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‘Fortnite’ tutor outrage is a wake-up call: Games aren’t scary, folks! – ANITH
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‘Fortnite’ tutor outrage is a wake-up call: Games aren’t scary, folks!

‘Fortnite’ tutor outrage is a wake-up call: Games aren’t scary, folks!

Maybe it’s time we stopped with the pearl-clutching over video games.

Fortnite was big news on Tuesday, when the Wall Street Journal published a feature looking at parents who hire tutors to help their kids (and themselves) get good. 

The article itself is a fine example of non-biased journalism: There’s no agenda, and the story works to inform and help people understand this growingly frequent practice without casting any judgments. But the response has been something else.

In 2018, folks are still freaked out by video games. The revelation that parents hire video game tutors has prompted a mixture of negative reactions from certain excitable corners of the internet: Shock, incredulity, disgust, derision, even outright horror. What have y’all been doing for the past 40 years while this was turning into one of the most popular pastimes on the planet?

Reporter Sarah E. Needleman describes Fortnite as something that’s become “a social proving ground” for children. “Winning bestows the kind of bragging rights that used to be reserved for the local Little League baseball champ,” she continues, using an easily relatable example for comparison. 

“Just like eager dugout dads opening their wallets for pitching lessons, video game parents are more than willing to pay for their offspring to gain an edge.”

Parents are turning to tutors for a variety of reasons, the article reveals. Some want to help their kids win more. Others are taking the lessons themselves, so they can better keep up with their more skilled progeny. Still others have turned it into a parent-child bonding activity.

As with baseball or piano, Fortnite skills can be sharpened.

The feature captures Fortnite for what it is: A video game, yes, but a competitive, often team-based online activity in which players need to rely on a range of skills in order to succeed. As with baseball, or piano, or any number of other extracurriculars, Fortnite skills are ones that can be sharpened. So here we have a story exploring how parents are supporting their kids’ interest in a relatively new hobby.

Great stuff. The pearl-clutching is what happened after the internet digested Needleman’s feature. 

One news network’s headline about Fortnite tutors opens with “It has come to this.” Another exclaims, “Parents are seriously hiring Fortnite tutors for their children now” (“Only $20 an hour!” reads the incredulous sub-headline below it). Another: “Fortnite tutors are a thing. And yes, parents are paying them.” The article for that one also opens with: “It’s turned kids into couch potatoes.”

The scene on social media wasn’t much different. 

“Parents are hiring video game coaches for their children, because nobody likes to lose,” one Twitter user wrote, pointing to the WSJ story. Another: “I’m not judging. Okay, maybe I’m judging a lot. Either way, I feel damn old.” And another: “Am I the only parent who thinks this is ridiculous?!” All of these from Twitter “verified” users.

Not every follow-up report out there expressed immediate horror or derision at the idea of a Fortnite tutor. And even among those that did, there are lots of cases where the adults in the room ultimately accept the facts for what they are, and even learn a thing or two.

“I didn’t understand this,” one TV newscaster said during a Fortnite news package. “I was actually mocking it until you laid it out … If a kid is like the last one getting picked on a dodgeball team, I get it, I might pay for a tutor at that point too. So I won’t say never.”

Why are we still treating video games like they’re some new and ominous threat to our culture in 2018? The Atari 2600 turned 40 last year. Rock and roll didn’t get torched for nearly that long. Neither did Dungeons & Dragons or any number of other “won’t someone think of the children?!” examples from popular culture over the past century.

People are actively looking to better understand what Fortnite is and why so many love it

In all of those cases, civilized society eventually grew out of their kneejerk horror. That’s the place we should strive to get to with video games, and Fortnite is a good thing in that regard. It’s far from the first game to serve up a skill-based team activity, or to get people using their imagination, or to open into any number of future career paths. 

But while Tetris or Pokémon Go are household names, Fortnite is a genuine lightning rod. The mainstream isn’t just aware of this skill-based game; people are actively looking to better understand what it is and why so many love it. 

Fortnite is the sort of game that industry insiders would have classified as “hardcore” or “AAA” about 10 years ago. Something for “real gamers,” the cultural identity applied to ardent fanfolk back then. Not the sort of example that mainstream voices would dare to talk about, unless it happened to tie into some larger news item.

In the case of Fortnite, however, mainstream interest has become more intense. People want to know about the game simply because of what it is, not because it could be a red flag for bad behavior (the role video games have traditionally played in mainstream news).

All I’m asking is this: The next time you see a headline or a news story talking about the space video games occupy in our culture, don’t leap to derision. Just chill for a beat instead. Fortnite stands to do a lot of good in this world, especially if it can finally get people to chill the f*ck out with their video game shaming and fear-mongering.

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Anith Gopal
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