We Interrupt This “Fortnite” Victory For A Ninety-Second Episode Of Violent Child Abuse

I didn’t let COVID-19 knock me down. I kept working, kept writing, lost a little weight, improved my bike riding a bit, did just enough club racing to confirm that I haven’t forgotten how to thump on the locals, practiced my scales on the guitar. Ah, but the hits kept coming, the world just kept kicking me when I was down, culminating in my broken leg two weeks ago. The last time I felt this personally defeated was when my cubicle-mate loaded up an Atari VCS emulator and beat me five hundred times in a row (we kept track) in Slot Racer. This is the worst. I have some options. They gave me a bottle of oxycodone for post-surgery use but at the end of that bottle is Dilaudid. So instead I’ve just elected to be puritanically miserable most of the time.

Next week I can probably lift a few weights again, assuming I can get down into the basement and back out without falling to my death. In the meantime I’ve been wasting time by playing Fortnite, the lowest-common-denominator video game in North America that isn’t played on an iPhone. I started with “Solos” and won a bunch of times. My son and I went on to play “Duos” and won a bunch of times, then he refused to play any more because he’d rather play Call of Duty or ride his bike. So I started playing “Squads”, which works like so: 100 players are dropped on a “the battle island”, in 25 squads of 4 players each, and they figure out creative ways to kill each other until only one squad is left.

This is a story about how I led a band of children to victory, and how one of those children was physically beaten until they sobbed in the process.

Start with this information: Most multi-player online games have one group of servers for computer users and another, entirely separate, group for the walled garden of XBox and Playstation users. There are many compelling reasons for this, the two most important ones being

0. There’s far more cheating on PCs, which are far more open to modification than the game consoles are;
1. The demographics are very different. By and large, adults use computers and children use game consoles.

Epic Games, the publisher of Fortnite, doesn’t make that distinction. Instead, they enforce an odd communication restriction: in squad games, the voice chat is limited to console users by default. Computer users can only be part of chat if they are “friends” with all the console users. This is no problem when it’s me and my son on our gaming PCs “squadding up” with Bark’s son on his XBox, but when I’m playing in a squad with randomly assigned matches, I frequently am the only PC user in a four-person group. So I can hear what the kids are saying, and they can all hear each other, but they can’t hear me.

From a gameplay perspective, it’s not much of a problem. I can mark targets and warn my squadmates about enemies using the mouse. Most kids understand that I’m a PC user and can’t voice chat with them. They’ll talk to me and I’ll respond by using the “mark target” feature. Simple enough. It doesn’t stop my squads from doing very well on average, rarely finishing below 10th place and usually in the top 5. In fact, the combination of an adult (me!) with three younger players works very well. Their reflexes are much faster than mine, so they do better than I do in actual combat — but I am pretty good at guiding a squad all the way to victory and thinking strategically.

The interesting and frustrating aspect of this is that, while my son and I have proper gaming headsets by Sennheiser with built-in microphones, the console players just use the microphones built-in to their game controllers, which pick up their voices but also pick up all the noises around them. So to play in a squad with three XBox users is to be bombarded with everything that’s happening in their houses at the time.

Sometimes it’s hilarious — the trope of the teenaged boy trying to put off his girlfriend long enough to finish a video game is, apparently, based strongly in reality. I’ve heard adults buying joints from the local weed man in the background of games. I’ve heard parents screwing faintly in the next room. I’ve listened to all the Auto-Tune rap music you could ever want to hear, laughed at UberEats drivers arguing about cold food.

Sometimes it’s heartbreaking. I hear how adults outside my little bubble of middle-class respectability talk to children. I’ve heard how children talk to each other when they aren’t educated by a polymath-obsessive father. And I occasionally hear things that want to make me put the headphones down and just cry for a minute, because having a microphone placed in the world of America’s children brings me near-constant reminders that they are not nearly as safe, or as cherished, as I’d like to believe they are.

This was the situation yesterday. My squad started the game by dropping in at the town of “Lazy Lake” and engaging in a pair of simultaneous running battles against two other squads that had dropped in nearby. The team was me, a loud-mouthed rural-sounding “tween”, a teenager with a Black accent, and a kid who sounded like he was nine or ten. He had the soft speech impediment with which I’m familiar from my son’s BMX races — the inability to pronounce the hard “r” or hard “l”, so you sound like Elmer Fudd, “hunting wabbits”. This is increasingly common among the poor for some reason; I suspect it has something to do with the mechanics of picking up speech ad hoc, rather than being specifically taught elocution the way I was as a child. From the beginning of the game, the kid was pleading with a parent or much older sibling to be permitted to continue on the XBox.

