An Easter Miracle: Fortnite and My Boys

Ladies and Gentlemen I have witnessed an Easter Miracle!

My two oldest boys (9 and 7) were playing together. You see my oldest boy gets irritated by my 7 year old and quickly gets snippy. In return the 7 year old has figured out how to be as irritating as possible without calling attention to himself. He has mastered getting his brother in trouble while avoiding any trouble himself. Ah… Siblings. Most of our days are usually a Cold War style and when they do play it usually breaks down into wrestling and inevitably tears.

But today… today… we let them finally tryout Fortnite.

The short version is that the boys handled the game very well once we figured out how to start the game. One of my pet peeves with “free” games like Fortnite is that that they are typically a labyrinth of money making obstacles trying to seperate inexperienced gamers from their money. Fortnite is no exception. Fortunately, once we navigated the boys into the Battle Royal Mode they took to it quite well. The game keeps player’s in the “Flow” zone very deftly and they quickly leveled up, finished in the top 20 a few times, and generally enjoyed themselves.

My wife and I decided to introduce Fortnight because my 9 year old turns 10 in a few days. Since we are COVID Quarantined we can’t throw him a party. This really stinks for a 10th birthday! A lot of his friends play online games though so we thought we could invite some of them to a Fortnite party. As it turns out in addition to Fortnite’s Battle Royale Solo mode, the game also allows for Duo and Squad games. Our two older boys are lucky enough to both have Nintendo Switches and we wanted to test out our Online Game Party theory. We signed up both boys with their own Fortnite accounts and figured out how to get them into a Duo Squad. Then we let them play.

And they did… TOGETHER!

They were sitting next to each other and talking, helping each other find weapons and health kits. They were developing strategy together. Not bossing one another but giving and recieving advice. My two boys, that have both mastered ways to irritate each other, were actively supporting each other and played together for 2 hours. What happened?!

Here’s what I think – It had nothing to do with Fortnite. Sure the game is fun but why was this experience different than when they play Star Wars Battlefront together? It boils down to the motivation and goals. When they play Battlefront they often play on opposite teams. The biggest complaint is when one eliminates the other. They are being competitive and they are both trying to show theybare better than the other. Playing in the Duo Fortnite Battle Royale though they are forced play with each other and into each other’s strengths. It was interesting listening as they both honestly assessed their own stregnths and weaknesses and then ask each other for help. All of this was within a competative game but the need for collaboration was what helped them rise above their petty differences. I remember a similar dynamic at play when my college roomate and I were squabbling but were able to play intramural basketball together (which I played badly by the way). This was one reason that I favored a Pandemic style game as a class model this year. The competition was against the game not amongst the students. Is there a gamification term for this dynamic? Competition gets a bad rap in school but within the victory can be a powerful motivator. Eliminating the ‘loser’ and allowing everyone to win collaboratively is a tricky but vital component to good classroom design.

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