Old and confused at 28

Staff Writer Kate Wehlann

If you are around kids, pretty much of any age, regardless of the game’s rating, you’ve probably at least heard of Fortnite.

The wildly popular video game has become a phenomenon since its release in late 2017, ensnaring 10 million people within weeks of the release of the free version, “Fortnite Battle Royale.” Now more than 125 million players are wearing out their thumbs in this multi-player, open-world survival game. The game, set on modern-day Earth, but without most of humanity, consists of collecting resources, building protective fortifications, making tools and weapons and simply trying to survive without being taken out by other players. The game’s creator, Epic Games Inc., recently pledged $100 million in tournament prizes, so there’s money at stake for the best players and even colleges are taking notice, working to lure gamers with financial incentives to join varsity teams.

While it’s rated T for teen, children younger than 13 are certainly playing the game, as evidenced by the ages of the children mentioned in a Wall Street Journal article published online on July 31. Apparently, the game has become a “social proving ground,” according to the article’s author Sarah E. Needleman, resulting in parents hiring coaches to help kids who lack the skills of their peers to improve.

“Winning bestows the kind of bragging rights that used to be reserved for the local Little League baseball champ,” Needleman writes. “Just like eager dugout dads opening their wallets for pitching lessons, videogame parents are more than willing to pay for their offspring to gain an edge.

“‘There’s pressure not to just play it but to be really good at it,’ said Ms. [Ally] Hicks, a project manager [and parent who hired a coach for her son] from Winchester, England. ‘You can imagine what that was like for him at school.’”

I’ve said it before — I’m not a parent. I don’t know the agony of watching my darling child not be successful at something they want to excel at. I don’t even play video games beyond Tetris on my phone. The closest I ever came to being a “gamer” was Oregon Trail and the JumpStart educational computer games (am I the only one who remembers Botley and Mystery Mountain or the ClueFinders? Math Blaster and Spot? Just me?).

Am I alone in thinking hiring a personal coach for a video game — a toy — utterly absurd? I can understand coaches for team sports and private lessons for things like music or languages, even computer languages. Hiring a coach for a video game seems like hiring a coach because your kid can’t hop more than twice on a pogo stick or pop a wheelie on his bike. And if a kid is being bullied for a video game score, shouldn’t this be a wake-up call to parents to teach their children about what’s worth caring about? I mean, I don't think there's ever an excuse for bullying, but if your kid is judging anybody based on a game score in a pretend world, it's time to pull the plug.

According to Needleman’s article, even the coaches, who seem to be mostly young adult men, are surprised people are paying them to teach them and their children how to play a video game.

“‘It’s really surreal to me,’ said Logan Werner, an 18-year-old Fortnite coach in Roy, Utah, who plays the combat game on a professional team called Gankstars. ‘My dad would have never paid for me to take videogame lessons.’”

The more I think about this in my head, though, the more I feel like an old fogey, grumbling about “kids these days.” I’m keenly aware that I have never and will never be “hip” and I’ve surrendered to the fact I’m not up to date on the slang of Gen Z beyond what’s necessary for communication (Can someone please tell me what “yeet” means with context?). I have to choke down actual anger at dabbing and I’ll never consider Instagram “influencers” at all influential. Most of the celebrities adored by teens are people I don’t recognize, much less know why they’re so famous.




And for those teens reading this and laughing at me (hush, I can dream teens still read the paper), just you wait. I’m not even 30 and I’m already at this point. Bafflement at the upcoming generation is coming for you, too.

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