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Why Parents Are Fans of Games Like ‘Fortnite’ | Tech News


When Lara Wechsler was a teenager, she used to spend hours gabbing with her friends on the phone. Now, she sees her 14-year-old son Shane doing the same thing—only instead of a phone, he is chatting through a videogame machine.

“I like that he’s always talking to someone rather than playing on his own,” said Ms. Wechsler, a 50-year-old court reporter in Brooklyn, N.Y., whose ninth-grader uses a headset to chat with gamers about school and sports while racking up points.

For decades, parents worried videogames would transform their children into zombies spending countless hours alone with a controller in hand. These days, teens and tweens are obsessing more than ever over popular games, such as “Fortnite.” But since many current games are online, where dozens of people can play simultaneously, children have social interactions, too.

That is changing some parents’ perception of games from the lonely experience they remember growing up to social outlets.

Nabeel Ahmed lets his 13-year-old son Ayaan play games online only with friends from school and relatives. Since most of Ayaan’s friends don’t live in his neighborhood in a suburb of Washington, D.C., Mr. Ahmed said the arrangement makes both of them happy.

“The online-gaming environment serves as a virtual social bridge,” the 43-year-old marketing executive said. Without it, Ayaan “wouldn’t be socializing a whole lot with anyone, and that could potentially become a problem.”

There can be hazards to in-game chitchat, such as bullying and exposure to harmful language. In addition, players can’t always be sure someone they meet in a game is the person he or she claims to be.

“What’s changed dramatically is kids today can play with total strangers,” said Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair, a clinical psychologist. “Many kids are playing with people they’ve never met.”

Still, she said, voice communication is a more effective way for children to converse than typing out text messages. “Children are learning how to listen when they can’t read social cues on somebody’s face,” she said.

Online multiplayer games go back decades. “World of Warcraft,” in particular, helped establish massive gaming environments, “but they had more limited audiences” in part because they required pricey computers, said Dr.

Jon-Paul Dyson,

director of the Strong Museum’s International Center for the History of Electronic Games in Rochester, N.Y.

The spread of broadband to consoles such as Xbox, plus better player-matching and voice-chat software, have made online play much more accessible. Discord Inc.’s free online voice- and text-communication program had 87 million users as of January, more than double a year earlier.

Microsoft
Corp.

said its Xbox Live service had 59 million users in its most recent quarter, up from 40 million in the same period in 2013.

And while parents may never fully embrace violent games, they have warmed to more cartoony types such as “Fortnite” and “League of Legends,” especially as they listen to their children play.

Peggy Pappas isn’t a fan of screen time in general, but she is glad that when her 11-year-old son T.J. is playing games online, he is spending time with other children. “It’s better to hear him communicating than just dead silence,” said Mrs. Pappas, a 47-year-old high-school teacher in Nutley, N.J.

Some parents appreciate games that encourage players to work together. Nathaniel Engelsen wouldn’t want his 16-year-old daughter Evie playing in isolation the way he did as a teen, holed up in his bedroom with a

Sega Genesis

console. “You were being entertained,” said the 40-year-old manager at a marketing firm, but “it wasn’t social.”

Evie said she would rather be social through games than through her Instagram or Snapchat accounts, because games are interactive.

With social media, “people will post things and it’s, like, look at this fun stuff I’m doing without you,” she said. The teen said she regularly plays with more than a dozen people she befriended while playing games online. “The strangers become people I know,” she said.

Christine Goudie credits online gaming with helping her 12-year-old son Danny after two close friends switched to another school. An online relationship he had developed earlier with another gamer provided an emotional safety net, she said.

The bond grew so strong that Danny, who lives in Chicago, and the other boy, who lives in New York, eventually asked their mothers to arrange a get-together.

Ms. Goudie, a 41-year-old nurse, said she wasn’t comfortable at first, but warmed to the idea after several talks with the other mom.

“We’re not in the same generation as our children,” Ms. Goudie said. “You have to adapt.”

Write to Sarah E. Needleman at [email protected]

Appeared in the April 14, 2018, print edition as ‘Parents Don’t Mind Gamer Play Groups.’

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