CONTROLLER CHECK, PLEASE: Fortnite as a Trafficking Mechanism

The video game series that has captured millions of minds, garnered billions of hours of playtime, and exposed kids worldwide to a series of meme-worthy dance moves, Fortnite manages to keep many captivated by an ever-changing landscape of players, customizations, and moves. On January 19, 2019, however, it was revealed that Fortnite now presents players with its most controversial “update” yet: the threat of sex predators.

 

Last week, a 41-year-old man in Florida was found guilty of possession of child pornography and unlawful sexual activity with a minor. Anthony Thomas allegedly made contact with a 17-year-old girl through the game with the help of an accomplice who introduced the victim to him using the voice-chat function. According to a statement by Attorney General Ashley Moody’s Office of Statewide Prosecution, Thomas offered the girl credit cards and a cellphone after she confided in him about troubles at home. Next, Thomas and his accomplice picked up the victim and brought her to Thomas’ home, where he reportedly engaged in sexual activity with the minor.

 

When the teen’s parents noticed that she had gone missing, the authorities managed to find the victim and acquire a warrant to search Thomas’ phone, which held sexually explicit images and videos of the minor.

 

While thankfully, this predator was caught and arrested, his actions hold deeper implications for the way gamers and law enforcers think of online games in the future. Thomas’ actions were not shown to escalate to sex trafficking, but the ease with which he groomed his victim and took her away from home proves that video games can potentially become a new trafficking mechanism.

Does this mean that Fortinite is a bad thing? I don’t think so—not inherently. Online multiplayer videogames allow players to find teammates and opponents from the comfort of their own living room. But while they appear to be separated by screens, voice and text chat functions allow fellow players, the good and the bad, to creep a lot closer than we expect.