Amongst the recent media frenzy around the ill-effects of Fornite on young people, I’m still baffled by many of the claims parents are making. I’m not a massive Fornite player, but I see the interest young people have, through their discussions at school. I don’t claim to be across every conversation, however, those I have overheard relate to the changes in game-play, load-outs and skins. I’m yet to hear students freaking out about another player behaviour or skipping school to play it.
I do play a fair amount of Overwatch. I must confess that I’m a late night player, avoiding the young-folk chatter. However, it’s clear that very young kids play it and use mics. I would argue that poor player behaviour (language, trolling and provocation) is quite uncommon and less disgusting that of social media comments I see on Twitter etc.,
Super-irritants for me – those who motor-mouth their own brilliance and slag off others are easily muted. In the vast majority of games, adults are super respectful – and young kids mirror that. It’s almost the opposite experience being claimed by ‘the media’. Young children are almost always polite and respectful, with adults calming them down if things don’t go so well – as winning the game means not getting freaked out. At the same time, many kids don’t use voice in the game at all – just like adults.
As many young people simply don’t put in the time needed to be high-level players, they tend to play in the bottom three ranks. I’d argue that the higher ranks do contain a far more critical dialogue, with each game being higher stakes. In traditional sports, the competitive nature of the game, the anxiety and stress of being both a good player and good teammate is more often resolved in a harsh spray when things are not going well. However, players know that frustration expressed as foul language and slagging people off – does not improve the chances of a win. I’d also argue that when younger players find themselves the brunt of this – they quit. As the game does not substitute a new player when this happens – it’s rare the team would win. There’s no real incentive to troll or behave badly — but that isn’t to say it doesn’t happen in the 12 million or so player base.
Many players choose to play with friends. They stack with people they know are reliable and respectful, avoiding ego-warriors. They play regularly and as social groups, each has its own culture. Players also move between groups – and between ranks because it offers a different gaming experience. I like to play lower ranked games – it’s less stress and more fun in many ways. I’m also carefully managing my higher ranked accounts because I want to play in a more strategic way with players who are far more disciplined as to who to play, where to stand and how to counter.
My point here is that overall, I don’t find multiplayer games toxic or negative – quite the opposite. It’s also that games have different meanings for different people – and allow players to flex across social groups, motivations, and skill levels. Headlines which attempt to homogenise games or players are incredibly misleading for parents. As many have said, parents can’t understand multiplayer games without getting to know both the game and the players that their children are spending time with. It’s also important to notice HOW they choose to play – solo, stacks or co-ops as this is a good indicator of the social preferences children have – and from that, which mode of play they enjoy and which they find difficult.
It makes sense when you think about it. Children’s social development changes with age, culture and context. Perhaps games make this more visible, but they certainly don’t shape (or misshape it) to the degree editors are claiming.