It feels like there’s a wacky, new headline featuring PUBG or Fortnite every other week. These games are huge in a way that maybe hasn’t happened since Minecraft was new. But due to the nature of these games, the hooked-in, competitive, and social media-friendly aspects all coming together, these games feel like they’ve punctured everyone’s mindshare in an even more visible way. And, of course, both PUBG and Fortnite are not only on mobile now, but they’re on mobile for free. And it turns out, that’s causing some serious problems in schools.
Kotaku originally reported on this phenomenon, and it subsequently spread to the likes of Paste, IGN, and more. It’s an excellent headline, that Fortnite, already a massively popular game, is causing problems in public schools. It’s the perfect concoction of moral panic, generational divides, and emergent technology. Things have progressed from kids in middle and high schools talking about Fortnite nonstop, to straight-up playing it in class instead of focusing on schoolwork.
Now, I’m not here to disparage kids for being distracted. Like many others my age, my ass sure did waltz into school every day with a Game Boy or DS in my pocket, ready to slide that bad boy out behind a textbook at every opportunity. But there’s a huge difference between the two, between playing a game boy game in solitude versus jumping online in Fortnite, and that key difference is what’s making this whole thing look like an epidemic of sorts.
Fortnite and PUBG (let’s not forget about PUBG although Fortnite is more popular in this arena) are online, and they run on mobile phones. Today, schools have to be super careful about taking away mobile devices from kids. You never know when there will be an emergency, and schools have to tread that carefully. But beyond the inherent difficulties of phones in schools, this is also a game that kids are playing together, with each other. They’re interacting with each other through Fortnite. They’re sceencapping, chatting, sharing their wins on Snapchat. Some folks have even reported arguments/fights over wins and even “turf wars” over which battle royale game is superior.
Not only that, but Fortnite and PUBG are even impacting school network infrastructures. Several Tweets unearthed by Kotaku’s report show a ton of unexpected consequences from Fortnite exploding in schools. Some schools have restricted Fornite’s servers, but that’s in schools with savvier staff. Other schools are struggling to maintain Wi-Fi while clogged up, others have opted to turn off Wi-Fi altogether. Schools don’t have the budget for robust network structures, and as education and technology continue to intersect, having resources used up by kids playing Fortnite sounds frustrating!
Frankly, this is fascinating. Will Epic Games or the PUBG Corp. get wind of this issue and respond to it in any way? Will schools be forced to pour more resources into tech to gain the knowledge and skill to work around mobile games? Will schools have to reinstate confiscation policies of old? Whatever the answers to these questions end up being, it’s wild how such impressive technology of perfect mobile ports of hot console and PC games can and will spill over the borders of the gaming community, and cause disruption in ostensibly unrelated spaces.