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Love, Politics, and Fortnite

If you have school age boys (do girls play Fortnite? They must, but I confess I don’t know), you are familiar with Fortnite, the online multiplayer video game of survival in an apocalyptic universe where winning means killing everyone else in the game. 

If this is alarming news, I envy you. Your family probably plays board games or reads actual books together.

When my kids first started playing Fortnite, I was in the dark. I had read about the game, was aware of its phenomenal growth and had already begun resenting its billionaire creator (for a variety of reasons). My boys became fanatics, as did most of their friends in Carlisle and Concord. I began to hear familiar voices coming through their phones as they worked in groups or schemed against each other.

“Wait, you talk to people while you’re playing them? Then you . . . kill them?” I asked.

“Mom, shhh. There are six people left.”

As their “skills” improved and they began to acquire new “skins” (costumes) and weapons (I know, I know), I was both horrified and intrigued. At first, I tried to control the relationship. I put strict time limits on playing. I yelled. I threatened. I bribed. I betrayed them by telling them they could play and then changing my mind. I shamed them. All great parenting tools, if you haven’t tried them. They retreated further into their world of extreme boy-dom, and I felt both helpless and stupid for allowing them ever to 1) play the game, 2) get cell phones and 3) leave my sight. 

How could I compete with this monstrous new thing in my children’s hearts and minds? 

Finally, I realized what every parent must. I would lose. It was a mathematical certainty. Just as my parents couldn’t compete with Dungeons and Dragons, and their parents couldn’t quash Elvis, and theirs couldn’t stop the horseless carriage.

Then one day I heard a rather deep voice on my son’s phone. Oh my God, I thought, here it is, the dangerous predator I’ve always feared . . . 

I edged closer, camouflaging myself against a houseplant as I listened, motionless, evading detection.  And there it was . . . 

Kindness. Encouragement. Empathy. My son was helping someone new play the game. Someone older. He was giving him advice, telling him where to hide, what weapons to use (I know, I know) and basically . . . mentoring him. 

Sometimes you have to look your enemy right in the eye and realize . . . he is not your enemy. Unless you assign that role to him.

Then I heard a familiar sound from the phone. “I told you to get off! It’s time for dinner! Now!” Another mother, in her own losing battle. We are never really alone in our struggles, no matter how ridiculous and personally unwinnable they seem. 

Now, my husband and I ask the kids about the game. We check out their new skins (apparently girl skins are cooler), inquire about the latest challenges, dances and gliders. We speculate who’s winning on skill and luck, and who’s just buying their way to the next level and how that happens in work and life, not just video games.

We ask questions we’d never thought we’d ask.  And something funny happens.

They talk to us.


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