“Do you play Fortnite?”
Nearly every day, I hear some variant on that question. Sometimes my high school students ask me; at other times I overhear them discussing details of the game to their peers. What is undeniable is that the game is everywhere these days.
The free-to-play game, accessible to anybody with a modern console or a working internet connection on a PC or smartphone, belongs to the “Battle Royale” genre in which exactly 100 people battle against one another to determine who will be the champion of the given round. Players either play solo or in groups of two to four in trying to outlast everybody else.
It takes quick-thinking skills to play as you react in a setting where 99 other players are against you. It requires strategic thinking: do you make direct engagement or build defensive structures? How can you find better vantage points over your opponents?
The popularity of the game is astounding. An estimated 40 million people play the game each month! And with so many people playing the game, it becomes nearly impossible to avoid knowing somebody who plays the game.
But the game is not all perfect. A great deal of news coverage deals with the addictive nature of the game. As with many multiplayer games, it can be so easy to say “just one more game.” When there can only be one winner and each player has only one chance, most end a game losing. And coming in second or third makes that next game even more tantalizing. A full round can take 20 to 30 minutes, so it can be easy to lose hours and even days to the game. It takes self-control to be able to stop.
As with most video games, Fortnite can be isolating if handled poorly. Hours can be spent alone in front of a screen tucked away in a dark suburban basement. Plus there is the violent nature of the game, in which each player is attempting to kill off all the opposition.
While these objections are worth reflecting upon, I want to focus on what I find that is valuable in the game itself.
First, there is a real desire for connection. For example, millions of people follow popular livestreamer Ninja. 1 People literally tune in to watch him play the game. They hope to learn from how he plays the game, and they marvel at his skill, much like how people pay attention to professional athletes.
One other encouraging thing to note about this phenomenon is that it has some lasting power. Unlike Pokemon Go, whose chief popularity lasted only a few months, this game has continued to innovate to stay relevant without losing its essence in the process. The game is unafraid to take risks like being free-to-play 2 or its continued changes to the layout. New players can walk into the game fresh and older players can continue to appreciate the changes.
But I want to come back to the question I asked at the beginning, “Do you play Fortnite?” People ask that question because they want to build connections. This game has become a cultural touchstone for gamers of this generation. They want to play with others; they want to share their experience with other people, because it is important to them. My students want to share their love for this experience with me.
As someone who grew up playing games with small groups, I treasure that sense of community with others. Some of my best friends were people who also played the games I played. I trust that people who spend their time playing Fortnite experience a similar sense of connection with people with whom they play. If it continues to be an avenue through which people make connections and can have fun, I hope that the game continues to be popular.
So…are you game?
Cover image courtesy of FlickrCC user Marco Arment.