“Pwease let me finish!” he would yell, and some older voice would respond with a harsh rejoinder.

“Fuck off with that bullshit,” the man yelled about a minute into the match, “I got shit I wanna watch.” This is actually par for the course in Fortnite squad games, so I didn’t give it much thought. And the kid could play — when the teenager ran out of our rifle coverage and got knocked down, this soft-voiced child killed two opponents on his own while I went in for the risky revival move. That let us mop up the first enemy squad in short order. The second squad retreated just as we came under fire from another angle. As a wedge we moved in and made four fast kills, bringing us up to nine kills total with four of them mine.

Around this time, the horn sounded to let us know that 25 of the original 100 players remained. We headed up a long mountain road in a loose-ranging pack towards “Stark Industries”, the place where we expected the final battle to take place. Just before we would have reached a plateau overlooking Stark Industries, I heard the kid scream “PLEASE DON”T WHUP ME!”.

For the next minute and a half, I heard slapping and banging noises, punctuated by an adult grunting in almost sexual-sounding effort while the child screamed, first with relatively articulate pleas to stop, then with wordless terror, then finally with hyperventilating and defeated sobs. There was literally nothing I could do; not only could I not speak a word to my team, Fortnite keeps me from having any idea about who my squadmates are in real life. The kid could have been in the house next to me, or in Montana. Epic Games has an 800 number, but what could I tell them when I called?

“Damn, he getting his ass beat,” the teenager said. Without any further discussion, we formed a perimeter around the immobile avatar of our teammate, building steel structures to protect him and fanning out to lay down suppressive fire on a squad coming up the hill behind us. I took a chance on a long-lead sniper shot at a running opponent. The bullet took a lazy contour directly to the head of the avatar, who then disappeared in a shower of dropped items.

LUDICROUS SHOT!
Over 200 meters!

Our group chat went silent for a few terrifying seconds. Then we heard sobs, then we saw our teammate’s avatar start running up towards Stark Industries.

“Sowwy…” he said, trying to catch his breath, “I was bad. I’m okay now. We… sob have to get to Stark Industwies.” When we got there, the kid constructed a whirlwind tower of wooden beams behind an opponent, dropped behind him, and took his head off with a shotgun, causing the dead players to drop Iron Man’s Uni-Beam, the most powerful weapon in the game.

“Guys… guys… I’M IRON MAN!” There were nine players left, and this little kid went on a tear, narrating as he did so. “Guys, guys, we need a higher wate of fi-we over heah… I’m sneaking up behind them…” I knocked down a member of the final enemy squad, “shook” them to make the positions of their teammates appear on the map, then unceremoniously headshot the prone victim with a beam rifle. There were two floating red diamonds on the screen; the kid wiped them both out in ten seconds, causing the screen to freeze and

VICTORY ROYALE

to appear. “FUCK YEAH!” the teenager yelled, causing the XBox microphone output to buzz and crack painfully in the Focal Elear headphones I use for gaming when I don’t need a microphone myself.

“That’s what’s up, bitches! Shout out to WorldChallenge31!” the rural kid agreed, tactfully including your silent author in the victory.

“I can’t be-weive we won… can’t be-wieve it!” The pure joy in the child’s voice seemed equal to the pain he’d screamed out just five minutes previously, though I knew even as I had the thought that I was just trying to get the sick taste out of my throat by thinking it. Then the voice chat cut off. I would never hear those three voices again; Fortnite would assign me different partners next time. And I realized too late that I didn’t know which one of the three usernames on my screen belonged to the child who had been abused.

RETURN TO LOBBY
END GAME

I wondered for a moment about a child, no older than my son, who could take a physical beating and return to win a videogame. I am a bit of a subject matter expert in the art of enduring physical pain. I can recognize that quality in others, as well. It’s something you earn over time. Something I have at the age of forty-eight, gritting my teeth and stifling a cry when my ankle twists in its cast. It’s something this child has at the age of ten or eleven. He’s earned it, the same way I have. The difference was that I signed on my own dotted line to break my neck and my legs and everything else. In his case, an adult signed the waiver on his behalf, perhaps with the ragged “X” of the proudly illiterate, the way I’d seen it done at rural BMX tracks when I was younger.

For a long time I sat there with my laptop open, staring at the “END GAME” prompt. My leg was killing me and I could really use the distraction of another fifteen minutes on the Battle Island, surrounded by all the ridiculous weapons and avatars and animations. But I didn’t have a moment’s worth of stomach to hear another child in pain or sorrow. I slapped the Lenovo shut, hobbled on my crutches to the fridge, grabbed a can of soda. Fell back down into the chair. Poured it into a glass and held it high.

