(with special thanks to Allie, Chloe and Jack)

I believe, by dint of diligence and a sassy haircut, that I have obtained Cool Grandparent status.  I try to stay in touch with things that interest my iGen and post-iGen grandkids.   Whether it’s the latest music and who’s #1 on the charts (are there still charts?), or the current iconic sports figure, I try to be “woke.”

I’m on top of the latest meme, and try never to throw shade, at least not where they can hear me.  I don’t yet have a tattoo, but I’m considering it, as well as an additional piercing — somewhere.

But if one wants to retain one’s Cool Grandparent certificate, one can never rest on one’s chocolate chip cookies.  No.  Hipness takes work and continuing education credits.

So, at dinner the other night, when I heard my three youngest grandkids, ages 11 to 14,  animatedly discussing their latest passion, my ears, still only with one piercing on each lobe, naturally perked up.

The subject of their excitement, I soon discovered, was a video game called Fortnite, which, apparently, they had been playing all summer.  OMG, I texted to my brain, how did I miss this? My status was in jeopardy and I had to act quickly.  I accepted the challenge and asked them if they would make the time to teach me to play.   They said they would check their calendars and get back to me.

Let me state at the outset that I have zero experience with video games.  Unless you count the wasted hours of my youth playing Pinball.  I was already an adult during the Golden Age of Space Wars, Pac Man, and Pong, and while I was aware of their existence and popularity, I wasn’t quite ready for a second childhood.  While we dropped off our own kids  at video arcades, we never considered staying to actually play.

But I was confident when said grandkids finally made room on their schedule and got back to me with an appointment. I could do this,  I thought.  Unlike some other body parts stiffened by arthritis, I believed my thumbs to be in good working order.   And, as part of my ongoing struggle to leave the Mesozoic era, I do embrace technology.  To some extent.

So, on a chilly late afternoon, I found myself on a large sofa in the family playroom, surrounded by three tutors who at least seemed excited to be teaching Grandma how to play Fortnite.

Inquiring minds want to know.  Thus, the session began with me asking dumb questions, which they patiently answered.  For example, why was the game called Fortnite? (I left off Part II of the question, which was why was it incorrectly spelled?)  I was informed that one of the original playing objectives was to remain alive for two weeks.   However, for their version,  the goal was to be the last man standing.  Either way, I got the message that the theme was not about brotherly love.

My youngest tutor grabbed the controls and powered up.  I was treated to an intricate graphic display, as the wall-sized TV screen lit up to reveal a dystopian setting, which, shall we say, was not exactly Disneyland.   Danger was looming everywhere!

The first thing I was required to do was choose a character, or a “skin” to be my avatar.  Sweet, I thought, maybe I could find some sexy representation of my real self, one maybe ten pounds thinner.  But since I wasn’t an official card-carrying, V-bucks-wealthy member of the Fortnite community, I couldn’t purchase my own “skin.” So my grandson graciously let me borrow his.  My “skin” therefore was male, or at least I believe he was.  I think he’s best described as the result of a one-off between the Incredible Hulk and an armadillo.  Not quite what I had in mind.

I was handed the game controller and shown the functions of the various buttons that would allow me to navigate the violence and determine my survival as I proceeded to kill the zombies.  My “skin” was dropped from the sky, not with a parachute, but holding an umbrella decorated with a menacing-looking spider’s web.  Imagine Mary Poppins on testosterone and maybe you can get the picture.

As I landed atop a structure that was reminiscent of a gallows, my Mary Poppins accessory turned into a pick-axe, and I was ready to attack.  My capable thumbs flew into action as I moved my character forward, backward, sideways in order to escape the threatening hoards of the undead.  Peril was everywhere and tension was mounting.  At various times my pick-axe morphed into a sword, then a machine gun, or whatever else was necessary for my defense. And all of this action was occurring as storms were brewing, which were also a threat to my  on-line existence.  It was all quite breathtaking  and might necessitate an additional blood pressure pill!

There are many more variables in this highly nuanced game of survival, but hey, this was just my first lesson.  I’m proud to say I did manage to destroy my share of zombies.  But alas, no doubt due to my  underdeveloped visual-motor coordination, I was finally taken down.

I came away from my tutorial wondering about the violence, albeit pretend, in which I had just participated.  I asked my grandkids how they thought this impacted them, and was assured they accept it as pure fantasy.  And I was reminded that the cartoons I used to watch, where characters routinely got their heads bashed in or were flattened by steam rollers, did not turn me into a serial killer.

So how did I score on my first attempt at online gaming? I placed 46th out of 100 players. My grandkids thought this was pretty good.  And so, I left the game room, relieved that my Cool Grandma status was no longer in jeopardy.  And perhaps they will grant me an appointment for a second lesson in the not-too-distant future.

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