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A guest post by Peg Hinely

Fortnite.

F  o  r  t  n  i  t  e

FORTNITE!!!!

The summer of 2018 will be forever reminisced about in my family for two main reasons. The first was our family trip to Ireland, a first for both my son and husband, that was wonderful in every imaginable way.

The second is…Fortnite.

For those who may have heard of the massively popular console and mobile game Fortnite but aren’t exactly sure what it is, and for those parents who hear about it on a daily basis but don’t really know the details, here’s a summary. Fortnight is actually two games. The first is Fornite: Save the World in which up to four players work together to fight off zombie-like husks and defend themselves, their teammates and their earned-objects with fortifications they can build. The second is Fortnight Battle Royale which allows up to 100 players to battle each other in much smaller spaces to be the last person standing.  Released in 2017 both games have been hugely successful but the battle royale-version jolted to the top of the charts when singer/rapper Drake broke the streaming site Twitch while playing Fortnite with other celebrities and professional athletes.  By June 2018 the game had drawn more than 125 million players from around the world — earning creator-company, Epic Games, a reported hundreds-of-millions of dollars per month.

Fortnite entered our family life in May 2018 and it was all very manageable at that point. We have strict rules about video games during the school year and are careful to select the type of games played along with the amount of time spent on them. When summer hit, we were off to our trip to Ireland. No Fortnite there, at least not for us. It was once we returned from our vacation that Fortnite gameplay took a turn for the obsessive.

We had no idea how this game would turn our parenting backbones into jelly and leave us consistently wavering on the line between threatening to turn the game off if our directions weren’t met — or letting him play “just 10 more minutes to finish this battle”, knowing full well it was never going to take “just” 10 minutes.

Personally, I was dealing with the well-known parenting hypocrisy of letting him play as much as he wanted because I was getting sooooo much done (and didn’t have to plan an activity that afternoon). We had just traveled the globe, for goodness sake, and he has completed a busy year of school just before that. Despite these things, I was afraid letting him play the game was turning his brain to mush.

At this point I should mention my son is a single child. Summers can be challenging for any parent to fill the hours of daylight with activities both meaningful and fun but with a single child there’s no opportunity to say “go play with your brother/sister!” When friends aren’t around, and he’s tired of hanging out with adults, it’s easy to turn to a video game to fill some afternoon indoor time.

Rather than struggle with more feelings of guilt and inadequacy I decided I’d start a dialogue with him about Fortnite. Our conversations were animated, excited, suspenseful and detailed. He spoke of the challenges his friends and he had accomplished that day, the “battles” they had won, the structures they had built, the treasure trove of loot they had collected. I started to listen to him more closely and reserved my oh-so-quick judgment about the game and my tendency to blow off the entire thing because, after all, it’s “just” a video game. I started to listen to the sounds of raucous laughter coming from his room, he has the best laugh, and to the conversations between his friends during game play.

And then one day I actually watched he and his friends play an “epic battle”, gasp! Their mission was to eliminate the zombies and protect the fort. The group worked in perfect sync with each other, they communicated with each other over their headsets and mics about their on-screen locations. When one needed help, they all ran to save him. They used problem-solving skills, they created and respected a wonderful competitive spirit, their ability to see minute details on a fast-moving screen filled with clutter and chaos was impressive, their ability to multitask was unlike I had seen before in most real-life tasks.

At one point a team member was down and had no extra lives, three friends ran over to “revive” him with extra lives they had earned. A lovely unselfish act. When his character finally came back to life, they, through their characters, all danced silly little jigs. In the end, they lost that particular battle but it didn’t matter to them, they discussed what they did wrong and in the spirit of good sportsmanship, they continued on to the next battle. They became heroes and saved their little world that day.

Watching them I realized that I was letting all these preconceived notions of how society says I should feel about video games, and what other parents say about video games, to get in the way of how I actually feel about them or how I should manage them in my own house. The demands of parenthood are plenty, and yes times are different now. Every generation of parenting is harder than the one previous. Parents today have so many more landmines to navigate, so many more outside influences to manage, and so much more judgment being heaped upon them for choices others may not agree with. But it’s okay to give yourselves a break every now and then, literally and figuratively. It’s okay to let your kid veg out with a game of Fortnite tonight —  you’ve also had a long day and deserve a little couch-time. And ya’ know what? They’re gonna be okay. I can almost guarantee they won’t become actual zombie hunters in real life.

With all that said, do I let my kid play hours on end without other human interaction? Heck no! Does Fortnite still make me crazy at times, especially when my son has been called to dinner three times?! Heck yeah! But can I get three loads of laundry done, bills paid and two bathrooms cleaned while he’s laughing his head off sending gargantuan sized zombies into oblivion? Definitely.

We still limit screen time, especially during the school year and we still monitor what he plays (to his irritation many games are off-limits). Grades, chores, clubs, swimming, friends, and family-time all take priority over video games. But parents, it’s all gonna be okay. Give yourselves a break. Fortnite is just a blip on the screen of their life. There’s probably another must-have toy or game right around the corner that won’t be near as annoying…let’s hope.

Peg Hinely is a freelance writer, social, online and marketing specialist and creator of Magpie Marketing. Based in coastal central Florida, Peg enjoys writing about life as a 40-something mom, casual fashion, home decor and delicious recipes.

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