Ever since I had kids, I’ve been excited to share my video game hobby with them. I started my daughter on Super Mario World when she was about 3 years old. More recently, playing New Super Mario Bros. Wii has become a favorite family activity.
My daughter craves one-on-one time with me, so I introduced her to Fortnite a couple months ago as something just the two of us can do together. She’s only seven, but the game’s cartoonish graphics and low-level violence eased any apprehension I felt about showing her a game with a gun in it.
It’s been fascinating to watch how she approached it. As I showed her the ropes about how the game is played and how you should control your character, she, in turn, taught me far more.
From the first time we loaded up the game, my daughter was a wellspring of curiosity. She had to know everything about the game—how it worked, who the characters were and why they were there, what was over the next hillside, and why we were jumping out of a floating bus (I’m still wondering about that one). Everything is amazing and new and exciting. Questions tumbled out of her mouth as she eagerly soaked up everything Fortnite’s island had to offer. I often think many of the same things, but my outward enthusiasm doesn’t come close.
I didn’t just want my daughter to watch me play; I wanted her to experience the game on her own. So we agreed to take turns playing. At first, she struggled. The PS4 controller isn’t really built for seven-year-old hands. But what surprised me was her persistence and ingenuity in accomplishing what she needed to do. As I showed her new ways of interacting with the world and the corresponding button sequences, she devised innovative and unconventional ways of overcoming them that worked specifically for her. For example, she doesn’t have the dexterity yet to push down the L3 button to sprint with just one finger while keeping it pushed forward, so she reaches over with a finger on her right hand to give the left finger a boost. She resists doing it “the way it is supposed to be done,” even when I tried to help her, and instead finds her own way.… for my daughter, building isn’t about gaining a tactical advantage, it’s about the act of creation.
At all times, my daughter was concerned about her avatar’s well-being. She wanted to make sure her physical and emotional needs were being met, placing them higher on her to-do list than any of the prescribed game objectives. Does our avatar have enough to eat? Yes, she has Slurp Juice in her backpack. Will she be warm enough when night time hits? Yes, we can build her a nice house to stay in. Is she scared of getting hurt? No, it’s just a fun game she’s playing with friends.
My daughter also remains keenly aware of where the storm is, and will double and triple-check the map to make sure we’re in the safety zone or headed there. She doesn’t want our avatar to get caught in it.
It impresses me to see the same love and care I see her showing to her brother and friends at school translating over to something she identifies with and deems important, and having fun doing it.
Building is critical in Fortnite—if you ever want to snag an elusive Victory Royale, you need learn how, when, and where to build. But for my daughter, building isn’t about gaining a tactical advantage: it’s about the act of creation. She wants to gather resources and build because it’s fun. It’s more about aesthetic than function.
Minecraft recognized this desire in kids (and adults) long ago, and even Legos before that. It was fun for me to see my daughter wholeheartedly embrace this aspect of the game over any of the competitive elements.
Everyone my daughter encounters in the game is immediately a friend. She waves to them and is always interested in what they’re doing. Shooting them was the furthest thing from her mind—she often doesn’t even bother picking up a gun. And she is always surprised when they shoot her, wondering why they would want to take her out of the game.
This kind of blind trust is always so endearing to me, and is one of my favorite qualities about her. She’d rather get to know people than compete with them. And removing them from the game is abhorrent. She just wants everyone to get along and have fun.
Games give us structure and prescribe different scenarios that direct us to have fun. But it’s been refreshing, and even profound, to set aside a lifetime of ingrained video game know-how and allow my daughter to unintentionally reveal a new way to experience my favorite medium.
I look forward to the next time we jump into Fortnite together. I am confident she still has more to teach me.