They have golf carts you can drive! And you can shoot baskets on the new basketball court! Have you seen the Viking boat? Dusty Divot is now filled with trees! Did you find a lightning bolt yet?
Earlier this week a new “season” of the wildly popular video game Fortnite was released. If you couldn’t already tell, it was a very big deal in our house. I have to admit, when I first heard of this game, I was skeptical. I wasn’t totally on board with the idea of a first-person shooter game, but this game is different. The website describes the game as a survival game, there is no blood or graphic violence. After some discussion, we allowed our son to play and there has been no looking back. Apparently, we are not the only ones, it is estimated that 125 million people have played Fortnite in the last year.
I have spent some time watching my son play and here’s what I’ve learned.
Before the game even starts, there are decisions to make that are almost as important as the game itself. First, you must choose your “skin”, which is your character for the game. The characters are male or female and to my surprise, the female characters are just as popular as the male characters. You also get to choose your glider and a pickaxe. They all have the same functional capabilities and the decision on which to use is purely based on the cool factor. Another big choice is around the dances, because when you are out on the battlefield, you might need a quick dance break to do the worm or floss or jubilation. Chances are you have seen kids, or major league baseball players, doing these dances out in public. A coworker told me his son stopped to show some kids at the mall the right way to do one dance. During my son’s baseball games, you never knew if a fielder might start doing the Floss during a break in the action. These are fun aspects of the game that have little impact on the outcome of the actual game play and are purely entertaining.
Another big part of the popularity of the game is the ability to play online with your friends. As parents we might reminisce about long summer days where we took off on our bikes in the morning and came home for dinner. But let’s face it, that was a different time. Would you really be ok with your kid riding off on their bike and not knowing where they were going? Did they have their helmet on? Did they have a phone with them so they could call you or so you could track them and know where they were at? Things are different now. Our kids are growing up in a time where social interaction takes place through a screen. I don’t think we should classify it as a good thing or a bad thing, it just is the way it is.
From a game perspective, Fortnite allows players to play alone, with a friend or with 3 other friends. When they play with their friends, their likelihood of success improves if they can communicate effectively and coordinate their moves. They learn each other’s strengths, like building, and figure out ways to utilize those strengths to help them get farther in the game. They share their materials with each other. If one of their teammates gets knocked down, they can go over to them and help heal them. On the surface, these are all actions for the purpose of winning the game, a Victory Royale. Under the surface, the players are learning how to work as a team and how to verbally communicate with someone who is not sitting in the same room.
As with any type of communication, it doesn’t always go smoothly. The team doesn’t win, communication breaks down and feelings get hurt. This too is an important part of the game. I listen to what is going on and what is being said. I poke my heard around the corner when I hear things starting to escalate and ask the question “are you still having fun?” This is usually all it takes to reset the tone. On the other hand, like all relationships, they have to figure things out for themselves. What has worked for me is that I ask a lot of questions. As a result, I hear about a lot of details of what happened in each game, but it also opens the door to talk about more of the social interactions as well.
Video games are here to stay and with millions of users every day, Fortnite is not going away any time soon. No matter which is the game of choice in your household, if you take the time to watch them play, you’ll feel more comfortable in understanding how they spend their time and why they find it so fun. It will also give you the vocabulary to talk to them about something they are really interested in, which always leads to more conversations and connection. Let’s Go!
I started writing this blog because I wanted to have deeper conversations beyond "How are you?", "Busy", with other parents. Over the years I've shared personal stories, articles, authors and topics to facilitate conversations with parents about the joys and the challenges of parenting.