In my house, Eli games on the family TV. It sits in our sunroom, the place we all hang out. So, while I have zero interest in his computer games, I spend plenty of time watching him play. Writing, mid-sentence, I’ll look up from my computer, thinking, searching for the proper word, to find Eli jumping off a cliff, entering or escaping a battle. His game is Fortnite. Yes, he has other games—Battlefront, Grand Theft Auto—but Fortnite holds his interest most. He’s had his PS4 for four months, and during that time, I’ve formed many questions—questions I hope a reader might answer.
Why is my son a woman? In Fortnite, the characters wear “skins.” Personas, the character’s appearance. On St. Patrick’s Day, Eli used most of his virtual money to buy a new skin. It was a tall thin woman in a Leprechaun outfit. At his command, she stopped any ongoing mayhem and performed a Riverdance jig. When it’s not St. Patrick’s Day, Eli is a buff, tattooed, ponytailed woman in a tank top. She’s pretty hot… in a badass sort of way, clad in a pink ballcap that reminds me of something a SWAT officer would wear, only pink. When he bought his Leprechaun skin, Eli’s friend Jonah said “You wasted your money. Everyone’s going to be wearing that skin.” But Eli is the only Leprechaun I’ve seen. I think he made a good buy. But regardless of what skin he’s wearing, Eli’s always a woman.
Why does he carry a pickaxe? Of course, I use the term “he” loosely. I’ve already established that he’s a woman. When I first heard about Fortnite, more than a year before Eli bought his PS4 gaming console, I read about the Battle Royale format, a Hunger Games-esque fight to the death. Last man (woman) standing wins. This gave me pause. I don’t like my kids playing games where the sole purpose is to kill other players. Yes, when I was a kid, my friends and I ran around with Croquet mallet machine guns playing gangsters. We took turns being John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd and Clyde Barrow, popping out of the arborvitae shouting “Da-dow, da-dow. You’re wasted.” Still, killing-games bug me. But in Fortnite, I see little killing going on. Eli runs around with his pickaxe swatting at everything he sees—brick walls, bushes, rocks, even a roaring campfire. As he chops away with his ax, numbers pop up on the screen and then fade away. I assume he’s earning money or getting points with all his chopping, it seems sort of… easy. And pointless. What about the killing? Where are the guns?
Why do the players skydive into the game? When killed, shot, as they often are while chopping up a campfire or incongruously Riverdancing in the midst of a battle, players “respawn” in the sky. Is this a Christian theme? Does everyone begin in heaven and plummet to earth like so many fallen angels? Sometimes before he hits earth, Eli breaks out his pocket hang glider. Seriously, the hang glider appears from nowhere, it unfolds from his backpack, and he sails into the game. But really, I’m happiest when he uses his umbrella instead. Just like his hang glider, he pulls an umbrella out of his pack, pops it open and floats, just like Mary Poppins, into the action.
And of course, what’s up with the dancing? Before Eli even owned a copy of the game, he would stop by the kitchen as Susan and I were preparing dinner and break into a Fortnite dance. He’s excellent at them. I envision him standing in front of our large bathroom wall mirror, door locked, practicing. There seem to be eight or ten different dances. During the game, sometimes in the midst of battle, he’ll pull up a graphic, it looks like a clock, and select a dance. Then his hot skin in her pink SWAT hat stops what she’s doing and dances. And usually, all the players around Eli will dance as well. At times, someone will breach game-etiquette and blow Eli away. He calls these people Tryhards. This morning, I saw Eli Tryhard someone. When I called him on it, he shrugged and kept playing. A few seconds later he was shot.
When I was a teenager, all video games were spaceships shooting at other spaceships. I suppose this makes me a killer as well. Those spaceships must be piloted by someone, but it didn’t seem so personal then. Plus, the graphics sucked, so no one took it seriously. When I was a teenager, the only way to play a quality video game was to go to an arcade and pop a quarter into a machine the size of a phone booth. When playing well, or if I was unusually lucky, the game might last three or four minutes. And then I popped in another quarter. Once, my friend Bob said to me “God, if I had half of the money you shoved into those machines…”
Now that games are free and realistic, sometimes I wish I still liked to play. I know adults who game, but I’m not one of them. Eli once convinced me to try Grand Theft Auto. But the first thing I had to do was jack a car, and I refused to do that. Eventually, he loaned me one of his cars. I totaled it in minutes, but I didn’t need to pop in a quarter to play again. Eli just stole me a car of my own.