Fortnite: Not for Education
I've been quiet for some time as the '#Fortnite as #GBL' debate has taken shape. But as an educator using games as a tool for learning, I feel I need to step into the discussion. Fortnite is not the kind of game we should be trying to use in education! I do not advocate Fortnite as #GamesBasedLearning and I feel parents should know what their kids are actually playing.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the name, Fortnite is a video game and is what is called a 3rd Person Shooter, not unlike #Battlefield or #CallofDuty, in which players move around a map like a real soldier, looking for other soldiers (played by other, real players) to kill. Based on the (2000) violent Japanese film of the same name, the free-to-play 'Battle Royale' theme of the game sees up to 100 players parachuting onto an island in order to hunt everyone else down and be the last remaining survivor. The Battle Royale game mode is hugely popular with many more titles using the format, such as #PlayerUnknownBattlegrounds and #ArkSurvivaloftheFittest on the market.
What makes Fortnite different is its cartoon appearance. Characters are drawn and animated in cartoon-style art, weapons are exaggerated and colourful and the 3D world it's set in has cartoon towns and an alien attack crater. Players can wear flamboyant costumes and make their characters dance at will. There's even a grenade that explodes into a mini disco, making all characters in a radius dance together. It's a fun game, I play it myself. I've even purchased some extras such as dance emojis and skins (clothes for your character). I can see the appeal for millions of people worldwide. The game mechanics are well balanced and the gamification is attractive. Everyone starts on a level playing field. Skill and practice set good players apart from the rest. Chance plays a part as weapon finds are random and hidden chests aren't always in the same place each time. The players are slowly brought together by an encroaching storm, which will kill you off you don't move to the center in time, ultimately forcing all players into a life or death scenario. Chasing moments of heroism is everyone's goal.
It's these differences that seem to put parents more at ease with it and have teachers wondering about its application in class. I had one couple defend the game recently, saying "it's not exactly the most harmful or realistic violence", with the dad saying "the shotguns are all different colours and exaggerated in size" - So is my Smart Car, but you wouldn't want to be standing in front of it at 70mph regardless! I worry that a lot of parents are letting their children play it because they see cartoon images, silly character suits their kids are dancing. I get it, I really do.
However, as someone who has used games as tools for teaching and learning for over 12 years, I cannot advocate Fortnite as a viable option for education. In fact, I'm worried this is something that won't stop at Fortnite. I've read and heard a lot of things recently about how this game could be "the next big thing in education" and "the newest opportunity to engage students". One teacher told me last week "They're all into it, doing the dances and talking about it all the time, so I think it's time we brought it into the school". My response...don't. It isn't what you or your students need. It really isn't.
Putting aside #Esports (skill-based gameplay for the purposes of competition), and there are some strong cases for the eSports industry at large, Fortnite, to my mind, has no place in a classroom setting. Arguments I've heard in the last month or so include "...but it's great for teaching teamwork" - along with countless other games that your students are just as happy to play, not to mention physical team activities. And besides, do I really want my students learning teamwork on the basis of working together to hunt and kill other students?
Or "...the art style is something I'm hoping to explore as part of the art curriculum" - There are literally millions of beautiful sources of artwork across the games industry that can be used to teach traditional and digital art techniques. Or "...you can use the game stats to teach averages and percentages" - average what? people you shot in the face over several rounds? On average you're better with a pistol than a rocket launcher? The percentage of bullets that hit the target compared to those that missed?
It has even been compared and discussed alongside Minecraft as an "alternative option" for those looking to use games but unable to access Minecraft, with one recent discussion around the "building and crafting element that allows children to create forts (hence the spelling of the game's title) - The forts are for protection against bullets, rocket launchers and sniper attacks! Players build them to get a strategic advantage on a kill!
Put aside the fact that Minecraft has taken almost a decade to reach and penetrate education at all, was and remains the primary success story of GBL to date and has been pioneered by an army of some of the best educators around the globe, Fortnite doesn't even compare in depth of content, creative ability and curriculum application.
I'm worried that all of this is 'clutching at straws' in the face of the current swelling of both uptake and push back of Games-Based Learning, not to mention a general misunderstanding of what GBL is and is not and why each is so important.
Now anyone familiar with my work knows I'm a games advocate and I do not support the arguments around games as a direct cause of real-life violence. However, I also cannot advocate the use of a gun-based shoot 'em up for effective learning. We have to be so very careful around Games-Bases learning. With infinitely more doubters than doers, we are always just a teaspoon of water from sinking. Even Minecraft, with almost eight years of advocacy around the world is still a fight to deploy in most schools, and I fear that pushing Fortnite on teachers too will force the storm and I'm afraid this is one Battle Royale we won't win!
Just because it's free, doesn't make it viable! Just because it's popular doesn't mean it's good. Just because kids love it, doesn't mean they can learn from it. Just because Minecraft works, doesn't mean other games will.