Barbie's back, with a new form

Fawn Musick

There is a craze out that captures the lives of our children. It is so enticing that every junior high-aged person I know or meet is well-versed in the specifics of it. I am talking about a game called Fortnite. Our son was introduced to it about a year ago. At first, I thought it was great because he could download some piece of it and it was FREE!

At the time, he was a Minecraft nut, and I thought this might be a good way to wean him off of Minecraft. That didn’t happen, because he became addicted to Fortnite almost immediately. I do say addicted because that is all he wants to do. He has no other interest outside of the world inside the Fortnite screen.

And, he is not the only one with this kind of addiction problems. The older boys had Halo and the Call of Duty games. We have survived the Madden football games and the FIFA soccer games over the years as well as tested a host of other not-so-addictive games.

Along the way, I have played some of them, and I was pretty good. But I knew I would have to leave the screen to cook supper, take someone somewhere, attend a band concert or — GASP — go to work. We started with Pong and Space Invaders and moved over to Mario Brothers, Frogger, and Lemmings. At one time, we had a system called Sega Genesis, and I became the master at HydroThunder, a boat game. I laid down some pretty mean licks with Guitar Hero, and no one could beat me at Tetris.

But I knew I was playing a game, and that I only had 20 to 30 minutes to play. Then, I had to go back to real life. The game was not real life!

It seems now, that our children are losing the idea that games are just that — games. Adults have this problem as well. I have a friend who says that her husband plays games non-stop and spends money he should not on games and skins. In our up-and-coming psychiatry office, we have adult patients who can not quit playing games long enough to support their families. It is crazy!

Here is the catch. The games never really change. They have invented something they call “skins” and the player(s) change clothes during the game. You can be a Zombie, wear fancy shoes, carry a colorful sword, or have a retro jersey number on your player. The game does not change. All the money and time is spent on creating the character and what he is wearing. Did I mention that each new outfit costs more money?

It took me very little time to figure this out. The boys would load up a game, and 45 minutes later, I would announce supper, and they would complain that they hadn’t even started yet. “What are you doing then?” I would ask. They explained that they each got to create a unique character to launch into the screen, and they needed certain weapons and such to compete at the highest level, blah, blah, blah.

I watched a few times and realized that they spent more time creating outfits for their characters than they did actually playing the games. Another thing I realized is that my 12-year-old is not competing against other kids; he is competing against game-experienced, adult men. I can hear him in there clicking away, getting killed, and all manner of things, and then, he gets upset because he gets killed and gets knocked out of the game. He screams, “I don’t know how they can do that to me! I asked them to wait.”

I explain the bit about adults playing, and he looks at me and says, “The game is brand new. Adults don’t play.” Poor thing. He is wounded and badly brain-damaged if he thinks only 12-year-olds play the online games. Who does he think invented them?

Anyways, I have found peace with online gaming because I FINALLY realized that they are just playing Barbies. Yep, the game has never changed. Only the outfits change, and the players spend hours matching the right outfit with the right weapon, the right mask or whatever. So now, our conversations go something like this:

“Hey, I practiced my horn, and I have had my shower. My homework is done, I am going to play for a bit.”

I smile and say, “OK. Have fun with your Barbie dolls!”

I believe parenting is all about understanding their world.

Fawn Musick is a Princeton Times columnist, a mom, and a blogger. To read more of her work, visit fawn.musick.com. To contact her, write fawnmusick@yahoo.com