Jaden, pictured above with his mother Lisa, is the Essex lad who was runner-up in the Fortnite World Games final this week, sharing the £1.8 million winnings with his gaming partner. When my younger son started taking part in competitions, I felt especially worried
How reassuring it is, as a mother, to hear of a teenage success story.
A 15-year-old boy who, through his own skill, enterprise, dedication and hard graft, has fought his way to the very top of his particular pile, from which he can stand, triumphantly waving the gains of his good fortune like a standard.
And what gains — £900,000 no less. That’s university covered, plus his own home upon graduation. What parent wouldn’t read such a story and rejoice?
Except, in the case of Jaden Ashman, it filled us all with utter horror.
Jaden is the Essex lad who was runner-up in the Fortnite World Games final this week, sharing the £1.8 million winnings with his gaming partner.
With that prize, he shot down in flames the argument of every mother who, like me, has spent hours coaxing, cajoling, begging, pleading and threatening her children in a desperate bid to stop them playing this game, which has them in their thrall.
Children like my 12- and 14-year-old sons now have a legitimate reason to spend hours cooped up in their rooms playing this game because they think — like millions of other youngsters — that it could make them a fortune. Because, in theory, it could.
The premise is as violent as it gets, yet the graphics aren’t gory — which is one reason why so many parents have allowed their children to play Fornite while banning other violent computer games
It probably won’t, though — there are 250 million Fortnite players worldwide, and Jaden was one of 40 million who attempted to qualify — but the evidence is there.
Gaming is even a career choice, for heaven’s sake — they’re known as professional esports players! What hope do we have?
My younger son, like most of his friends, spends hours every week playing Fortnite, which involves players parachuting onto an island where they have to hunt for weapons to use to obliterate rival players.
The premise is as violent as it gets, yet the graphics aren’t gory — which is one reason why so many parents have allowed their children to play Fornite while banning other violent computer games.
It has an age rating of 12, and you could argue, as some children do, that it’s just Space Invaders for the 21st century.
There’s something very wrong with a world where teenagers can become millionaires for shooting people in computer games while 3.7 million children in the UK are living in poverty. A stadium for one of the Fornite competitions is pictured above
I wasn’t a fan of the game from the outset — listening to your children debate the merits of shotguns versus pistols or congratulating one another on their ‘kills’ is enough to make any mother’s blood run cold.
But I decided not to ban my sons from the game altogether when I realised they had swapped squabbling for competing with each other.
Instead of bickering, they’d started challenging each other to duels, complimenting each other on their gameplay over dinner, and discussing how to improve tactics next time round.
I hate to admit it, but there’s no question that progressing in Fortnite requires skills — such as problem-solving, prioritising and keeping calm under pressure — that won’t do my sons any harm.
That’s not to say it isn’t highly addictive. My 12-year-old would spend every waking hour playing Fortnite if I didn’t police him as vigorously as I do.
Children also argue the case that playing Fortnite keeps them connected to their friends — another point I can’t deny.
With that prize, Jaden (pictured above) shot down in flames the argument of every mother who, like me, has spent hours coaxing, cajoling, begging, pleading and threatening her children in a desperate bid to stop them playing this game, which has them in their thrall
Today’s children don’t invite friends home after school as my generation did — my elder son could barely conceal his laughter recently when I suggested he invite some friends over for a Coke and a kickabout.
In these days of social media and virtual reality, one of the most sociable things a youngster can do is arrange to ‘meet’ a classmate online to play Fortnite.
And yes, it pains me to say, there are benefits for parents. I spend less time driving my children to their friends’ houses than my parents did, and I never worry about their whereabouts.
On the other hand, I sometimes have to text them to tell them their dinner’s ready, such is the intensity of their concentration when engaged in a fierce game.
Then there are the arguments. Oh, the fights we’ve had! They’re usually started by me, storming into my younger son’s room on a Saturday afternoon to find him, still in his pyjamas, curtains drawn, bleary-eyed, teeth unbrushed. I’ve pulled cables out the wall, I’ve even taken the remote controller to work.
Needless to say, this does not go down well. Like anything you ban children from, be it TV, sweets or fizzy drinks, those who are denied access always seem to be the ones who crave it out of all proportion.
Fortnite has affected family life, school work and even my relationship with my husband.
I know we’re not alone — all the mums I know are fighting the same Fortnite battle. We’ve all got stories of abandoned family days out because our children — morose at being dragged away from Fortnite tournaments with their friends — have put a dampener on our attempts at family time.
‘I’m just finishing this match,’ is a refrain we all hear far too often when trying to get the family round the table to eat or out the door for a walk.
When my younger son started taking part in competitions, I felt especially worried.
From pressure to participate to frustration when matches don’t go his way, it started to feel as though Fortnite was dominating our lives.
At one stage, when he was progressing particularly well in a key competition, I found the intensity way too stressful for what is, after all, meant to be just a game.
And don’t be fooled into thinking this is just a game where the best man wins. As is often the case in life, it’s also the man with the most cash.
Fortnite is free to download but players are continually encouraged to spend money on an array of in-app purchases to improve their game — many of which are available for only a limited time, adding to the pressure to spend. My sons have seen birthday and pocket money disappear into this virtual vacuum.
My younger son says he’s the envy of many of his friends because his dad plays Fortnite with him.
Of course, I value the time my husband spends bonding with him, but I’d rather they were riding bikes or kicking balls than shooting imaginary enemies.
Even our daughter, who is five, likes to watch him play. From the cartoon characters that feature in the game to the dance crazes that sweep the playground, the whole thing seems designed to appeal to children as young as her.
Perhaps we, as parents, should accept some of the blame for the game’s meteoric rise. After all, children engaged in hours of Fortnite are easier than ones who look for constant entertainment.
I hate to admit it, but there’s no question that progressing in Fortnite requires skills — such as problem-solving, prioritising and keeping calm under pressure — that won’t do my sons any harm [File photo]
As a case in point, my children happily committed to a two-week family holiday with no games consoles earlier this month. I asked them why they only want to play computer games at home, yet don’t miss them while away.
Their answers were honest and sobering: on holiday, we spent our days together without work pressures or domestic distractions, and our time was filled with surfing, kayaking and swimming.
‘It’s no contest,’ said one of them. ‘We’d rather do that any day than play Fortnite.’ But, of course, such activities are not open to them on a day-to-day basis.
Still, I’m not afraid to issue a Fortnite ban when necessary. But while my younger boy kicks against these rules, he invariably emerges from a Fortnite restriction with a fresh perspective and recognises that he’s more engaged in family time and generally happier when his life isn’t revolving around the game to the exclusion of all else.
And that’s why I find it sad that winning a cash prize for playing a computer game has become a serious goal for so many children.
There’s something very wrong with a world where teenagers can become millionaires for shooting people in computer games while 3.7 million children in the UK are living in poverty.