How can you tell when something becomes a social media craze? Easy, 40 million downloads around the world of a single videogame since its release date eight months ago is evidence of widespread popularity. Fortnite, a social media craze plastered into the minds of teenagers and on the home screens of Snapchat and Instagram, is currently one of the largest selling Battle Royale games in the world. Fortnite is an adrenaline pumping, stress-inducing, survivalist multiplayer Battle Royale game.
Whether described as entertaining or unsettling, Fortnite has created a spot for itself as one of the top-ranking videogames world-wide. One hundred players skydive from a floating bus onto a post-apocalyptic island. Players scavenge buildings, collect supply drops and find treasure chests for weapons and survival gear. Bandages, rifles, pistols, grenade launchers, boogie-bombs, and glowing bush costumes are collected. Players also collect materials such as wood and stone by breaking physical objects to build structures and defenses for themselves.
While battling to survive, the map of the island continually shrinks every two to three minutes forcing players into a smaller playing field. Following directly behind the shrinking circle is the silent, stealthy death machine. The storm. Get out of the storm at all costs and get to the circle! Otherwise, health decreases leading to death. It is a game of survival — teamwork, materials, defenses, weapons — all must all be used systematically to achieve final victory. Fortnite is a Player vs. Player (PvP) last-man-standing, survival of the fittest battle game. But, how was this game created?
EuroGamer found that Fortnite is a knock-off of another Battle Royale game: Player Unknown Battlegrounds (PUBG). What makes Fortnite a more popular sell than PUBG? Maybe it’s the bright, ostentatious, almost “silly” and childish game construct. Compared to PUBG, with its realistic and life-like, serious style, Fortnite is a more relaxed, humorous type of gaming experience. Epic Games, the creators of Fortnite successfully recreated PUBG’s 100 player, Hunger Games based, survival game. Offered on PlayStation, Xbox, and PC, Fortnite contains two game modes. Save the World, is the game version based upon surviving a zombie-apocalypse. Here, players scavenge for weapons and materials to defend themselves against oncoming zealous zombie attacks. The second and most famous version, Battle Royale, was specifically created for online interaction and multiplayer gameplay. In contrast to PUBG, how has Epic Games been able to hook and garner increasing popularity with teenagers?
Epic Games continually changes the map and settings of the game to new playing modes every week. There is always a new reason to come back. To better understand the continuous change of gameplay, in the Rolling Stone magazine article entitled “Fortnite: Battle Royale: The Evolution of World’s Largest Battle Royale Game”, Epic Games Level Designer, David Spalinski, explains the modifications. “We wanted to improve aspects of the gameplay based on player feedback. So, we changed a few things up, here and there to keep people on their toes and reacted to balance feedback to make the map feel fresh,” said Spalinski. “We look at the map as a canvas on which players can express themselves. We’re so much more focused on player built content, finding ways to let players express their creativity. We’re almost always playing catch-up to support the creativity”. Focusing on player built content, the map changes every few months to instill feelings of wonder and excitement. Capitalizing on player suggestions, the company is continuously trying to improve the game to keep the players energized and engaged.
This constant change is attractive to teenagers. It mixes strategy based survival with potentially violent scenes mitigated by visual effects without blood or gore. In addition, players customize their characters and moves allowing for individuality. According to The Guardian, incorporating dance moves popular in social media such as The Floss, inspired by a boy dancing with Katy Perry creates a fun atmosphere in the game. Outfits and personas acquired using battle passes (special customization and level packages) or bought from the game store using V-Bucks (in-game currency), inspire individual expression. By choosing dance moves and costumes and selecting game modes (playing solos, duos or in squads), teenagers become suspended in an animated world for a short while.
In the Battle Royale version, the three permanent modes are solos (playing by yourself), duos (a co-op version where two friends can play with each other) and squads (4 players join in a team vs team battle against other squads). These three modes rarely change, but timed modes such as the gold, 50 vs 50, or the explosive modes eventually disappear. The multiplayer modes bring players back for more due to new and changing scenario experiences.
What’s so special about the multiplayer aspect of the game? A passionate videogame player and my long time best friend, Austin, shares his thoughts on the online interaction portion of the game: “It is a fun strategy game and is really fun to play with friends. The first-person shooter aspect and ability to create good bonding experiences with friends creates an all-around awesome game.” Online interaction between friends and even celebrities is as fun as the game itself, and one reason why 45 million people currently own the game. Superstars like Drake, Travis Scott, Chance the Rapper, and NFL players join millions of others… dissolving into anonymity… their fame momentarily forgotten while lost in the thralls of the game. Welcome to the world of multiplayer Battle Royale where the virtual and real overlap.
Today, where violence is so prevalent in society and videogames involving apparent barbaric ferocity and savagery are tainted in the media as causing the degradation of society’s youth, it is understandable that a game such as Fortnite might be labeled as inappropriate and damaging. But is that really the case?
A survey of eighty students at Central Bucks South High School (CB South) revealed forty-two who play the game less than 1 hour at a time, and thirty-eight whose play sessions range from two to five hours. During a Good Morning America special report, doctors and parents were interviewed about Fortnite and extended play. Scott Steinburg, a trend expert noted too much game time causes addictive behaviors. He said, “With each game lasting up to 20 minutes, a set time limit should be set for playing the game.” In addition, as of 2018, the World Health Organization recognized Gaming Disorder as a mental health issue. Players may become obsessed, abandoning simple daily tasks. The American Academy of Pediatrics advised parents to place consistent limits on screen time so videogames don’t interrupt sleep patterns or physical activity.
Surprisingly, there are mental health benefits to playing Fortnite. During the Good Morning America segment, clinical sports psychologist, Dr. Jonathon Fader explained interactive perspective in multiplayer play enhances social communication. Playing Fortnite affects the pleasure sensors of the brain in positive ways and allows players to talk and listen to each other while playing. In my survey of eighty students from CB South, forty-six students agreed social interaction while playing Fortnite sparks vivid conversations and promotes conflict resolution when players collaborate and work as a team to survive. This teamwork serves to enhance and build relationships.
It’s no wonder Fortnite appeals to teenagers! Social interaction and individual expression. That does it every time. The game is imaginary but the interaction between players and friends is real. While winning that final Victory Royale feels incredible — it’s still just a game.