My Bose QuietComfort headphones are great for blocking out the engine hum of a commercial aircraft, but they’re useless when it comes to masking the sounds of two preteen boys at home on summer vacation.
My older son is leading some sort of military campaign through the game world. He yells commands into his headset: “Fall in. Fall in! Now cover me. Go, go, go, go!” I hear the click-clack of the Cherry MX Blue switches on his mechanical keyboard, and I regret how few opportunities he gets to practice his leadership skills when he’s not role-playing at his desk.
Meanwhile, his younger brother has been planted in front of the Xbox since waking up this morning. He’s screaming at the top of his lungs: “Don’t take my loot. I mean it! Why are you doing this? Stop. Stop it!” He seems angry and frustrated. But then, just as quickly as he can maneuver between the items in his inventory, his disposition turns affable — like he just drank a chug jug of giggle juice.
All day, I’m bombarded by the sounds of Fortnite: Battle Royale. And it’s not just my kids I’m hearing. Everywhere I go, everyone seems to be talking about it. Epic Games claims there are now 125 million players. MarketWatch reports that Fortnite is constantly discussed among corporate executives and earnings analysts. On the beach, during dinner parties, at backyard barbecues, grown-ups are fixated on this videogame. But most parents are not playing it. Instead, they drop bait into the conversation — words like “obsession” and “addiction.”
I can tell they’re fishing for an expert opinion. They know I’ve been researching and writing a book about the new childhood, and they want to lure me into condemning the game. But I don’t bite.
Grown-ups are ashamed of how poorly we have handled our own transition into the digital era, and we’re taking it out on our kids.
One sanctimommy desperately tries to reel me in: “Did you hear about the American Heart Association? They just issued a warning about kids and videogames.” She tosses a passive-aggressive glance toward my son, who’s slouching on the sofa and fixated on his Nintendo Switch. Sure, I’ve read the advisory she’s talking about: Some doctors blame the games for promoting “sedentary behaviors.” I could refute it with a simple philosophy lesson in causality or a paranoid conspiracy theory about big pharma. Instead, I keep quiet.