As a general rule, children aren’t very good at videogames. So you can imagine my delight when my five and seven-year-old children asked if I would play Fortnite with them. I knew this day would come, for better or worse. Working in game media and parenting two girls who would be surgically attached to their Switch consoles if they could meant it was inevitably something I’d need to dive into sooner or later.
Jumping into a no-build trios game, I brief the girls as we jump from the bus prematurely thanks to a “my finger slipped” claim. “We’ll land here on my pink marker,” I explain. “That one?” queries my jam-fingered youngest daughter while prodding at the screen. “No, that’s the sea,” I clarify. This is already going about as well as I could have hoped for, but with neither child having claimed the Victory Royale crown yet in their burgeoning Fortnite careers, the pressure is on me to deliver the illustrious triumph they yearn for.
After hitting the ground and raiding a few chests, everyone is suitably geared up, and we run around the map comedically as neither daughter knows which direction to go, and no one can see the huge marker I ping 17 times in quick succession in the hopes of gathering my erratic party. Once reunited, we somehow make it within the storm circle twice with no encounters. When the playable area shrinks further though, we find ourselves face to face with an opposition party. I encourage my eldest not to run away while screaming, and after fighting all of her natural urges she fires some bullets into the closest enemy. “I GOT HIM!” she screams, making her sister and I jump. I assist vaguely, wanting them both to take the credit for their achievements, but this time my youngest doesn’t succeed in getting anywhere near her targets, much to her disappointment. “It wasn’t shooting!” she complains. “That’s because you have to be facing them,” I explain. “But that’s okay, we’ll try again when we find some more people”.
We proceed onwards, upgrading our gear by looting more chests, when we spot another team on a distant hill. “Let’s make a plan,” suggests my eldest, much to my surprise as she’s the most disorganized child I’ve ever met. “I’ll run with Mum to the other side, and you distract them near the water,” she theorizes. Is my daughter about to use her sister as bait? Indeed, as my youngest spawn trudges to the waterline solo, her sister and I attack from another angle, taking them out effortlessly. Satisfied cackling ensues, and when everyone has composed themselves I hear the five-year-old mutter, “I wanted to shoot them!”
Her wish comes true as we find ourselves as one of the last two teams standing in the battle royale game. Our opposition is descending on us rapidly, and in her panicked state she spins around and shotguns the final enemy at point-blank range. “Yes!” screams her sister, ever the composed celebrator, “You did it!” The encouragement from one to another is endearing and admirable, and it’s these moments that make playing with them even more enjoyable.
Happy with our crowns, I note that this game has been satisfying not just because of the victory. Fortnite’s skill-based matchmaking automatically takes the least experienced member of your party and uses their skill level to find suitable opponents that won’t lead to them feeling stomped on from the off. In fact, if it’s their first game, as it was for my youngest, the lobby is likely to be filled with 80-90% bots, if not more. This slowly tapers off as they learn the game and get more experience under their belt.
Had we jumped in and been matchmade to my level, neither daughter would have stood a chance (sorry, kids). The fact I’ve played multiple seasons of Fortnite with a healthy gathering of Victory Royales to my name means my eager yet inexperienced companions would have had a terrible time – and that’s not fun for anyone involved. Least of all me, who’s in charge of consoling them afterwards.