My son stands before the oversized screen of our television, cheeks flushed, eyes glassy, tongue barely protruding from a corner of his mouth. After one incredibly long, motionless moment, he suddenly begins jumping up and down in time with the tecka tecka tecka tecka of his thumbs on the game remote.
“Mom, you won’t believe this!” he shouts exultantly as the screen explodes. “I stayed out of the storm, found a shield potion in an attic and racked up my fifth win! I just unlocked the golden umbrella! THE GOLDEN UMBRELLA!”
“Wow,” I say mildly. “How exciting.”
Welcome to my summer.
This season will likely go down in the annals of my memory as the Summer of Swimming. The Summer of Sleeping In. And, to my extreme irritation… The Summer of Fortnite.
What is Fortnite? absolutely no mom in America is asking right now. Well, I’ll tell you anyway. Fortnite is an insidious video game created by Satan to hypnotize adolescent boys and simultaneously drive their mothers batshit crazy. From what I can tell, the premise is pretty simple: 100 players board a flying bus, land on some corner of the Fortnite virtual world, and proceed to shoot at each other until only one player is left standing. That player wins the round. And then the other players dance. Honestly, I haven’t been able to figure out what purpose the dancing serves, but judging from all my son’s new dance moves, it’s obviously kind of a big deal.
When my son first started playing Fortnite, I took all the necessary parental precautions: I insisted he play in the den, where I could keep an eye on him. I only let him connect with kids he knew in real life and made sure I could hear what the other players were saying online. And at first, it didn’t seem that bad. Fortnite helped him to reconnect with his elementary school friends, and it seemed to strengthen friendships with some of the boys at his new school. It was actually a little like having a playdate without having to stock up on Gogurts or juice boxes. I’d hear the boys’ voices in the next room as a discussion of their battle strategy turned to one about their favorite teachers and I’d smile warmly, feeling a parenting win coming on. My son was socializing and honing his cooperation, teamwork, and small motor skills and I didn’t even have to get dressed or leave the house! I was totally pwning summer!
Looking back, these early golden days of Fortnite play out in my mind like the beginning of a Lifetime movie, when everything seems perfect — and then the sinister music starts playing and you just know that all hell is about to break loose.
Let the schadenfreude begin, reader, because my Fortnightmare was about to begin. It wasn’t long before all my kid wanted to do was play Fortnite, from the time he got up in the morning until the time he went to bed at night. I could see a storm brewing and immediately limited his Fortnite time.
My son’s daily routine changed accordingly:
9 AM-10AM: Play Fortnite.
11AM-2PM: Think about playing Fortnite.
2PM-3PM: Play Fortnite.
3PM-9AM: Think about playing Fortnite.
Right before my eyes, my sweet 11-year-old son had turned into a Fortnite fiend, complete with a brand new soundtrack that’s currently the white noise of my existence: “Mom, will I ever be allowed to play Fortnite for more than two hours a day?” “Is there a chance I can have an extra hour of Fortnite if I don’t play anything else today?” “Did you know Fortnite has a new update today?” “I’m just going to sit here until I can play Fortnite again.” “Is it okay if I just watch some videos on YouTube of other people playing Fortnite, since I can’t play it myself?” “When I turn 18, I’m going to be a professional gamer and do nothing but play Fortnite all day, as much as I want.” “Joe Bob/Arturo/Phlemus is allowed to play Fortnite all day. His parents don’t set limits. It’s not fair.” “I will never get tired of Fortnite, never, not as long as I live.” “Fortnite.” “Fortnite.” “Fortnite.” “FORTNITE.”
I know I’m not alone here. I’ve commiserated with other moms who are dealing with the very same thing and I’ve seen too many ‘I HATE FORTNITE’ posts on Facebook to count. The media has chimed in too, alerting parents that Fortnite is addictive, that strangers can contact kids using Fortnite’s text chat feature, that Fortnite is turning kids into mindless zombies, etc, etc. Some of my mom friends have banned Fortnite outright. Others, like these moms, are taking the ‘If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em’ approach.
As for me, I’m just irritated at this point. I don’t want to play Fortnite. I don’t want to ban Fortnite. And I definitely don’t want to talk about Fortnite all. Day. Long.
I don’t need an expert to explain to me why video games are so enticing and addictive — I get it. Video games allow our kids to be heroes and warriors with perfect bodies. They offer opportunities to explore worlds far more interesting than our backyards and neighborhoods. Most of today’s parents, myself included, had our own obsessive interludes with Atari and Nintendo 64 back in the day — It’s easy to understand how today’s far more vibrant and advanced games are even more alluring. In fact, part of the reason I don’t play video games now with my kids is that I worry I won’t want to stop, and at this point in my life, I just don’t have time for that.
And so I’m spending this summer fighting my own Battle Royale — constantly chasing my kid off screens and coming up with ways to convince him that his real life can be just as fun as his virtual one.
Even if I’m not entirely sure that’s the case.