When your child really loves something, you can’t fail to have a small affection for it, even it it’s not something you’d choose to do yourself. But loving and hating Fortnite has been struggle in this house, as I’m sure it is for many – if your child loves it, you want to make sure they’re not playing too much, that they’re safe online, and to minimise the undeniable increase in general volume when he or she is playing.
“Ready Up!” “Res me! Res me!” “Yes! Yeeeess mate!” “Oh my GOSH what are you DOING!” and other assorted shouts, exhortations, beratings, and not forgetting the truly irritating and meaningless cries of “YEEEEEEET!” – the sound of a typical episode of tweenie Fortnite playing, chez nous.
There’s no generation gap as far as gaming goes in this house. I have been a gamer for as long as I have been around computer games – which for the first 20 years of my life were rare and precious occasions, confined to Paperboy on a friend’s Commodore 64, and a very early Batman. But as soon as I got my own PC while at university, I dived deep into the world of online gaming, choosing as my particular specialism a fantasy Role Playing Game (RPG) called Diablo 2.
It’s no secret it’s addictive. I have known people to lose weeks and months of their lives to online gaming, when they should have been writing theses for postgrads and PhDs. It can be dangerous, and it can take a lot of personal discipline if you’re not going to allow games to take over your life. Like any addiction, it can make you irritable and impatient if you’re not getting your fix, and obsessive about the topic when you’re not. I was never addicted to that extent, but I have certainly felt the pull – and having been addicted to nicotine for a certain period, I know exactly how dependency feels.
When lockdown started, our son missed his friends terribly, along with most 8-year-olds up and down the country. One of the great draws of online gaming is the community, and Fortnite is no different – in fact, it’s perfect for parents and children, because you can control who they are friends with, and their multi-way verbal communication via the Playstation, or in-game audio. And it was an awesome way to keep him connected with his friends. We tried one or two Zoom meetings for a few of them, which is such an unnatural way for children to communicate: it was basically a bunch of them looking at images of each other, and trying to think of things to say. Not really any bonding happening, aside from in a mutual agreement that online meetings are awful.
So Fortnite was a great alternative. I’ve tried it, and I don’t love it – the gameplay isn’t my idea of fun – but there’s no harm in it as a game in itself. We linked him up with all his friends who also play, so they can see when others are online. They chat, they work together, they resolve problems, they plan campaigns, they fall out, they make up – it’s the closest we’ve been able to get to playground interaction and bonding for them over the last few months, and I do think it’s been really good for him. They’ve even managed to call out a couple of bullies, and stand up to them together, which has been amazing to see.
Since the holidays started – and I’m guilty of allowing this to happen, because I’ve had a lot more work to do – his time online has crept up, and I have seen one or two of those warning signs of addiction creeping in. Waking up early to play, reacting irritably – if not angrily – when he has to stop, and living, breathing, talking and watching utter waste-of-time, junktrash Youtube videos when he can’t. So we decided something had to be done. He needs us to help him develop the self-discipline we possessed as older gamers, to apportion time appropriately, and prioritise the gaming alongside the many other equally valuable aspects of life. We’ve realised it’s important for us to recognise how big a part of his interest it is, and to show him that it doesn’t have to be the only one.
So we now have the following rules: Fortnite will only be played every other day. On those days, it will be played for no more than two hours in total, and those two hours will not be played all at once. On the non-Fortnite days, he can still stay in touch with his friends via Skype, which they tend to do one-on-one while doing other things. And it’s making such a difference. The whole home feels a little more relaxed, and he’s far less uptight. There have been a few moans about how unfair it is, but he is rediscovering the value of variety in life and leisure. I hope he’s also had a little taste of how it feels when addiction begins to pull you down an unhealthy path, which I hope will stand him in excellent stead in the future, whenever temptation comes calling – whatever its form.
Oh, and the other thing which has been completely banned, on pain of pocket money forfeit, is any the use under any circumstances of that stupid word “Yeet”. I think we’re all a little saner for that.