How Fortnite Will Help My Son

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Fortnite

Recently, I overheard my 10-year old son tell a friend, “I got Fortnite because I got aplastic anemia.”  

To him, an even trade: a video game for a life-threatening blood disorder.

I had been adamantly against this game, which features blowing away the competition with a variety of guns and explosive weapons until you are the last man standing: Hunger Games for the Xbox crowd. It surprised both of us when I agreed to let him play. When he was younger, I was the mom who wouldn’t let him have Nerf guns or water pistols, so horrified was I at our country’s mass shooting problem. Newtown is practically in our backyard; I did not want to contribute to the glorification of guns by young boys.  

But he begged for this game the same day we got his diagnosis, perhaps the most vulnerable moment in all of our lives. My normally steel resolve turned to rubber, and I caved. 

Predictably, our son loves the game. This is a gross understatement. He would play this game without meals or sleep or bathroom breaks if he could.  

But unpredictably, I love it too.  

It might be because of the dances. In stark contrast to the brutal nature of the game, Fortnite avatars perform exuberant dances that have become a craze among my son and his friends. If you’ve seen kids doing moves you haven’t seen since the 1980s, waving their hands in the air like they don’t care, or jumping up and down like they just scored touchdowns, you’ve likely witnessed Fortnite dancing. It’s joyful and silly and all the rage.

But more importantly, Fortnite is a game of survival. And right now, we need all the survival we can get.

In a few weeks, our son will undergo a bone marrow transplant, preceded by chemotherapy and followed by an intense recovery period where his exposure to people and places will be severely limited for up to a year. Fortnite celebrates fortitude and audacity, strategy and courage. We hope that these “virtual” lessons transcend to his real life at a time when he will need them most, to show our son that survival is a prize worth fighting for.  

And this is why I’m okay with it. Unlike other video games, Fortnite does not feature graphic or bloody depictions of killing. Rather than idealizing violence, it honors and promotes survival skills. 

So I watch him collect the tools and weapons that will keep him alive in the Fortnite jungle: guns, pickaxes, sledgehammers, and crossbows and practice using them in a training setting called “playground.” He takes inventory on what he’s got, preparing himself for long and short-range battles. He is vigilant about his “health,” which is indicated by a green bar at the bottom of the screen and can be gained or lost throughout the game. He collects his “chug jugs” of protection potion, bandages, and the medical kits that allow him to stay healthy enough to fight off the other players.

And he will need this fighting spirit over the next year. He will need to fight as stem cells from an unrelated donor struggle to find a new home within his body. He will need to fight nausea and achiness that the chemotherapy induces. He will need to fight to stay healthy for the twelve months that follow the transplant, avoiding most indoor spaces until his immune system can handle being around germs and non-filtered air. 

He will gather materials to build protective fortresses of brick, wood, and metal, a sardonic twist on the tale of the Three Little Pigs. Except in this story, the big bad wolf is an ever-present Fortnite storm, a force of nature that cannot be tamed with a sniper rifle or grenade launcher. The storm moves from the outskirts of the island towards the center, crowding the playing space and threatening the players’ health and survival. You can hide from other players, but you cannot hide from the storm.  

The storm. Hovering over our family, forcing us to confront our deepest fears. But oh, those “chug jugs” of modern medicine–stem cells and miracle drugs– that will help our son to build up his strength, replenish his green “health” bar to its full status. And unlike playing Fortnite, he won’t have to do it solo. He has a team who is committed to helping him heal: a wonderfully generous bone marrow donor, his brilliant doctors, our loving family, and devoted friends.

And while our son is in his post-transplant bubble, the online game will keep him social and connected with his friends (who are the only people he’s allowed to play with). I hear them talking to each other like air traffic controllers through their headsets: taunting, laughing, strategizing, and speaking a language that I cannot fully understand. They may not be able to have sleepovers or play dates for a while, but our son will be able to escape from his constricted reality and play with his friends in the virtual playground they frequent the most.

And when the storm passes, we will dance. 

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Lisa is a middle school English teacher who lives with her husband (who she met when she was on a teen tour) and her son (born 2008). Lisa is also a stepmom to three teenagers. She grew up in Trumbull and, after stints in Boston and NYC, is happy to be back in Fairfield County where there is much better parking. She also started her own college essay coaching gig, ACCEPTional Essays, where she helps seniors in high school make their college essays pop out of the pack. She does a lot of volunteer work within her community at her synagogue and various organizations. She loves to play tennis and cook, and she hates doing laundry and anything with mayonnaise. Her quest continues to find the best sushi in Fairfield County.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Lisa, I so enjoy reading your blogs. You are truly a gifted writer. Emmet is blessed to have you and Jeff for parents. May you get through the upcoming challenge and find the sunshine at the other end of your journey shines bright. God bless and Good Luck.
    Risa Karmelin

  2. I love your story and am so happy you shared this! We are also an Aplastic Anemia fighting family♥️ My son who’s 8 and never was into video games started playing with his big brother (12) when he was first diagnosed. In October our world turned upside down receiving this diagnosis of him having Aplastic Anemia and needing a bone marrow transplant right away. Prior to this diagnosis My son was outside every second he possibly could and now he’s being told he needs to be kept “in a bubble”. Absolutely bored he started playing with his brother and his friends and no he’s obsessed! Lol I don’t mind at all. The game is not graphic or scary. It is intense and challenging which maybe at times stresses him out (he then takes a little break) but it completely keeps his mind off of his disease. He forgets how sad he is not seeing his friends, how upsetting it is he can’t go to sports, how boring it is staying inside and not being able to go outside to do anything. Not only is this game great but the youtubers (myth, ninja and many others) are AWESOME! They play these games and put together such entertaining videos that keep him smiling as well! I hope your family fights this awful disease and I pray for your son??

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