Summer camp is a lot like Fortnite
But, unlike the trendy game, camp never goes out of style
It’s hard to be a parent and not worry about something. When my children were younger, I refused to buy popular “blood and guts” video games because I worried it would give them a cavalier attitude towards violence.
If you’re the parent of a toddler, you may worry that watching Blippi YouTube videos is destroying brain cells. And if you’ve got children age 8-18, you’re likely familiar with Fortnite, a phenomenon that’s already been downloaded more than 82 million times and has resulted in parental hand-wringing and concern.
The premise of this free video game is simple: a group of 100 players jump off a bus and begin eliminating each other until only one person remains. There are details — you can buy equipment, there are silly dances, there’s strategy — but that’s the basic overview. Think “Hunger Games” with cartoons, humor and weapons.
So what could Fortnite possibly have in common with summer camp?
Resilience and Independence. Fortnite players need to collect resources throughout the game to be successful. At camp, the focus is on providing opportunities for campers to advocate for themselves. Whether it’s woodworking or modern dance, waterskiing or drama, individual interests are nurtured and encouraged at camp. With an emphasis on skills development in a safe, supportive atmosphere, kids are not only willing, but eager, to try new things and get out of their comfort zone.
The important difference: Going to camp means exercising more than your trigger finger. Camp is an engaging, physical space where kids run, jump, walk, hike and explore. Camp helps kids interact with the natural world and spend time outdoors, trying lots of different activities, rather than sitting on the couch for hours at a time.
Fun and silliness. Fortnite uses wild graphics, crazy dances and lots of silly items and costumes. At camp, being zany is not only the rule, it’s required. Whether it’s Backwards Day, Color War, water slides or a surprise theme banquet, everyone is encouraged to participate and have fun in outlandish activities that are only limited by imagination.
The important difference: Camp’s fun and silliness is directed and guided by high school and college-age staff, leading campers by dressing up in outlandish outfits, singing crazy songs at the top of their lungs and creating an environment of acceptance and inclusion. Camp is a place where kids are encouraged to just be kids, without judgment or anxiety.
Building community. Fortnite allows players to team up with a friend or a group of people in the virtual world; they can chat while playing and help each other succeed. The emphasis on teamwork and group unity is one of the fundamental values of camp, whether it’s in a tent or bunk group, on a rock-climbing wall or an athletics class. At camp, kids learn how to work together, accept each other’s differences, and find ways to cooperate, collaborate and communicate.
The important difference: Kids rely on texts or social media to “talk” to friends. Since most New Hampshire summer camps don’t allow phones or other devices, kids have the unique experience of having to talk to their friends face-to-face. It’s likely the only place they’ll ever be device-free.
Camp is a “digital detox” world without the ruthless intrusion of YouTube videos, selfies and Snapchat stories that create impossible expectations and never-ending opportunities for children to question their self-worth. It’s no wonder that the friendships made at camp are typically long-lasting and meaningful. Parents report again and again that camp is their child’s “happy” place.
At camp, there’s no need to try to be someone else. There’s no glory in exulting in someone’s defeat or winning without the support of others. Camp teaches the value of teamwork, “grit” and the meaning of true friendship. Unencumbered by the need to posture or follow the crowd, kids at camp become independent, self-assured and yes, understanding and kind.
Fortnite will eventually fade and be replaced by other games or trends. Summer camp, on the other hand, is and will remain a mile marker of personal growth and development, providing a strong, guiding experience for generations of children.
Marcy Clebnik Kornreich is the co-director of Camp Young Judaea in Amherst. She admits she’s never played Fortnite.