My Like-Hate Relationship with Fortnite

Tony Gonzalez, NFL Hall of Famer, plays a video game in his room on December 3, 2012 in Woodbridge, Virginia. Gonzalez spends about an hour each night playing video games. (Photo/Deeana Garcia)


Let me be clear: I don’t play Fortnite. I barely know much about it. However, I am a father of a 10-year old son, Patrick, who has developed a deep infatuation with the survival-themed video game. So, I like to think that makes me a quasi-expert on Fortnite. Patrick plays Fortnite at every opportunity. He wakes up early to get time in before his school day begins. He squeezes it in between sporting activities in the evening after homework and before bed. And forget about the rare weekend when we have nothing going on… Like many other parents that I know, my instinct is to despise Fortnite. I am not philosophically opposed to the game itself. I am opposed to how it influences my son’s behavior. I have seen the all-consuming nature of Patrick’s participation and frankly, it scares me sometimes.

Let me be clear, once again: I know that I am responsible for regulating his Fortnite participation and do not so as aggressively as I would like. Unfortunately, this blog post is not a referendum on my parental competency, so I’ll spare you my many fatherly rationalizations as to why I let Patrick pursue his newfound passion without rigorous limitation. The purpose of these musings on Fortnite is that I have observed some very interesting benefits associated with Patrick playing Fortnite from the perspective of a mental performance coach. I find myself asking, could it be that Fortnite is actually a positive thing for kids and adolescents?

On the morning of this past June 2nd, I stopped for just about a minute to watch Patrick playing a remote game of Fortnite with his friend and multi-sport teammate Cooper. I marveled at the relatively high-level of communication during a 76-second window in which I video recorded him playing. I had never seen these two boys communicate in such a detailed and thoughtful way over two years on the baseball field. “Cooper, there is a time capsule inside the meteor,” “I hear footsteps,” and “Cooper, give me all of your stuff” (whatever that means). The boys were actually talking to each other and doing so in service of a very strong common goal: get a win. It got me to thinking. Maybe this Fortnite plague isn’t SO bad?

My observation on that morning caused me to think more about why kids love playing Fortnite so much. My hypothesis is that kids love Fortnite because there aren’t any adults telling them what to do. They make their own teams. They make their own rules. They use their own imaginations. There are no schedule practices and no uniforms. Heck, they don’t even have to leave the comfort of their own couch. Adults basically have no say in the Fortnite world.

Self-determination theory (SDT) is a theory of human motivation that purports that individuals having basic needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness met leads to positive growth and development (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Researchers Adachi and Willoughby (2017) have considered SDT in the context of youth video play. Interestingly, they report that “video game players may experience enhanced autonomy while playing if they feel free to choose and carry out activities that interest them, competence if they feel capable and effective at overcoming the game’s challenges, and relatedness if when playing games with others, they feel close and connected to the other players” (2017, p. 203).

I see with my own eyes exactly what Adachi and Willoughby’s work describes when viewing youth video game play through the SDT lens. For me, I suspect the key driver in Patrick’s attraction to Fortnite is the autonomy. He has the opportunity to create and sustain an independent and personal experience without being told what to do by a parent, coach, or teacher. He has the opportunity to solve problems on his own (Adachi & Willoughby, 2017) and with others in his own way and at his own pace. Fortnite doesn’t have an artificial schedule like baseball, soccer, lacrosse, and basketball. Further, his performance is not being judged by me, his mom, or other adults, nor are his teammates being thrust upon him. From my own experiences, it seems that SDT provides a great framework for understanding why playing video games like Fortnite can benefit kids.

I would be remiss if I did not mention Patrick’s intense concentration while playing Fortnite. I mean the kid is LOCKED IN. Headphones on, iPad in hand, you cannot break his concentration. As a parent, his inability to pay attention when we speak to him is infuriating. However, the flip side is that every school year, Patrick’s teachers tell us that he is easily distracted and has “ants in his pants.” We have received this same feedback from kindergarten through fourth grade like clockwork every year. Patrick’s laser focus while playing Fortnite makes it fairly clear to me that he can concentrate just fine when he is doing something that he enjoys. Like the rest of us, I guess that just makes him human.

You can say that I have a like-hate relationship with Fortnite. As a parent, do I still hate that Patrick plays the game as if he were under a spell? Pretty much. As a student of sport psychology, do I recognize the benefits associated with Patrick and other young people playing a game like Fortnite that seems to satisfy their basic psychological needs? Absolutely. I’m hoping that my next post will share about how I was able to reconcile these two perspectives and that I was able to successfully implement a plan to regulate Patrick’s Fornite participation. However, I’m not holding my breath.


Adachi, P.J.C., & Willoughby, T. (2017) The link between playing video games and positive youth outcomes. Child Development Perspectives, 11(3), 202-206.

Ryan, R.M, & Deci, E.L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68-78.

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