One morning before school my son walked into the kitchen as I was making my tea.
“Mom, Floss,” he said
“I did,” I replied, “Did you?”
He stared at me with a blank expression on his face before saying:
“Not your teeth, do the dance the Floss.”
Not being a morning person to begin with and now under the impression that his only intention was to give me a hard time, I sent him to brush his teeth and fix his hair. Just before he headed to the bathroom he stood with his hands at his sides and then began what can only be described as a sideways wiggle.
“The Floss,” he stated and off he went.
Over the next few weeks, there were more bizarre moments like this. He would say a word, and this would be followed by a strange body movement.
“Boneless,” and his arms and legs turned to flapping jelly.
“Dab,” and he would do a sideways lift of his arms with a simultaneous nod of the head.
“Orange Justice,” and he would flop like a rag doll in a backward-tilted, dipping motion.
Gradually, I became aware that these seemingly random occurrences were because of an online game called Fortnite. My son’s body rocking increased and his vocabulary expanded to words such as V-Bucks, Battle Pass, ping, skins and emotes.
“Mom, I need better ping,” he said one day. I searched my memory banks.
“The golf club?” I ventured. This was countered with a stare from him which translated to; my mom grew up when the dinosaurs lived.
“Ok,” I thought. “This is game related.” I excused myself briefly to do a Google search and learned that ping is the reaction time of an internet connection. I felt quite on top of things when I returned to my son with my new-found knowledge.
“How do we increase the ping?” I asked.
Again, that stare from him that reflected my association with cavemen and rock art.
“We need lower ping not higher ping,” came his exasperated reply. I had no clever comeback and softly mumbled, “Oh.”
“We need a 100mb line,” he continued, and then mentioned something about there not being servers in South Africa. I pretended to understand. We have a 6mb line and a jump to a 100mb line seemed somewhat excessive. Apparently, this is important in the world of gaming though, as insufficient line speed was creating lag which was directly affecting his ability to be the Fortnite king of the world.
“No,” I said “go and play outside, ride your bicycle or something. When I was young, we played outside until it was dark…” I watched my son zone out. At that moment a saying came to mind.
“We cannot raise our children for a world that no longer exists.”
This is a sad but accurate truth. My son is not a rugby player, nor does he do well in arts or drama, but he does do well with this phenomenon called Fortnite. He receives recognition for his abilities from his peers and any child would grow in confidence from that.
As the months went on, I learned that the little dances are called emotes. My son taught me how to Floss, Dab and do Orange Justice. My proudest moment was when I did the Eagle successfully and impressed him. The Fortnite phase didn’t pass like the fidget spinner did. Instead, it has grown in leaps and bounds and estimates from March 2019 are that the game now has 250 million players worldwide. When my son bought gaming headphones at a cost of R1 500, after saving for a year, I knew that he was serious about gaming. I decided to educate myself about all things Fortnite and began to enjoy having conversations with him about it. He shows me the items available with each new season, he tries to teach me the new emotes and we talk about the Fortnite World Cup. I’m pretty cool like that. The more I began to understand the more I became aware of strange behaviours like thundering down the passage to the bathroom and the constant “I’m not hungry” every time I called him to come and eat. One day I stood and looked at him and realised how pale he was.
“You look like you grew up in a cupboard!” I said. He just shrugged his shoulders.
I decided it was time for me to really educate myself about Fortnite. I discovered that Fortnite rehab centres are popping up around the world and that the World Health Organisation has officially declared video-gaming addiction as a disease. It was time to have a talk with my son. We did an online quiz and the results were irrefutable. He was totally addicted. We have made some changes – as always, he is allowed two hours of technology on weekdays. His weekend time has been reduced drastically though. There is no more “I’m not hungry” from him and spending real money to buy V-Bucks (Fortnite currency) is a thing of the past. I still show an interest though, and I was his fiercest supporter in the Fortnite World Cup. We both know that we need to understand each other. He understands that I make decisions based on my love for him and I understand that I don’t understand his gaming obsession and that it is ok not to.
Ultimately, even though the world we want our children to grow up in no longer exists, I still remember it and as long as I do, I won’t release any of my children entirely into this new, unknown era. One day, hopefully in the distant future when I am on my death bed, I will lift my arms and nod my head in a perfectly executed Dab thus giving my son my blessing to enter the world he was born into.
My hope is that he will remember all my lectures about “when I was young” and hold on to those. I hope he will tell his children to go outside and play, teach them to acknowledge others with a smile and tell them about the importance of having real friends that they can ride their bikes with. I also hope that he has at least a 100mb line so that his poor children will stand a chance when the Fortnite World Cup rolls around. I know that my son will show my grandchildren the video of me doing the Eagle and they will laugh at how old that emote is and ask him if he has ever seen a dinosaur in real life. It will come full circle and he will know exactly what it is like being a parent… and he will know exactly how much he is loved.