“To us,” I said. “To the win. And to your eighteenth birthday, whoever you are, wherever you might be. To the day you can’t be hurt any more.” I said it like it was real, like he could hear me, like there is ever going to be a day where no one could hurt him, or hurt you, or hurt me.

33 Replies to “We Interrupt This “Fortnite” Victory For A Ninety-Second Episode Of Violent Child Abuse”

  1. AvatarSteve

    This is easily one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve read. Typically your posts leave me questioning how to be a better father to my 10 year old. This just made me want to go give him a hug. I’m far from the perfect father, but I’ve never understood how people treat their children this way. I’ve done nothing to deserve it and my son thinks I’m the greatest person in the world. How can anyone with a conscience break that trust?

    Reply
  2. AvatarHarry

    From a resiliency standpoint, it’s just enduring the physical pain, compartmentalizing it moving on, and being whatever skills it takes to be good at Fortnite is being. I have no idea if it is a common enough experience that whatever emotional baggage that should go along with that experience is commonplace.

    Maybe it was just his older brother beating the crap out of him to get TV time, and then some adult told him to stop?

    I have to think something less awful.

    Reply
      • AvatarDisinterested-Observer

        I don’t know what the fuck you just said, little kid, but you reached out. You touched a brother’s heart.

        Reply
      • AvatarWill

        Can you sell the skins? Just make the switch, no more building and good gun play with way more intensity. Plus you can play with a guy named BigWillie10inch

        Reply
        • Avatarhank chinaski

          JFC, I can’t fathom the amount of real money people spend on FN/CS:GO/etc skins. I think Valve started it all with TF2 hats (a mindlessly cathartic game I occasionally indulge in).

          Enforcing ‘friends only’ chat is a pretty good idea in a game frequented by 6 year olds. Like Harry above, I’d also like to, perhaps naively believe it was an older sibling, rather than a parent/step-parent/boyfriend delivering the beating.

          Kb/M v. gamepad is another common reason to wall off console and PC in FPS. I’ve heard there are ports/emulators to play on PC vs tablet/phone players. That’s just mean.

          The hot thing for the kids right now is ‘Among Us’. Interesting concept that’s likely made a small (4 man?) team very wealthy.

          PUBG is a brutal game for casuals. Did they ever region lock China?

          Reply
      • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

        All my weapons in CSGO are named after Jaco Pastorius songs, except for an AUG called

        “AOC sent me nudes”

        Reply
  3. AvatarMental Ward

    Turning 18 won’t stop the abuse.

    Sorry. It stays that way until he develops what it takes to make it stop. Could be 12 when he’s taller than everyone in the family, catches an intended back hand and announces “You’re not going to do that anymore.”

    Well that stops the beatings, the abuse is another story.

    There’s always the military.

    Reply
  4. AvatarRonnie Schreiber

    There is a big difference between appropriate corporal punishment for a child and beating them. In my experience as both a child and a parent, if you give them an appropriate spanking or two at an appropriate age, later on the mere threat of a spanking will keep them in line.

    By the way, I’m of a generation whose parents did not think it was abuse to use a belt or a switch, and I caught the belt a couple of times. To be honest, I was more afraid that my dad, who had a heart condition, was going to die of a heart attack than I was about the pain. Note to kids: When your dad takes his belt off, don’t laugh when his pants fall down. He won’t be nearly as amused.

    My own attitude is never hit your kid with anything other than an open hand. My three kids will tell you that they were slapped by their father, just once, when they were rude to their mom in front of him. If you ask them if they were ever rude to their mom again, they’ll tell you, “not in front of my father.”

    I think my son is too strict with my grandsons. On the other hand, they are exceptionally well behaved boys.

    Regarding spanking, there always has to be a second spank, just so they know there isn’t going to be just one. By the third you’re starting to get angry because that’s what humans do when hitting, so you back off a little, and there isn’t a fourth.

    Proverbs 13: 24

    Reply
    • AvatarDR Smith

      Agree, Ronnie – big difference between beating someone and corporal punsihment (one quick and sharp slap on a bottom – with my daughter it was only when she had a diaper or pull-up type thingy on, never a bare bottom). It does install good behavior….we get constant compliments from other parents, school teachers, ministers and others about how well behaved our daughter and what a joy she is to be around. We allow her, even at ten, to blow off steam around our house and have tantrumswith out pushiment – we figure everyone needs a safe place to be themsleves and also to get out their frustrations. Corporal pushiment makes it sure to be known that actions have consequences…..

      Reply
      • AvatarRonnie Schreiber

        I’ve found that making certain absolutes clear helps. Yesterday, at a store one of my grandsons wanted some candy from the checkout lane. I looked at it, told him, “It’s not kosher,” and that was the end of it.

