Fortnite Fortunes and Freakouts: Parents Grapple With an Obsession
According to T-shirts worn at the recent Fortnite World Cup, there are now two types of families: normal families and Fortnite families.
In the eyes of fans who have fully embraced the popular video game, the competition in Queens last weekend was a realization of Fortnite’s best qualities. It brought to life the game’s colorful and engaging digital world, paid out $30 million in total prize money and connected thousands of attendees from around the world. The World Cup’s 16-year-old winner took home $3 million in prize money.
Charlotta Ehring Buckle, a mother in Sweden, told us she and her family traveled to Queens for the tournament.
“All the kids got to realize and feel what a big family around the globe Fortnite has created,” she said.
Some of the dozens of parents who wrote to us acknowledged the game’s moneymaking potential for their young players. But many more complained that its addictive pull led their families to spend too much on in-game purchases like “skins” (characters’ often flamboyant costumes), “emotes” (cheeky dances for those characters) and “V-bucks” (currency used in the game). Many also complained the game wreaked havoc on their children’s emotions.
Below is a selection of the responses we received. They have been lightly edited.
Whenever I ask my 14-year-old son questions about Fortnite, his face absolutely lights up. It’s made me realize that I have been too dismissive and critical of something he is passionate about.
— Denise Olsen, 52, West Orange, N.J.
It wasn’t until we as parents started to embrace [our son’s] interest in gaming and found out ourselves how it worked that we could understand the huge benefits with it. Time after time, we noticed his development in leadership, friendship, coaching, language and strategy. But above all, he built up a fantastic network of friends around the globe.
— Charlotta Ehring Buckle, 49, lives in Sölvesborg, Sweden, and has a 14-year-old son.
Fortnite has become my favorite way to unwind and catch up with my friends from law school. It is the only game to truly recreate those moments we all had as kids where we were all huddled around a Nintendo 64 trying to outplay each other.
Fortnite has given us a way to stay in touch, play and win together despite our busy lives and families.
— Zia Hassan, 30, Toronto, Ontario
The game has provided a base around which I can ask questions and be assured that I’ll get thorough responses well beyond the typical short answers to my other questions. In that way, it’s given our family something we can all talk about.
— Lance Gunkel, 40, Clive, Iowa
The lure of money
I was able to see the “good” in the game — the potential for winnings — and the mental strategy that is used in playing. I can relate to [my son] better now that I understand it and will even encourage it if I think that savings for college might be on the line!
— Kristine Murray, 52, lives Beverly, Mass., and has a 14-year-old son.
The recent tournament and the success of some young streamers seems to have raised unrealistic expectations on how easy it would be for our 12-year-old son to monetize his playing.
— Eleni Paliouras, 51, Brussels
Creating stress at home
The most alarming change I noticed was the way my children spoke to one another, not just while playing Fortnite, but in daily interactions. Their tones were more terse, more impatient. They seemed to always be speaking five decibels louder than before.
I grew so uncomfortable and unhappy with their lack of ability to speak to each other in a civil tone, that I banned the game. They were bummed, but I also felt that they were in many ways, relieved.
— Margueritte Kim, 42, lives in Portland, Ore., and has a 10-year-old and two 8-year-olds.
My 11-year-old had been playing Fortnite for about 18 months. He is a very athletic kid who plays ice hockey, lacrosse and swims, but in his spare time he became obsessed with this game.
When he played, he went from sweet and funny to frustrated and angry. It was awful watching and hearing him so upset with himself and his friends.
Two months ago, on his own, he decided to give the game up and hasn’t played since. He said he realized he wasn’t having fun. We are both much happier.
— Terri Coyle, 47, Oceanside, N.Y.
Fear of addiction
All of [my son’s] energy and time became fixated on the game, at the expense of everything else, like a drug addict hyperfocused on their next fix. We have game time limits, but he was constantly pushing for more.
When my partner and I decided to take the game away, my son did not stop crying for three weeks.
— Reed Malcolm, 52, lives in Berkeley, Calif., and has a 10-year-old son.
We set limits but the boundaries are constantly pushed. I know if I’m not around [my son] will be on there playing it. When he visits friends’ houses it becomes the sole thing they will do.
It has quickly become an addiction.
There is a social aspect of it that is positive. At least I can see that they are engaging and interacting with one another in a virtual world. They seem to be pretty good at monitoring each other within the group.
— Richard Oldfield, 42, lives in Los Angeles and has a 12-year-old son.
Parents’ struggles and dilemmas
[My son] never used to swear and now I hear him in there swearing constantly, yelling at whoever he’s playing with and saying some really terrible things.
And the money! He spends all his money on skins for the game. I’m afraid to ask how much he’s spent. I’m thinking it’s at least $2,000 over the past two years — all his own money that he received as gifts instead of birthday or Christmas presents.
I regret the day he started playing. It was his first video game ever and I thought it was cute. I wish I had locked the computer away.
I feel like a terrible mother, and I don’t know what to do. I know I’m not doing enough, but short of taking away the game entirely I don’t know how to deal with this. I’m miserable.
— Nicole Ludovici, 39, lives in North Syracuse, N.Y., and has a 14-year-old son.
My 10-year-old was obsessed with asking us for V-Bucks. The 6-year-old would get mad that the 10-year-old would get more time playing. Then he’d get mad when he was killed quickly.
The emotions escalated and we stopped the game.
In hindsight, they’re probably too young for Fortnite, but so many of their peers were playing the game that if we didn’t give them a chance, they’d be left out of something that so many kids had bonded over.
— Jennifer Connealy, 35, Missouri Valley, Iowa
Do you or your relatives play Fortnite? Tell us in the comments how the game has affected your family.