Author Susan Goldfein
Susan video gamin’ with the grands


I believe, by dint of effort, a sassy haircut and becoming fluent in iGen culture speak, that I’ve obtained Cool Grandparent status. Whether it’s the latest music or the current iconic sports hero, I try to be “woke” (aware of recent topics).

I’m on top of the latest meme (humorous or inspiring internet share) and careful to never “throw shade” (criticize) – at least not where they can hear me. I don’t have a tattoo, but it’s under consideration, as well as an additional piercing –

But if one wants to retain one’s Cool Grandparent certificate, one can never rest on one’s chocolate chip cookies. 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 with only one piercing on each lobe, perked up.

The object of their excitement was a video game called Fortnite, which they’d been playing all summer. Text to brain: OMG, how did I miss this? My status was in jeopardy, and I had to act quickly. I accepted the challenge and asked if they had 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. I was already an adult during the Golden Age of Space Wars, PacMan and Pong. We chauffeured our own kids to video arcades but never considering staying to play.

Nevertheless, I was confident when said grandkids cleared their schedules and granted me an appointment. I could do this, I thought. Unlike other arthritic body
parts, I believed my thumbs to be in good working order.

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

The session began with me asking dumb questions, which they patiently answered. For example, why was the game called Fortnite? And why was it incorrectly spelled? They responded to part 1, stating that the original objective was to remain alive for two weeks. However, in this version, the goal was to be the last man standing. Either way, I got the message that the theme wasn’t
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 “skinto be my avatar. Sweet, I thought, 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-buck-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 what I had in mind.

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

As I landed atop a structure reminiscent of gallows, my Mary Poppins accessory morphed into a pickaxe and I was ready to attack. My capable thumbs flew into action as I moved my character forward, backward and sideways to escape the threatening hoards of the undead. Peril was everywhere and tension mounting. At various times my pickaxe turned 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 also threatened my online existence. It was all quite
anxiety-producing; I pondered taking another blood pressure pill.

There were many more variables in this highly nuanced game of survival, but hey, this was 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 skills, 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 accepted it as pure fantasy. And I was reminded that the cartoons I used to watch (where characters routinely got
their heads bashed in or flattened by steam rollers), didn’t turn me into
a serial killer.

So how did I score on my first attempt at gaming? I placed 46th out of 100 players. The kids thought this was pretty good. And so I left the playroom, relieved that my Cool Grandma status was not in jeopardy. Perhaps they’ll grant me an appointment for a second lesson in the not too distant future.

Susan Goldfein’s newest book, How to Complain When There’s Nothing to Complain About, is available at Read her blog at: Email Susan at

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