        Reply
  5. Avatar-Nate

    Wow Jack .

    I’m glad you shared this .

    Almost all of our Foster boys come from physical abuse and often sexual abuse as well .

    My physical abuse didn’t stop until I threw my big sister down the basement stairs and let home at age 8 .

    They kept on trying to physically abuse me every time I visited so I just stopped visiting .

    Abusing children is cowardice, I don’t care how bad the child is .

    I too had to use the belt on my son once or twice and told him it was coming, he’d make the choice not I .

    He turned out far better than I and is a great father to his two little children .

    Too many think belting a child is not just O.K. but normal .

    I’ve had to call the Sheriff to take away a Foster boy who attacked me but I refused to hit him because the others boys were all standing there waiting to see if I would after he attacked me with a knife .

    -Nate

    Reply
  6. AvatarOne Leg at a Time

    Great writing, horrible story.

    I probably would have gone with something a little stronger than soda.

    As far as the speech impediment, do elementary schools no longer do “Speech class”? It was standard in New England when I was growing up.

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      I think its gone by the wayside, largely because people now have an innate human right to mangle the common medium of our communication in any way that pleases them.

      Reply
      • Avatar-Nate

        Sadly very true .

        A few years back some woman tried to make the case that ‘ebonics’ was a valid thing instead of the language of failure .

        She should have been ridiculed and summarily fired .

        -Nate

        Reply
      • AvatarPanzer

        Maybe, but i’ve seen thoroughly middle class white girls only a little bit older than the boy in your story who have the same speech issue.

        Reply
  7. Avatarrambo furum

    This is ineffective punishment. You can’t allow a child to go right back to playing games and expect the lesson to stick. This is both too hard and too soft on the child.

    Reply
    • Avatar98horn

      It wasn’t a punishment at all. It was someone larger beating someone smaller because they were annoyed, akin to kicking a puppy because you stubbed your toe. Punishment is only effective if there are clear rules, clear consequences for breaking those rules, and consistent, swift application of those consequences. I’ll be willing to bet that boy is in the military by the time he’s 18, and that it will improve his life immeasurably. I pray it will be so, at any rate.

      Reply
    • AvatarMark D. Stroyer

      So just ~for reference~ this is the first time I can recall ever having my identity stolen. And I’ve used this name since 2004. Staggers me why somebody would put on a mask of This Dork, but that previous comment wasn’t me.

      Heartbreaking story. And relatable: My wife took four kids out of the situation with her ex because a descent into abuse and when it crossed the line on the kids she called it. So one of mine is a ten year old with a similar “non-rhotal” lisp and babytalk obsession. But mine have developmental issues where all the Conventional Wisdom simply isn’t effective, which makes discipline walking a very fine balance.

      On a more general note, I have serious issues with parents who don’t play with their kids, sending them off to the park without running around with them or sending to the console without playing along. Very serious issues. That’s the whole point of play.

      Reply
      • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

        You’re correct — this person doesn’t post from where you post, nor does he use your email, but it perfectly matches someone else, so I adjusted the commenter name to suit.

        I have no idea why this would be done; I think it was just an error, attempting to respond to what you wrote.

        On the other hand, this commenter occasionally uses a fake name to make a particular point.

        Reply
  8. AvatarArk-med

    I began to read this post while a YouTube window played an SR8 screaming its lungs out on Sonoma Raceway, right into my balanced armature earphones. By the time I reached the end, I was quite oblivious to its frenetic screaming. Quite.

    Reply
  9. Avatarrwb

    What surprises me is that, despite spending significant energy telling generally smart people that the world-at-large looks absolutely nothing like their self-selected group of erudite friends, and that they need to be very careful about retaining macro-level expectations based on the experience of that bubble, those people are still shocked every time they encounter something that resembles the actual mean of human behavior.

    Reply
    • Avatar98horn

      I worked as a criminal defense attorney when I was a younger man, and my social circle includes those who work as public defenders, and assistant district attorneys. I can confirm that the mean of human behavior is shocking to the Modern American Gentleman. Incest, human trafficking, babies in microwaves, it is a parade of horrors.

      Reply
  10. AvatarC

    What a heartbreaking story. Thanks to technology and the quarantine, we are getting intimate looks into what was previously considered private life.

    I am a speech therapist who has worked in both the richest and poorest areas. Plenty of kids from the upper classes receive therapy for the /r/ and /l/ sound. In fact it makes up a huge portion of the caseload of a Marin County or Highland Park therapist. For those serving inner-city neighborhoods, caseload and needs are so huge that the kid with just an/r/ distortion gets overlooked for the kid who is severely delayed due to the consequences of poverty.

    Reply

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