“It’s a miracle,” he said, and I swear I heard harps and angels in the background.

Yes, it was a miracle. The sunlight was streaming through windows and zombie children across the globe were squinting as they stumbled out of their dark rooms, back into their family’s lives. Welcome to the ‘Fortnite’ black hole that coincided with a day off from school for many children this week.

The insanely popular video game that swallowed children whole more than a year ago just spit them back up a few days ago, when the entire digital universe that’s been their virtual home shut down.

On all platforms for two days, the ‘Fortnite’ home screen was nothing but a twinkling black hole, pieces of debris still being sucked in after the island millions of children have inhabited all hours of the day went blip.

Parents rejoiced: “We have our kids back!” Then, parents realised what the indefinite shutdown meant: “Oh. We lost our child care.”

Within hours of the planned blackout – the first time the gamemakers dramatically ended one season before starting another in what was a huge and risky publicity stunt – parents began creating a whole new genre of YouTube videos, showing children crying, tantruming and ululating before the blank TV screen.

The pain was real. And hilarious. And frightening. (I’ll let you find them on your own. Most are too profane to link to.) Adult gamers who abandoned kid-heavy ‘Fortnite’ were also raging because their own refuges, games less appealing to children, such as ‘Apex’ and ‘Call of Duty: Blackout’, became virtual kindertowns as the forlorn ‘Fortnite’ orphans migrated.

“Finian switched to ‘Minecraft’. And ‘Madden’,” my son reported, about the friend with whom he had planned a ‘Fortnite’ team. “I don’t know if I’m going to be disloyal.”

My son had had a busy weekend – hockey, band practice, outdoor projects, washing the dogs and a high-tide river swim. He saved up all his video-gaming time for what was supposed to be an epic bonus day of playing with his squad.

But that night, the squad started texting him the devastating news about the black hole.

“We don’t know when it’s going to start back up,” he said. “So we’re lost. Some of my friends are just sitting there, watching the hole.”

In Texas, Erasmo Hernandez Jr posted a video of a child trying to play with a foam aeroplane, explaining: “This is eight-year-olds having to actually do something outside because fortnite is dead #ripfornite.”

The world’s most popular game is a difficult question for today’s parents. It’s not the old-school gaming of solitude and total awkwardness.

This game is played in groups and it’s super-social. My son never plays alone. The struggle to find a healthy balance is a pain. Ban gaming, and they miss out on a contemporary experience and socialising with their friends. Indulge too much and they become zombies.

It’s why some people theorised the whole black hole was funded by a bunch of desperate parents who simply wanted their children back for a few days.

I checked up on my son who was still sitting in the sunshine. He was bored. It felt new. And weird. And good.

“I texted Justin and Jason to see if they could come over and we can play football outside,” he said. “I miss that.”

Me, too. (© Washington Post)

Irish Independent