” (no pun intended), Apex Legends, released in Feb 2019.
The rapid growth in popularity of these survival games is enough to rattle the nerves of most parents, myself included! One can only marvel at how the most recent release of Apex Legends reportedly reached 10 million players in 3 days, 25 million in its 1st week, and 50 million in the first month. 
While it’s difficult to find exact estimates on the current number of players, one thing is certain…battle royale games attract millions of young players a month and have even captured the attention of modern media brands like Netflix who see them vying for the same share of limited attention. Various sources estimate that more than 200 million globally are playing Fortnite and more than 50 million are playing Apex Legends. 
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off?
As the Fortnite and Apex Legends craze accelerates (and who knows what will be next), parents, school administrators, and psychologists weigh in on the impact these games have on kids’ health and well-being. Even Prince Harry spoke out against Fortnite saying, “It shouldn’t be allowed. Where is the benefit of having it in your household?” 
Worries of addiction, truancy, sleep disorders, predation, depression, and social isolation among other issues are common . Parents trade ‘war’ stories about how tempers escalate when kids are told their gaming time is up. “There’s no way I’ve been playing for 2 hours!!! C’mon!! I just started!!”
Sound familiar? If so, you’re not alone. But fear not, even though the bulk of the psychological research has focused on the negative impact of playing video games, there’s a growing body of research that highlights the benefits .
The Parent Trap
While the debate about the pros and cons of the kill or be killed online gaming genre continues, we dug into the topic to better understand what parents and kids think. How concerned are parents about school-aged children playing these games? Our Caravan survey shows a majority (56%) are indeed concerned (somewhat or very).
Not surprisingly, parents with younger children (12 or younger) are more concerned (60% concerned) than parents of teenagers (51%). Perhaps more surprising is that parents of kids who regularly play the games are equally as concerned as parents of kids who don’t play. Parents seem to have a heightened awareness and sensitivity to the impact these survival games have on their kids’ well-being, yet they continue to let them play.
What are parents concerned about? The top concern for nearly two out of five parents is lack of physical activity (39%). Other primary concerns include exposure to violent themes (30%) and exposure to age-inappropriate language (29%), both of which are more pronounced among parents of younger children.
Parents who let their kids play regularly seem to have the same concerns as those who don’t, apart from concerns about exposure to violent themes (mentioned by 35% of parents whose kids don’t regularly play vs. 24% of parents whose kids do). Our data suggest that violent themes/content is the leading reason parents don’t let their kids play battle royale games.
While concerned, most parents (79%) mentioned at least one benefit to playing, regardless of whether their kids play regularly or not. Problem-solving was the most frequently mentioned benefit by nearly half (45%), regardless of their kids’ game playing activity. Other benefits included teamwork/cooperation (39%) and creativity (25%). Clearly, parents recognize many of the same benefits as do psychologists. 
How do kids feel about gaming? According to Cassandra’s Generations Report, the extent to which benefits are recognized varies across generational lines. Both Gen Y and Z youth are split on how they view gaming, with half seeing it as a productive pursuit and the other half a lazy pastime. Among Gen Xers, only 38% see it as productive, and among Boomers, it drops to 22%. Interestingly, only 20% of 7-12-year old’s feel guilty about the amount of time they spend gaming, and only 17% of 7 to 12-year old kids say their parents don’t want them playing video games.
The Breakfast Club
At Engine, we’ve been having lively discussions about battle royale games and have heard important perspectives on how parents manage their kids’ online experiences. What are your experiences with kids playing survival games like Fortnite and Apex Legends?
We learned from our CARAVAN survey that most parents (86%) employ at least one strategy for regulating their kids’ online gaming experiences. By far, the most common strategy is setting time limits, mentioned by over half (55%). Other strategies included setting boundaries around which games kids can play (40%) and setting limits on which days (30%) and where they can play (30%).
While there aren’t any hard and fast rules that parents should follow (and far be it from us to prescribe them!), one thing parents can do is start a conversation with their kids about their experiences playing these games, discussing both the risks as well as the benefits. Another strategy is to play along with your kids. In our survey 1 in 4 parents with kids 12 and under mentioned playing these games with their kids as a strategy for managing the experience. Have some fun while connecting with your kids!
You can also try sharing the results of our Caravan survey with your kids at your next family breakfast (or dinner, if you prefer) as a way of discussing responsible online gaming habits! And stay tuned for more from Engine as we explore the impact of parent strategies and online gaming on family dynamics.
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