My fam­ily and the sum­mer of ‘Fort­nite’

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY JEF­FREY S. DILL Philadel­phia In­quirer

If you have a tween or teen kid, or grand­kid or nephew or neigh­bor or any young per­son re­motely con­nected to you, you prob­a­bly know what “Fort­nite” is.

If you don’t know what it is, per­haps you’ve heard your kids dis­cussing chug jugs, slurp juices, skins and kills.

“Fort­nite: Bat­tle Royale” is a third-per­son shooter game in which play­ers are dropped onto a pre­vi­ously in­hab­ited-bu-tnow-apoc­a­lyp­ti­cally de­serted is­land and fight other play­ers to the death (al­though, hap­pily, join­ing with their friends to do so). The vi­o­lence is car­toon­ish com­pared with other sim­i­lar games, and play­ers get to build things like ramps and forts to as­sist their quest. My four boys, ages 9 to 15, love it.

As a par­ent, I can see the up­side. My kids tell me they’re be­ing “so­cial.” I’m not so sure sit­ting on a couch in your base­ment talk­ing through a head­set to your friend sit­ting on his couch in his base­ment is be­ing so­cial.

I do think the game crosses age-group cat­e­gories. I once walked into the room when my 9-yearold was play­ing with the 22-year-old brother of my 13-year-old’s friend. If the two of them were to­gether in my liv­ing room, I don’t think they’d speak to each other, but “Fort­nite” makes them play­mates.

My boys also tell me they’re work­ing on team­work, be­cause they’re work­ing with friends to kill other peo­ple. I’ll give them that one, too. (The other up­side for par­ents: It’s amaz­ing how quickly bath­rooms get cleaned and lawns mowed when “Fort­nite” is on the line.)

But I see a down­side. My kids want to play it all the time. And when they’re not play­ing, they want to watch videos of other peo­ple play­ing.

You can’t tell them to stop play­ing ei­ther; the game de­sign­ers bril­liantly struc­tured the game so play­ers sim­ply can­not stop in the mid­dle of a round (at least that’s what my boys tell me). But what con­cerns me most, partly as a par­ent, partly as a so­ci­ol­o­gist, is what they’re not do­ing this sum­mer be­cause of the “Fort­nite” craze.

With apolo­gies for an­noy­ing nos­tal­gia, I re­mem­ber sum­mer days ly­ing in the grass, lis­ten­ing to the eerie call of the ci­cada, star­ing at the clouds over­head, and be­ing ut­terly … bored. For my boys, bore­dom seems to be their most feared evil.

What’s even more in­ter­est­ing to me at this par­tic­u­lar mo­ment is how “Fort­nite” has changed the way I ex­pe­ri­ence par­ent­ing. I get pri­mary par­ent­ing du­ties in the sum­mer and this year, my task has been sin­gu­lar: find ways to oc­cupy my kids’ time so they don’t re­sort to “Fort­nite.” It means find­ing a job on a farm for the older two, and sched­ul­ing sports and ac­tiv­i­ties for the younger two, plan­ning out­ings to parks and mu­se­ums, play­ing games in the back­yard with them, and send­ing them off to a wilder­ness camp for two weeks where they don’t have elec­tric­ity, let alone Wi-Fi.

But the larger point is how we hu­mans, and hu­man in­sti­tu­tions like families, en­gage with tech­nol­ogy, the fruit of hu­man cre­ativ­ity and in­ge­nu­ity.

I just heard my boys make a break for the base­ment, so I need to herd them out to the yard to play a few rounds of “Whop­pern­erner” with me – a game they in­vented in­volv­ing a ball and a tram­po­line and usu­ally a few bloody noses. I’m hop­ing those ex­pe­ri­ences stick in their mem­o­ries.

Jef­frey S. Dill teaches in the Tem­ple­ton Hon­ors Col­lege at East­ern Univer­sity in St. Davids, Pa.

ANDREW HAR­RER Bloomberg

Tech­nol­ogy re­shapes the ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing hu­man; just look at how my kids are spend­ing their sum­mer.

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