Sounds like Fortnite: Listening and Digital Mothering Practices
Klare Lanson and Larissa Hjorth
(word count: 667)
The entanglement of mobile digital media in our everyday parenting life is here to stay. Whilst digital mothering is often linked to the complexities and contestations around sharenting practices (Lupton 2017; Lazard et al. 2019), this article will outline ways to think about the aural experiences of Fortnite parenting using a domestication approach (Hartmann 2013) towards sound, listening and mobile media, and also by applying mobile methods to creative practice workshop activity with working mothers. Rather than understanding Fortnite primarily as a “shoot-em-up” networked game with negative connotations such as addictive and compulsive behavior (Hinsliff 2018), we will focus on the game’s positive, social and creative abilities, and in bridging the digital gap between children and parent’s social connections and the ongoing labor of navigating the related online algorithms.
Highlighting personal stories of digital parenting through the mixed methodology of creative practice, multisensorial digital ethnography (Pink et al. 2016), networked listening (Crawford 2009) and adapted Memory Work (Haug 1987; Onyx and Small 2001), the workshop methods employ creative ways of engaging with digital parenting. Aimed towards generating dialogue around familial management of children’s online experiences, creative use of sound, voice and writing are used as a form of emotion mapping. The use of sound and listening generates thinking on political and social agency (La Belle 2018; Voegelin 2014) just as Michael Bull considers mobile media sound to be transformative and “differs from vision in its relational qualities and in the placing and spacing of experience” (2013, 396). When monitoring mobile game play in the home, mothers are often not only parenting their own children, but also other children who are connected aurally to the household, which can also be seen to extend aspects of familial intimacy.
For example, young Fortnite users who play this online game in friendship squads via Nintendo’s mobile video game console Switch, intervene the private domestic space and are being supported (and reprimanded for language and other negative gaming behavior) by their own and their friends’ parents, taking digital parenting to a new level. In The Digital Housewife, Kylie Jarret names online users as digital laborers, noting that digital labor “is driven by the vital energies of creative social labourers” (2015, 29). Lynn Schofield-Clark further argues that the applification of mobile usage create new ways to monitor and micro-coordinate family communication patterns and related parenting (2013). Through doing family in everyday life, parents are now witnessing this type of hyper socialization into their children’s everyday which extends forms of digital parenting in creative and innovative ways.
Recalling the infamous St. Jude (nom de plume for Jude Milhon)—artist, writer and activist—who in the mid 1990’s spent countless hours surfing inter relay chat (IRC) channels to protect users and known as “the internet's real and very earthy patron saint of hacking” (Delio 2003, n.p), parents now have a similar responsibility at an everyday level. St. Jude encouraged a female online presence at a time when the space was very much male dominated. Parents are now responsible for their children’s digital footprint and their engagement with highly ranked YouTube gaming stars and related target advertising, and with that responsibility comes care and ethical considerations. Parents can spend hours actively monitoring and ‘hacking’ Fortnite gaming behaviour, just as St. Jude did in the precursory social media IRC platform.
As a vehicle for everyday management of the social and emotional wellbeing of our children’s game playing activities, mobile phones have become an intrinsic part of the parenting toolkit—as a social and connective tool for monitoring, a tool that is increasingly collective in a myriad of ways. The smartphone, as an important device for connected parenting both within and outside the home expands the multisensorial approach to digital parenting. Its role in the transformation of affective experiences linked to memory and the everyday (Özkul and Humphries 2015) also enhances the ability to stay socially connected and engage in parenting, moving beyond the role it plays in tethering as the “mom in the pocket” (Matsuda 2009, 67).
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Klare Lanson is a writer, poet, sound artist and editor. She is currently a PhD candidate at RMIT University under the Design & Creative Practice ECP platform, and is researching multisensorial mobile methods, emotional labour, mobile performativity and digital parenting. Her latest projects are #wanderingcloud, Commute, and a mobile art ethnography entitled TouchOn/TouchOff. Lanson is a member of Punctum Live Arts Inc and the Undue Noise sound and media collective and has worked collaboratively with artists such as Clocked Out Productions, PVI collective and Hypersense Complex. Publications include Digital Culture & Society Journal, Min-a-rets Poetry Journal, Cordite Poetry Review, Overland Journal, and Realtime Arts.
Larissa Hjorth is a digital ethnographer, artist, Distinguished Professor and director of the Design & Creative Practice ECP platform at RMIT University. Hjorth studies the socio-cultural dimensions of mobile media and play practices in the Asia-Pacific region with an emphasis on interdisciplinary, collaborative and cross-cultural approaches. She has published a dozen co-authored books, edited over a dozen Handbooks/Companions and has over 40 journal articles. With Prof Heather Horst, she co-founded the Digital Ethnography Research Centre (DERC: http://digital-ethnography.com/). Hjorth has been a CI on 3 ARC Discoveries and 2 ARC Linkages.
Hjorth’s books include Haunting Hands (with Cumiskey 2017), Screen Ecologies (with Pink, Sharp & Williams 2016), Digital Ethnography (Pink et al. 2016) Mobile Media in the Asia-Pacific (2009), Games & Gaming (2010), Online@AsiaPacific (with Arnold 2013), Understanding Social Media (with Hinton 2013), and Gaming in Locative, Social and Mobile Media (with Richardson 2014). Previously, Hjorth was Deputy Dean, R&I, in the School of Media & Communication (2013-2016).