Why my kids' "Fortnite" obsession isn't such a bad thing

Epic Games

“Fortnite” has taken over my house and there’s a good chance it has taken over yours, too.

It is the newest and coolest video game, particularly popular with boys. And when I say I’ve never seen my kids love anything more than this game, I’m really not kidding. They’ll hop out of bed at 6 a.m. on a weekend to play. They’ll race to get their homework done so they can play. They’ll even try to feign being sick so they can stay home to play. (Mom doesn’t fall for that one.)

They will even spend hours watching videos of other people playing. Good use of time, right? They argue that it is.

And don’t get me wrong. This isn’t a rant because I hate the game. I don’t.

Unlike many video games that isolate boys into what can be a very unsocial and even antisocial space, “Fortnite” is interactive. In the spirit of the old school employees at Banana Republic, most kids wear headsets that allow them to communicate, hands free, with one another while they play.

I have to confess that, because kids rarely talk on the phone anymore (and talking on the phone was life when I was a tween), it is sort of fun to hear them chatting with their buddies and yelling, “I’m down I’m down,” or, “Look out, they’re right behind you.”

I also get a bit of evil satisfaction when I hear them say, “Guys, my mom says I gotta go.”

That’s right. The woman who carried you in her body for forty weeks and threw up for twenty of them wants you to put down your little answering-service-lady headset and get the hell upstairs.

“Okay, okay, it’s my last game.”

This is the most common rebuttal to the “time to get off that game” refrain echoing through practically every house in America.

Taking turns

But here’s the thing: Unlike when it’s my last Dorito and—sadly—over in a flash, a last game in “Fortnight” can last for what feels like forever because it doesn’t end until their player dies.

If I’m in a decent mood and the whole “Fortnite” thing hasn’t already shortened my fuse, I’m cool with the whole “this is my last game” deal. But God help my kids when I’ve just tripped over their backpack and found their cup (the baseball kind) on the kitchen counter and they default to their “it’s my last game” strategy. Because then there is no last game.

Now, if you are a mom of multiple boys—three in my case—and only allow one Xbox in the house as we do, you will likely agree that the whole issue of sharing and taking turns with “Fortnite” is the root of most video-game-related family discord.

The arguing and the headache-inducing medley of “He played longer than me” and “When’s it going to be my turn?” and “I’ve only been playing for, like, five minutes,” is enough to send you straight over that edge with Thelma and Louise.

One of the game’s greatest assets—other than that it’s free—is ironically also the cause of the most strife on the family front: Anyone of any age and any skill level can play.

So, yes, that means that my nine-year-old and my thirteen-year-old are fighting over whose turn it is to play the same game. And if Chance the Rapper or Gordon Hayward lived here, they’d be whining too because even adult celebrity types are loving—and playing—this game. (Though my guess is that neither of those famous millionaire men would accept my “only one Xbox and you have to be off by 8:30 p.m.” rules. But the point still stands that this game is all the rage whether you’re six or thirty-six.)

Putting out “Fortnite” fires

Parental reaction to “Fortnite,” at least in our house, seems to vary in direct proportion to the parental moods and/or stress level of the given moment.

There are times when the game actually has a blissful quality because my boys are happy and entertained for hours and I can work, read, or even watch a couple shows without interruption. If that heavenly trend continues, I just may have to splurge and sign up for HBO.

And who doesn’t love an hour to fritter away scrolling through Groupon and Zulilly uninterrupted so you can buy some dumb monogrammed item you’ll have forgotten you bought until it arrives weeks later and you’re waving the package around asking, “Who bought this?”

But there are other times—lots of them—when I kind of want to throw a YouTube-worthy nutty every hour on the hour because it seems like from the second my boys awake until the time they go to bed, I am putting out “Fortnite” fires. And when mama’s patience wire has been tripped repeatedly in a short period of time, the kids know to expect my firehose to be on full blast.

Why do I let them play?

I can already hear your questions that we all know are really just judgments with a question mark at the end: Why do you let them play the game? Why not get rid of the Xbox altogether? Why aren’t they spending their time eating organic carrots and playing outside?

To all of that, my responses are simple.

“Fortnite” is what my boys currently most enjoy when they are inside and not busy playing sports and going to school. But much more importantly, their love for this game has provided that most perfect lever, or carrot, if you will, when it comes to kids and chores. They will do whatever they need to do if it means they can play “Fortnite,” and that means that healthy bribery—ahem, I mean accountability—is alive and well and quickly ratcheting up in this blessed home.

Dishwashers get emptied, clothes get put away, homework gets done. I can even get my feet rubbed, if they know that “Fortnite” is waiting at the end of mom’s to-do list. Unfortunately, I’m the farthest thing from a domestic goddess, and my cleaning ideas are limited, but something tells me that if I really wanted them to scrub the bathroom grout with a toothbrush, they would.

Can you get me a seltzer with ice? Can you go out to my car and get my bag? Can you feed the dogs? Miracle of all miracles, they will even take a shower without any argument or stalling if they know they can squeeze in a few rounds of “Fortnite” afterward. Can we say “jackpot”?!

This is a win-win. It certainly doesn’t feel like a win all the time—like when I feel like a lunatic who does nothing but curse the day that “Fortnite” came into being.

But, on balance, the kids are having a blast with their game—including with kids they may not hang out with much but know from school and sports—during their downtime at home. They are so motivated to play that they are also becoming my long-overdue personal assistants.

Sure, they fight or talk back and sometimes lose the privilege of playing—and instead win a front seat to a short but intense mom rant about gratitude and how not to be a total a**hole. But for the most part, I put “Fortnite” in the plus column.

God knows I am getting far more out of it than I ever did from bottle flipping and fidget spinners.

Editor’s note: A version of this essay was original published in a slightly different form by the Education Post.

The views expressed herein represent the opinions of the author and not necessarily the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

 
 
Erika Sanzi
Erika Sanzi is a Senior Visiting Fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute