Prince Harry has lived a charmed life. Not only is he sixth in line of succession to the British throne and married to American B-list actress Meghan Markle, but he was able to skate through military duty and middling university grades with a little help from his name.
So, when during a recent event at a YMCA in west London he railed against video game battle royale phenomenon Fortnite, it came as no surprise that his take on the game was out of touch.
His full quote:
“[Fortnite] shouldn’t be allowed. Where is the benefit of having it in your household? It’s created to addict, an addiction to keep you in front of a computer for as long as possible. It’s so irresponsible. It’s like waiting for the damage to be done and kids turning up on your doorsteps and families being broken down.”
He added that social media was “more addictive than alcohol and drugs.”
There’s a lot to unpack there for a short quote, but let’s dissect how much of a bubble the Duke of Sussex is living in:
“That game shouldn’t be allowed. Where is the benefit of having it in your household?”
I have played a bit of Fortnite, and it’s not one of my favorites. Building structures and shooting rely on more twitch reflexes than I have, and I would end up dying as soon as I joined a game and dropped in. This happened a lot.
To get a perspective on how enjoyable Fortnite can be, I sat down for a brief interview with 10-year-old Zelak Max, an avid gamer and fan of Fortnite. (Full disclosure: He is my nephew)
I asked him what he likes about the game. It wasn’t the shooting, or the dance moves you can unlock through loot boxes or the battle pass. His answer was succinct, “I like playing with my friends.”
The simplicity and honesty of that statement speaks volumes. How a child maintains friends is an oft-studied topic, but socializing a child is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Here, my nephew has an opportunity to play a game with friends in a safe environment, one that can be monitored with relative ease.
During my interview, Zelak also mentioned that he made a new friend or two from Fortnite as well. “There was a kid at school that I knew but I never talked to,” he said. Zelak then paused for a brief moment of reflection. “I guess I would have never become friends with him if I didn’t play Fortnite with him.”
“It’s created to addict, an addiction to keep you in front of a computer for as long as possible. It’s so irresponsible.”
There is no doubt that Fortnite can be addicting.. There have been documented cases of Fortnite addiction causing divorces. A young girl was admitted into rehab over “Fortnite addiction.” But “created to addict?” That is a stretch. As often happens when it comes to addiction, the Ginger Prince is confusing correlation with causation.
There are games far more guilty of being built to addict and rope in impressionable consumers. Anyone who’s played a timegated game on their phone or a Zynga-produced game like Farmville knows, there are greater evils out there. Fortnite’s loot system and purchasing practices are virtually genteel by comparison. You know exactly what you’re getting and if you choose to buy an item, you know exactly how much it costs. Try playing a game from EA or 2K and see how far you get without being repeatedly asked to spend real money on an in-game item. It won’t be long.
If the Little Prince decided to go after loot boxes- predatory digital lottery tickets that entice players to keep playing in hopes of earning new cosmetic items or emotes - his argument would have been in sharper focus. But instead we have this meandering and toothless denouncement.
Game developers tend to follow popular trends. At one time, everyone wanted to make sports games because that’s what gamers were playing. Then it was fighting games with gratuitous amounts of gore.There was a brief period where every game came packaged with a plastic musical instrument. Now, everyone wants to make battle royale games.
Why is this important? Because Fortnite, and the battle royale genre, is the trend of today. Every executive at a publisher wants a battle royale mode in their game. Call of Duty, Planetside, Battlefield, and Counterstrike are all established franchises that are adding battle royale modes to current or upcoming games. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) and Apex Legends are two popular battle royale games that have a significant amount of market share. This oversaturation will splinter and shrink playerbases. When that happens, the addiction fades.
The sun may be setting on Fortnite as other games look to take its place, eventually collapsing the entire battle royale genre in on itself like a dying star.
“It’s like waiting for the damage to be done and kids turning up on your doorsteps and families being broken down.”
The language Prince Harry chooses to use here is sensationalization at its most British, evoking Oliver Twist in saying that kids will turn up on your doorstep, ostensibly to... break down the family.
Opportunistic individuals in the political class seeking to vilify a societal ill as a quick way to score points with constituents is a well-worn reality, and video games are routinely targeted. Now, it has gone one step further. Now, games are heralded as the end of the family unit.
Video games, despite the stigma, have been shown to increase cognitive, spatial, and visuo-motor skills. In education, teachers in some areas have forgone traditional flash cards and history lessons with more interactive and rewarding experiences, often to great success.
If Prince Harry is truly worried about destruction of the family unit, he only has to ask his wife how that can happen.