Mod­ern Life: What is Fort­nite?

The Oldie - - CONTENTS - Richard God­win

Fort­nite is many things. A global youth cul­ture phe­nom­e­non. A de­stroyer of mar­riages. Ba­si­cally, it is an ex­tremely pop­u­lar on­line com­puter game where you have to kill ev­ery­one else.

What hap­pens in the game is this. You are ran­domly as­signed a char­ac­ter (or ‘skin’) and then booted out of a school­bus that’s float­ing over an is­land.

There are up to 100 char­ac­ters just like you, each one con­trolled by a real-life per­son in Kuala Lumpur, Kras­no­yarsk or wher­ever. You de­ploy your glider, choose your land­ing site, and then ac­quaint your­self with a post-apoc­a­lyp­tic land­scape of aban­doned farm­steads, streets and ports. Hid­den around are caches of weapons to sup­ple­ment your ba­sic pick­axe (grenades, bazookas and booby traps) plus bits of ma­te­rial that you can use to build your­self a mini-for­ti­fi­ca­tion.

But don’t dilly-dally! You are ad­vised to tool up, head for the high ground and watch for tell­tale shad­ows and dis­tant rus­tles that sig­nal one of your fel­low Fort­niters is nearby… where­upon – KERBOOM! BANG BANG! RATATATAT!

It’s each per­son for him­self and the win­ner is the last one stand­ing. Lest you get too com­fort­able, a storm is en­croach­ing and the is­land is col­laps­ing.

Fort­nite was re­leased last Septem­ber by the games stu­dio Epic and had two mil­lion daily users by Jan­uary. By Fe­bru­ary, it had 3.4 mil­lion daily users. By May, 125 mil­lion peo­ple had down­loaded it and 40 mil­lion were play­ing it each month.

Epic, Fort­nite’s de­vel­oper, is pre­dicted to earn over £1.5 bil­lion from the game this year, with around 70 per cent of the 125 mil­lion play­ers pay­ing for ex­tras.

At a cer­tain point, the pop­u­lar­ity of Fort­nite ceased to be mea­sured in num­bers and started to be mea­sured in

‘It has been blamed for chil­dren stay­ing up un­til 4am and for pro­mot­ing vi­o­lence’

stupid head­lines. Fort­nite has been blamed for mak­ing chil­dren stay up un­til 4am, for pop­u­lar­is­ing dance moves such as the ‘floss’ and the ‘flap’, and for pro­mot­ing vi­o­lence. Di­vorc­ing par­ents ar­gue over how long their chil­dren play the game. Prince Harry has ad­vised chil­dren against play­ing it.

But why is it so pop­u­lar? Well, for one, it’s free. It’s avail­able on Plays­ta­tions, iphones and PCS. It com­bines el­e­ments of two ex­tant cul­tural phe­nom­ena: Hunger Games and Minecraft.

And it’s re­ally fun! The best com­puter games of­ten have a qual­ity that goes be­yond mere game­play, a dream­like at­mos­phere whereby the sound of a dis­tant ba­zooka or the sight of a pixel­lated sun­set seems to call to some hid­den part of the mind, draw­ing you back in…

For all of its mind­less solip­sism, it’s rel­a­tively in­no­cent. The char­ac­ters do silly dances and their deaths are car­toon­ish, with none of the gra­tu­itous head-rip­ping or foun­tains of blood you typ­i­cally find.

It’s also largely free of the racism, misog­yny and foetid teenage un­pleas­ant­ness that char­ac­terises on­line gam­ing, partly be­cause ‘skins’ are as­signed at ran­dom. This has helped broad­ened its ap­peal among fe­male gamers in par­tic­u­lar.

But its com­bi­na­tion of ul­tra-vi­o­lence and inanity clearly speaks to some wider cul­tural mo­ment: see also the video to the singer Child­ish Gam­bino’s This Is Amer­ica. You are alone. No one will help you.

This is a mes­sage the Fort­nite gen­er­a­tion seems to have taken to heart. But long-time play­ers agree that, even here, dy­nam­ics can change. Ini­tially, at­tempts to form al­liances with fel­low play­ers ended up with one of you shoot­ing the other in the back.

In­creas­ingly, though, there are re­ports of char­ac­ters work­ing in ever-larger teams. Has the ni­hilis­tic in­di­vid­u­al­ism of com­puter games given way to al­tru­is­tic so­ci­ety-build­ing?

I think, ‘Who cares? Let’s play Fort­nite.’

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