by Abigail Carcich
Fortnite, a wildly popular online video game about survival, was first released in early 2017 by Epic Games. Its second mode, Fortnite Battle Royale, released only a couple of months later, surged in popularity nearly overnight to over 10 million users. Currently, the free-to-play game has an estimated player base of over 100 million.
Players can play solo, or in a groups with friends. The game drops you into an environment where you and your team fight others (up to 100 people total) to be the last man standing, Hunger Games style.
Parents report enjoying the game for the camaraderie it gives them with their children. Kids report loving the game for the epic tales of adventure, survival, and demise.
However, predators are also using Fortnite to gain access to potential victims of sexual crimes.
Many video games include a chat function, in which you can chat with other members of your team, or with other players in your same game. Some video games have built-in functions for live streaming of your game, allowing the general public to view your game on the internet as you play it, and comment or send you private messages.
Predators will chat with their potential victims, and look for vulnerable young people with whom to connect. After a series of messages, predators may request sexual/nude photographs, or send graphic images of their own. They also may request to meet their victims in person, with the intent of engaging in a sexual encounter.
Fortnite is one of the most popular online platforms currently, but it is by no means the only one that contains opportunities for predators. Recently, a sting operation in New Jersey resulted in the arrest of 24 men, all of whom used various online platforms to connect with their victims. These other platforms included chatting app Kik and social media apps Scout and Whisper.
Parents should be aware of which games and apps their children interact with, and should frequently discuss with their children the dangers of talking with strangers online. Good internet practices and rules should be established, such as do not share personal information with someone you meet online, never send personal images, and never agree to meet someone that you do not already know.
Parents should also familiarize themselves with the different apps and games that their children interact with, as well as their security settings, and should ask their children questions about their online or gaming friends, investigating any odd or secretive behavior.
Fortnite -- and video games in general -- is likely to continue being popular with young and old alike. Staying connected to your child and educating them is the best way to guard against online predators.
For more tips about internet safety, view ZOE's Parent Guide to Internet Safety http://gozoe.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/A-parent-guide-to-internet-safety.pdf).