Fortnite has taken over my house and there’s a good chance it has taken over yours too. It is the latest cool 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.
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 with one another while they play. I have to confess that since kids practically never talk on the phone anymore—talking on the phone was life when I was a tween—it is sort of fun to hear them talking to 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 40 weeks and threw up for twenty of those weeks 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. 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 guy dies. And 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 a backpack or 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 9-year-old and my 13-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 celebrities 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 pm rules, but the point still stands that this game is all the rage whether you’re 6 or 36.)
The premise of the game—officially known as Fortnite Battle Royale— is pretty simple: outlive than everyone else. Each game starts with 100 people parachuting onto an island with nothing more than a pickaxe and they fight each other until only one person is left standing. Players choose to play alone or with up to three people in teams of four and the goal is to work together to survive. Weapons and other items are hidden around the island so that players can arm themselves while they traverse the landscape and buildings. As the game goes on, the size of the island continues to shrink, forcing players into closer proximity to one another.
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 tantrum every hour on the hour because it seems like from the second my boys awake til 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.
I can 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?
And 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 — er, 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 wild woman who does nothing but curse the day that Fortnite came into being—but, on balance, the kids are having a blast with their friends, including kids they may not hang out with much but know from school and sports, during their down time at home. And 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 get to listen 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.