Classroom Technology

Fortnite May Be Addictive, But Could Also Promote Learning, Say Stanford Experts

By Sarah Schwartz — May 31, 2018 3 min read
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Every teacher has to deal with classroom distractions, but one new game is proving especially frustrating for educators across the country—Fortnite: Battle Royale.

The multi-player shooter game, in which players hunt for weapons, build shelters, and battle to be the last one standing, is hugely popular with kids and teenagers. It can also be downloaded and played on mobile phones, making Fortnite a major classroom disturbance.

Earlier this month, Education Week spoke with parents and researchers about how to approach the Fortnite craze. Other experts are also offering guidance: the Stanford Graduate School of Education’s news center spoke with three researchers at the school—Antero Garcia, an assistant professor, Byron Reeves, a professor of communciation, and Denise Pope, a senior lecturer and the co-founder of Challenge Success.

Here are three main takeaways for teachers from their advice:

The game is engineered to be addictive. Video game designers understand the “cognitive structures” that get players hooked, Garcia told Stanford. They aim to create games that will keep players coming back, match after match.

Sometimes, this urge to keep playing can reach unhealthy levels. The World Health Organization’s beta draft of their next International Classification of Diseases includes “gaming disorder,” an affliction where the player prioritizes gaming over other interests and daily activities, despite negative consequences.

But not every student who loves Fortnite is destined for video game addiction. There’s a difference between casual play and unhealthy obsession, Liz Kolb, a clinical associate professor of education technologies at The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor told Education Week. Teachers should pay attention to students’ reactions when they tell students to stop playing in class. If kids become combative or can’t focus, that’s cause for concern, she said.

Fortnite isn’t all bad, though: It may reinforce learning skills. Fortnite, and other games like it, require students to practice “teamwork, collaboration, strategic thinking, spatial understanding, and imagination,” the Stanford experts say.

Some players also work on strategy outside of gameplay, employing math and physics concepts to calculate things like the correct angle for a jump or the probability of winning a fight with different combinations of weapons.

Teamwork within games can even promote pro-social behavior beyond the virtual world, John Velez, an assistant professor of journalism and electronic media at Texas Tech University, told Education Week.

“The working with others, the collaboration—particularly at the middle school and high school level—that’s what kids crave,” Pope told Stanford.

Teachers can use students’ interest in the game as a classroom engagement tool. “If you have a lot of kids who are playing Fortnite, then that seems like a real opportunity to think about the kinds of connections you can make,” Garcia told Stanford. “Turn it into an intellectual enterprise.”

Garcia offers media analysis questions that teachers can raise. Encouraging students to probe the ethics, gender representations, and ideology embedded in Fortnite can lead to “powerful learning” they likely don’t otherwise experience with games, he said.

But encouraging discussion of the game as part of a lesson doesn’t mean that teachers should let students play in the classroom. Teachers should require that kids keep phones out of sight—in their backpacks, for example—unless the phones are “intentionally” part of the lesson, said Pope.

For more on how to integrate Fortnite into lessons—or how to keep distracted kids off their phones in class—check out Decoding Fortnite: 5 Things Educators Need to Know About the Hit Video Game.

Image: Epic Games

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.