Video games aren’t an old media by any stretch of the imagination, but they’ve been around for decades now. You’d think that would be enough time for newspapers and news programs to have figured out how video games work by now — all they really have to do is spend time time playing them. However, they’re still finding our electronic hobby to be as baffling as Barbara Walters found the NES back in 1988 and concerned parents found the SNES in the early 1990s.

Come on, mass media, you’ve had at least five decades to figure this out!

Case in point, a 2018 article that I found in the Chicago Tribune titled “I Almost Lost My Sons to ‘Fortnite‘” (yes, they put Fortnite in scare quotes). You can read the full article here, but I want to point out some of the more amusing parts.

This was written by a “concerned” father (see, I can use scare quotes too) who thought his sons were being turned into zombies by a video game that was just too darn addictive for the good of society.


The first paragraph really prepares us for the thrillride we’re about to embark on:

Make no mistake. What we are looking at here is an epidemic, a pestilence that’s sweeping across the country, spreading like an infectious disease. A virtual tsunami, rolling over the American landscape and swallowing 10- to 16-year-old boys with an insidious ease I would have thought impossible until it swept through my house and took both my boys right from under my nose.

This is absurd to the point of feeling like a parody. Look at all those scary words, the talk of pestilence and disease, the sinister nature of what surely must be an imminent threat to the children of America.

“These zombies, who used to be our children,” the article warns, “all exhibit the same symptoms of addiction…” It’s so bad that neighborhood parents are talking about “starting a support group for our little video game junkies.”

I’m pretty sure I laughed out loud when I encountered the line: “They use words like ‘epic’ and ‘legendary’ in strange and unfamiliar ways,” and it’s downright amazing that the author is so willing to publicly shame his children for their lack of Fortnite skill in this line: “They lie outright about the number of first-place victories they’ve accumulated.”

By the end of the piece, things have gotten so dire that Fortnite is deemed the cause of new kind of zombie apocalypse. “It’s like a zombie attack, but this time it’s the zombies’ brains that are being eaten.”


I have to admit that I found this hilarious at first. The thing is, the general media has been talking about video games in this way for as far back as I can remember (check out the articles linked in the first paragraph of this piece to see some examples).

And this is just a symptom of a greater problem, I think. TV news (from MSNBC and CNN to Fox News and everything in between) creates this alternate version of reality where everything is scary or sexy or infuriating. The televised news cycle exists to sell products, cramming as many commercials as possible between segments, and the more viewers they have, the more money they make. So these programs are not designed to inform, but to make viewers feel a certain way.

I stopped watching classic-format TV around the time of the excruciatingly disappointing final season of LOST, and even now I rarely watch streaming TV series. Recently, when I was staying with my parents, I saw a news segment about CBD oil designed to scare the socks right off these enraptured viewers. It felt like I had walked into an alternate reality, especially because even the “expert” who they’d chosen to speak on the issue was hesitant to say there was anything dangerous about CBD but was coaxed into admitting “the science isn’t 100% conclusive yet.” Clearly, this was designed to create a fear response to something that’s otherwise pretty harmless.

And the medium of video games has been getting a bad rap for far too long now. The simple truth is that kids have a tendency to get really obsessed with things in a way that we, as adults, simply aren’t allowed to. For me, it was library books and DuckTales. For other kids it’s competitive sports. And for a couple of Chicago youngsters, it was Fortnite.

Let kids be kids. Let them enjoy things. Let them celebrate their victories (even if those are a little bit inflated) and mourn their losses. Someday, they’ll be forced to enter the humdrum dreariness of 9-to-5 jobs and have nothing but the siren song of the panic-mongering news cycle to make them feel a little bit of what it was like to have emotions that haven’t yet been dulled.

And that makes me wonder who the real zombies are in this story.

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