My family has generally tended toward the gentler end of video gaming—lots of Minecraft and dance-offs, with the occasional wand or light saber-wielding adventure. But that was before my daughter (like so many other tweens) fell in love with Fortnite. If your kid hasn't been bit by the Fortnite bug, it's a cartoonish Hunger Games-like multiplayer game, where participants parachute into a landscape of rolling hills and vacant homes and buildings, and hunt for weaponry before they start trying to hunt down their online competition. And more than 40 million people worldwide are taking part in the battles.
At first, it seemed relatively harmless, as far as shooter games go. There's no blood and gore, and wounds are easily healed if you're lucky enough to score bandaids or a med kit. It's also free, a nice break from the $60 a pop games we've been buying. And I saw quite a few pluses to it—including the new friendships she's built with classmates and her cousin. It's been nice seeing her chat enthusiastically with her friends who are equally passionate about the game, and host virtual playdates as they team up to take out competition from around the world. It made her super excited about a Fortnite-themed coding camp this summer, where she could learn how to craft her own Fortnite world. (I'm still holding out hope for a STEM career in her future.)
But when my daughter started spending a lot of time talking me through the pros and cons of pump shotguns vs. assault rifles in detail, I started to pay a little more attention to what Fortnite had to offer. And I'm not as gung ho as I was in the past.
I don't harbor any fears that violent video games will to turn my 11-year-old into a mass murderer. Even though the American Academy of Pediatrics isn't too keen on violent games and says that they can be connected to more aggressive behavior, I haven't seen that in her. And even though President Donald Trump and other leaders are trying to blame video games for the rise in gun violence, the fact that millions of kids worldwide play gun-centric video games—and only the U.S. has this issue with gun violence—makes a strong case for the fact that we can't blame these shoot-em-ups for gun violence.
I'm more worried that access to video games and entertainment that features military-grade weaponry will help normalize ownership of these types of weapons for her and her classmates. Like the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas, I don't agree that the Second Amendment should exist without some common-sense moderation. And that includes keeping many of the weapons that are included in the game out of the hands of real-life teens—who now may be more inclined to pick up a weapon after doing it virtually for so many hours on Fortnite.
To be honest, in the wake of these mass shootings, I've been thinking a lot about my own entertainment choices. I've never shied away from shows with violent and gory content—and my favorites, Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead, are definitely not for the faint of heart. But watching Rick and crew mow down fellow humans with AR-13s has definitely lost its appeal in the wake of the recent spate of mass shootings. (Though I'm still very cool with watching Daenerys Targaryen's dragons burn things down.)
Still, it's one thing for grown adults to escape their own troubles with a little post-apocalyptic zombie action—and quite another for kids whose brains are still developing rapidly, to be exposed to hours upon hours of shooting.
Maybe it's time for us all to reconsider what we call fun. And it might just be time for me to pull the plug on Fortnite—at least for a little while.