My name is Tom Brunansky.

Surprisingly, that handle was still available when I decided to sign up for Fortnite, the video game that is either the coolest thing ever or a plague upon this earth, depending on whether you’re talking to my kids or my wife. To mediate this dispute, I figured I needed to contextualize the underlying social implications of this platform vis-à-vis accepted norms in early childhood development, which is to say, pretend I’m a sexy cartoon lady hang-gliding into battle from a flying bus. Yeah, Fortnite is weird. Whatever happened to normal video games where you’re an Italian plumber running through sewers to rescue a princess from an evil turtle?

My nephews play Fortnite on Xbox, and whenever we’re over their house my kids disappear into a Fortnite fugue. We don’t own an Xbox, mostly for that reason—when the kids have access to Fortnite, they do little else. But maybe that’s just because it’s a novelty. Maybe Fortnite isn’t inherently bad, any more than Super Mario World is for me. Note I didn’t say “was,” because I recently bought one of those rebooted Super Nintendo consoles and the battle between Bowser and I picked up right where it left off: me falling into lava 45 times in a row and then spiking the controller off the wall.

So I decided to try Fortnite. Without telling my kids, I downloaded it on my phone. My idea was to practice and get good and then one day be like, “Hey, let me just log in here,” and the kids would be like, “Woah! You’re a Max Ragnarok? Coolest dad ever!” And what better way to tell the world that I have my finger on the pulse of youth culture than to name my Fortnite character after early-’90s Red Sox outfielder Tom Brunansky? Bruno is eternally cool.

If you’re not familiar with Fortnite, its basic premise is that you’re in a fight to the death. But it’s a silly fight to the death! There are funny character skins and lots of dancing—you can throw a Boogie Bomb at someone and make them dance. The most common scenario, the Battle Royale, drops you into a crusade with 99 other players, where you fight it out until only one of you is left. I’ve played games like this before, so I figured I’d get the hang of it with a little practice. The problem, I soon found, is that it’s hard to learn the ropes when you tend to get killed about 0.6 seconds after you join the game.

That’s how it goes for me for a while. I hang-glide onto the top of a mountain and promptly jog off a cliff. Then I stagger around on the ground for a second or two before a jacked dude riding a llama piñata shoots me with a bazooka and starts flossing to celebrate. There’s every chance that my executioner is an 8-year-old in Iowa. Did you know some parents are sending their kids to rehab for Fortnite addiction? I commend those parents, because I bet those kids are really good at Fortnite and I don’t want to play against them. Other parents are hiring Fortnite tutors to help their kids improve, which is so lame I have to wonder what’s wrong with our society. And anyway, where would you find these tutors and do they take Mastercard?

It’s so cliche for an old dude to get owned at video games, but I do have at least one excuse. I have an iPhone 8 Plus, which has a screen the size of an hors d’oeuvre tray, and it’s still way too small for Fortnite. Trying to play Fortnite on a phone is like trying to drive your car before the defroster heats up, when you’re squinting through a little peephole at the bottom of the windshield. Meanwhile, just outside your field of view is a Tender Defender, a humanoid chicken that’s about to kill you. It’s so unfair that I have to play on this stupid phone when all my friends have Xboxes. Ugh!

Eventually, though, I have a breakthrough. I discover a Quad Crasher, which is an ATV you can ride around. That makes it hard for anyone to shoot me, and also allows me to flee the storm that rolls in and kills you if other players don’t get to it first. I just ride on my Quad Crasher while everyone else fights, the number of players dwindling until there are only five of us left. Then the Quad Crasher stops running, and I’m killed in 0.6 seconds. But I’m exhilarated by my fifth-place finish. In Fortnite, as in life, the right combination of cowardice and conflict avoidance can bring you to the brink of success right before you die.

Eventually, I make the mistake of bragging about my fifth-place finish, leading to the revelation that I have Fortnite on my phone. Now the kids pester me about it nonstop. I’m not as anti-Fortnite, though, since I joined the player ranks myself. I mean, I still might ban my kids from the game. But not until they show me how to use a Boogie Bomb. 

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