Fortnite: An exploration of a cultural phenomenon

The cover photo for the popular game Fornite Battle Royale. Photo courtesy of Flickr

DOUGLAS ROCHE III | OPINION COLUMNIST | droche@butler.edu

In Sept. 2017, Epic Games launched “Fortnite Battle Royale.”  This free-to-play player-versus-player combat survival game has taken the gaming world by storm, especially on college campuses, where the video game has become a widely popular social activity for students.  

To give a short summary for those who are unfamiliar, “Fortnite” consists of 100 players that skydive into a vast, biome-changing map from a helium balloon-fueled flying school bus. The players must loot different areas of the map for materials, weaponry and supplies while a storm cloud that damages players outside of it closes on the map as the game progresses and the number of players left decreases. “Fortnite” offers a solo, duo and squad mode that consists of 25 teams made up of four players.

With two months of having the game and one solo mode victory under my belt, I have come to terms with the fact that “Fortnite” is not a game I can or will ever excel at without skipping the rest of my classes for the semester.  

With that said, I still find at least an hour (sometimes two) out of my day to get some matches in, get eliminated, shout profanities at the T.V. and then go study for Spanish. I have found the game to be enjoyable despite my skill level and a great way to spend some leisure time, as well as get friends together.  

While I cannot brag about my skills with the game, there are many students on Butler’s campus that can, like sophomore pharmacy major Zach Madere and junior actuarial science major Travis Freytag.

Madere began playing upon its release in September after his friend showed him the refreshing free-to-play game that stands out amongst today’s popular titles like “Call of Duty.”  Freytag was first exposed to the game at Sigma Nu, his fraternity, when his brothers began piling into rooms as they either watched, waited for their turn, or played the game.  

“It’s almost like a domino effect,” Freytag said.  “You see one person playing it and you think “Wow this is different and looks fun,” and that spreads to your friends, their friends, etc. It’s also great at bringing friends together to play squads or duos.”  

Freytag and Madere, who each have won 40 games, do not find it difficult to balance the game and their priorities, but recognize a difficulty in putting the controller down.  

“It’s certainly more fun than studying, but it hasn’t gotten in the way of anything for me,” Madere said. “It’s pretty relaxing to unwind after busy days with the game, but I’ll only play a couple of games a day.  Maybe more on less busy days.”

The two were mutual in the feeling of desire one usually feels to play on and on.  

“You can’t just play one game,” Freytag said. “I’ll probably log 90 minutes per day.  It’s easy to push assignments off thanks to the game, but it’s especially nice to play when everything you have to do is finished.”

For Freytag, “duo” is his mode of preference. “Squad” is what Madere will typically elect to play, which lead to he and his “squadmates” developing a tactic the team will practice in matches.  

The tactic, known as “south strat,” entails dropping off at the racetrack that lays between the areas on the map titled “Lonely Lodge” and “Moisty Mire.”  The team will follow a particular route, which Madere believes has played to their benefit due to repetition of the tactic.

“The more you familiarize yourself with sections of the map, the more comfortable you will feel playing,” Madere said.  “You’ll begin to memorize where weapons and supplies are typically placed.  The place we go doesn’t attract as many players as places like ‘Tilted Towers’ so it’s easier to eliminate individual players instead of getting into damaging shootouts with other squads.”

For senior marketing and finance double major T.J. Brinker, perhaps one of Butler’s finest “Fortnite” players with 137 victories, the game has transcended the excitement of life before his discovering of the game in Dec. 2017.  

Brinker, who has logged roughly 170 hours of gameplay, was introduced to the game by his housemates, which has created an unbreakable bond in squad mode: their favorite match type, largely in part due to the social aspect of the mode.

Duo and squad mode serve as an exercise in relationship building and working as a team to achieve a common goal: Victory Royale, or, winning your match. Moreover, “Fortnite” could very well offer some benefits to college students that do not allow the game to take over their life.

“It brings everyone in our house together,” Brinker said.  “Whether it’s shouting out coordinates of enemy locations to your squadmates, to trekking across the map to revive a fallen player, there are many aspects of the game that offer so much camaraderie.”

Like Freytag and Madere, and despite his lucrative amount of time spent on the game, Brinker has not found that the game gets in the way of priorities.  For Brinker, it has just become an aspect of his life that fills the time in between classes and work.

“It’s a choice,” he said.  “Of course you have to find a balance with the game and school, but if that is a problem for somebody, then the game probably isn’t for them.

One could argue that “Fortnite” helps with critical thinking since the player must be on edge at all times and be alert for other players, the storm cloud, as well as how to allocate your weaponry and resources in a way that gives you the best chance at victory when stakes raise once only 10 people remain.  Conversely, if you are skipping your 1:00 class to get some extra matches in for the day, then this potential breakthrough in critical thinking and strategizing.  

Brinker’s defining moment with the game came when he was playing squads with some friends, who made it to top two squads of the match. Looming over the enemy via a masterfully-crafted twisting staircase tower, Brinker jumped from the top of his team’s base down towards the final opponent with nothing but his wits and a pump shotgun and secured his team victory by eliminating the final opponent via headshot.  

As a well-established “Fortnite” player, Brinker advises those who are not quite on his level to take a more conservative approach to the game by resorting to stealth from potential threats on the map, as well as putting into account the rate at which players build.

“If you’re a noob, just bush it,” Brinker said, referring to hiding in various bushes spread across the map. “You can also learn a lot about an opponent by how they move and build. It’s crucial to learn how to build well if you ever want to succeed in the game.”

The building aspect of the game is something that I think draws people into playing. It is a significantly different aspect of the game from other shooter games by forcing players that want to win to do more than just run and shoot.

In the past few months, the game’s popularity has skyrocketed.  On Feb. 4, the servers for the game crashed when more than 3.4 million players were logged into the game, per vg247.

“What started out as a game has turned into a relationship building, strategic masterpiece of warfare,” Brinker said.

While some may not consider the game a masterpiece quite yet, it has arguably turned into a cultural phenomenon. With that said, however, I would not be surprised if the hype dies down in the next few months.  

As original as “Fortnite” is, fanbases come and go for all games due to various factors.  What I think makes “Fortnite” such a hit is its originality despite its simple concept. There is no telling what new updates may be added to the game, but I fear that Epic Games could attempt to outdo themselves with additions or updates that do not fit with the dynamic of the game that made it so popular. Moreover, I see overabundance being its downfall.

Hopefully this does not happen any time soon or maybe ever.  But regardless of whether or not this fanbase either grows or perishes, it is pretty interesting how this game has taken the world, especially college campuses, by storm (cloud).

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