It was a beautiful afternoon. We’d just had lunch, the sun was shining. My house was alive with the thrum of family and friends in the same space. Laughter, infectious joy. Outside my 5-year-old son played with his cousins on the trampoline. Bouncing, daring each other to jump higher, higher, higher.
To this day, I’ve been trying to parse what happened next. My son, on a whim, bounced to a complete stop. He pulled down his pants. Then he pulled down his underpants. Then and there, in front of a captive (and captivated) audience, my son started dancing.
He was doing a move made popular by the video game Fortnite. Naked, in full view of his cousins, he was doing the floss.
In that moment I realized two crucial things. First: I had to sit my son down and teach some boundaries around genitals and when it was appropriate to expose them.
Second: Fortnite is everywhere. It is inescapable and it has a cultural cachet that obliterates every single video game being played in 2018.
Fortnite is more than a video game, it is a cultural tsunami and no one will be spared its inescapable wrath.
Watch the throne
For those encased in a space-time vacuum that consumes all sound and light, here is your primer. Fortnite is a video game and it has the world in its grasp. A free-to-play third-person shooter making its fortune through in-game microtransactions, Fortnite is the current King of the Battle Royale genre, a type of video game that pits online players against one another and forces them to fight to the death until one remains.
But Fortnite is, of course, much more than that.
2018 has been a big one for video games. Major releases included God of War, Spider-Man, Red Dead Redemption 2. Smaller, indie games like Florence, Dead Cells and Celeste also came to the forefront. All good video games.
But it was a video game released last year that dominated in terms of revenue and cultural impact. 2018 was about one game and one game only, and that game is, of course, Fortnite.
2018 was the year Fortnite went stratospheric, and it’s difficult to pinpoint precisely when this happened.
Was it the timeand broke all sorts of online viewing records? Maybe.
Was it the moment Antoine Griezmann, with 900 million people watching worldwide, scored a penalty in the World Cup final and?
For me the moment I walked into the supermarket and saw Fortnite on the cover of Woman’s Day — Australia’s biggest weekly magazine — was difficult to top. It felt like a message from the nether realms of insanity. Fifty percent of Woman’s Day’s audience is female and aged over 50. It doesn’t tend to cover video games. It certainly doesn’t tend to feature 14-page supplements called “Ultimate Guide To Fortnite: Battle Royale”.
It was like a message from a strange, alternative reality. In 2018 Fortnite was as mainstream as the Macarena. It’s a Furby. It’s an iPhone. It’s the cultural event everyone’s aware of. And if you’re not playing it, you’re desperately trying to understand it.
Out of our depth
Let’s talk numbers.
In August, Fortnite broke its own record. 8.3 million people were playing Fortnite concurrently. At the exact same time. For perspective, that was more than the amount of people playing every other video game on Steam at that time.
The scale is unprecedented and, quite frankly, mind-boggling. Over the course of August 2018, almost 80 million people played Fortnite. In its first 200 days on iOS as a mobile app, analysts estimated Fortnite was making $1.5 million per day. Across all its platforms Fortnite made over $300 million in April 2018, a single calendar month.
I’ve spent the majority of my adult working life writing about video games. To me, Fortnite feels like a mindfuck that somehow manifested while the adults weren’t looking. Fortnite started life as a mildly interesting, safe-to-ignore tower defense game. Now it’s an epoch-defining multiplayer game, and it’s impossible to escape its sphere of influence.
Fortnite. Roughly 65 percent of Fortnite’s player base is under 24. I’m aged 37. People my age and older make up a paltry 14 percent of players. Older millennials like me come at this situation with a unique perspective: Our parents didn’t necessarily understand video games, but we do. And now that we’ve grown up and become parents ourselves, we understand Fortnite just enough to understand we’re completely and utterly out of our depth.
There’s also a level of cultural elitism that needs navigating. We’re from a generation where broad single player games made by hundreds of people represent the “true” video game experience. Shouldn’t you pesky kids be playing Zelda or Red Dead Redemption? Games that truly reflect video games as an art form. Fortnite is a free-to-play shooter that bandwagoned on the popularity of an emerging genre and somehow — almost by accident — became the most popular video game on planet Earth. To people of a certain age or perspective, Fortnite reflects the worst aspects of what video game culture has become.
But we’re wrong. It’s all bullshit. Probably. Fortnite is ’90s hip-hop and we’re the grumpy old dads who refuse to change our car radio from classic rock. (“But kids, they can’t even sing. They don’t even know how to play their instruments.“)
For a generation that grew up playing video games, Fortnite is a stark reminder that things never change. Or — more precisely — things always change. That’s the constant. Across all media on every possible spectrum. Fortnite is the perfect representation of medium that has grown, evolved and splintered.
In short: Fortnite is not for you, but that’s OK. You haven’t outgrown video games, you’re probably just too old for this particular type of video game to make any kind of sense. Red Dead Redemption 2 still exists. God Of War still exists. Other video games still exist.
Well, Fortnite is fine! This is all fine. Video games can be anything and everything. There’s certainly room at this party for a zeitgeist-capturing experience like Fortnite, even if I personally don’t understand it.
And the kids? Even when they’re exposing themselves on a trampoline, doing the floss, the kids are alright.
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