Earlier this week I received an email from my sons’ school. I felt my heart drop into the pit of my stomach when I saw the subject line “Students in Danger!” I opened it up immediately, afraid of what I might read.
Instead I found a very well-meaning email discussing the evils of Fortnite — the game that if you don’t already know is all the rage with kids and adults of all ages then you must have been hiding under a rock and well off the grid for the last year.
Fortnite is a last man standing survival game published by Epic Games, often considered a strange cross between Minecraft for its building and creation requirements, and Left 4 Dead. And it has become a global phenomenon since it was first introduced in the summer of 2017 – only made more successful by the release of Fortnite: Battle Royale.
Wikipedia sums it up pretty well: Players team up for various missions on randomly generated maps to collect resources, build fortifications around defensive objectives that are meant to help fight the storm and protect survivors, and construct weapons and traps to engage in combat with waves of creatures that attempt to destroy the objectives. Players gain rewards through these missions to improve their hero characters, support teams, and arsenal of weapon and trap schematics to be able to take on more difficult missions. The game is supported through microtransactions to purchase in-game currency that can be used towards these upgrades.
What they don’t mention is how much fun and just how addicting it can be. I know because I am learning to play with my 11 year old.
But back to the letter from the school. Danger. It said my kids were in danger. Here is an excerpt:
The game starts out with friends, but as you progress, you are separated from your friends and may now be playing with pedophiles as this is a game in which they participate. Although the game is free, you are encouraged to buy additional in game purchases.
Players are known to stay up late into the night. The teachers have come to me out of concern because several middle school students are failing several subjects and not a few, but many students are talking about the game. We are all concerned. Homework has dropped off and test grades are plummeting.
Now let me first tell you that I adore my boys’ school and I think they do amazing, hands on and involved work to ensure my kids are learning and growing daily. They encourage academic achievement on equal footing with personal values and accountability. Full disclosure, this a religious school.
But that is part of my problem with this somewhat alarmist email.
Let’s take the first point — security. Absolutely there are pedophiles hiding within these games. And every parent should be hyper-vigilant with their children when allowing them to wade out into the cesspool that can often be the internet. But there are pedophiles lurking in every game and every platform and not just the first-person shooters. Having a follow on discussion with a few parents who are vehemently against Fortnite, I learned quickly that their issues stemmed more from the fact that game involved guns than anything else. But they had glommed on to the potential pedophile issue as a way to encourage shutting it down instead of coming right out and getting into a potentially heated debate on the second amendment — because that would never happen right?
I continue to say, there can be more than one issue at play at any given time — we don’t have to be so singularly focused.
So security, I totally agree — monitor who your children are talking to. Got it! And I do it every single time — when I am enjoying getting my ass handed to me over and over in Tilted Towers while playing the game with my kids.
Players grades are slipping because of the game? Because they play into all hours of the night? Ok parents — I put this one squarely on you! If your kids are staying up all night playing video games — where are you in this scenario? There are all sorts of ways to control screen time if your children won’t stop playing the game when you tell them to or if you cannot be home to monitor. The easiest way is for the whole console to go bye-bye!
My boys plays for a little bit, then we head out for a hike if it’s the weekend or a soccer game. If it’s during the week, we have homework first and their bed time is generally the same unless it’s a holiday break so the idea of them ever being up late playing video games is off the table. I cannot imagine a time when they could have played into the wee small hours of the morning without me noticing it. The only way you don’t notice it, is if you don’t choose to notice it.
So I read this email, and I felt myself getting defensive of a video game y’all. And then defensive of my own kids. Because I trust them. I trust them to put the screens away when I tell them to — and they almost always do. We do have the occasional argument about putting something they’re “in the middle of” down.
I trust them to separate a game from reality because I have instilled in them the values to do so. We have deep discussions about games involving guns and the difference between those electrons and reality — I watch for any changes in behavior or agitation and I have yet to see any. Maybe because I have never let them become zombies to their screens. Maybe because we spend more time camping and hiking and playing sports or reading a book the good old fashioned way than we do playing video games. Maybe because I got lucky and they are jeust pretty awesome kids.
Whatever it is, I felt the need to say something about it. Because like anything in life, it is moderation and vigilance that are key. Too much of anything will cause grades or work or relationships to slip. Well, anything but happiness I suppose. One can never have too much happiness can you?
Parents, if you are not a gamer, but your kids are — might I suggest giving it a try sometime? Try to understand what it is they just love about it so much. That also allows you some great insight into who they are playing with and what they are learning without seeming like an intruder into a world they feel is theirs. You can make it yours with them — together.
So despite the dangers outlined by our school, which again, I do appreciate come from a place of nothing but love for my children — I am not going to take Fortnite away from them. I will continue to monitor it and balance it with many other activities. And from the looks of it, until that long promised comet comes to wipe it off the map for good, I will continue to die at Tilted Towers.
Now, it’s sunny outside, so I am hitting the trails. But I have some Fortnite in my future tonight so I can improve my speed on building fortifications. My son said I was the weak link last week. Roger that, son. Time to train.
Oh and I forgot to mention that some kids have found a way to make Fortnite work for THEM, replacing the neighborhood lemonade stand with a gaming booth – check that out here.