The Fortnite effect

Video game takes over gaming culture

“Fortnite: Battle Royale,” a multiplayer video game developed by Epic Games, exploded into gaming culture in Sept. 2017. This 100 player, free-to-play, third-person shooter allows gamers to play alone or build squads of up to four people and take on others from around the world. The mission—to be the last person or squad standing and claim victory royale.

Since its early release, Fortnite’s popularity has skyrocketed. The total player count now tops 45 million and continues to grow. The seemingly simple game has taken over middle schools, high schools and social media. Senior Alex Thien began playing the game three months ago and attributes its popularity to the fact it’s free.

There are other similar games on the market like “Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds” (PUBG) and even “Call of Duty” (COD), which has been a popular multiplayer shooter for over a decade. Thien, however, says he likes Fortnite because it’s more lighthearted—it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

“I think because in other games there’s other stages that you have to pass, and in this game you can just keep on going, just level up. [You] don’t really have to do anything in particular,” Thien said. “I feel like PUBG is more realistic, and it’s always more fun to play something that actually couldn’t happen.”

Along with this, Thien enjoys how the game encourages team building and cooperation. In fact, his favorite part of playing is coordinating with his squad to defeat the 96 opposing players.

“If there wasn’t squads, I do not think it would be [popular],” Thien said. “Solo is fun, but with the squad, you can just interact more and have a higher chance of winning.”

Though Fortnite has racked up millions of users, not everyone loves the game. Junior Katie Clarke says she prefers to play solo video games to ease her mind. However, she does understand why Fortnite has grown to be so popular. The free-to-play aspect is a good way to draw new players in, and the team-centered focus keeps gamers interested, she says. Clarke has also noticed Fortnite’s wide appeal on social media.

“The social media craze probably makes it more popular because it’s everywhere,” Clarke said. “That kind of attention it gets probably draws people into the game, and I can see why people like it.”

Clarke also says that a lot of famous gamers are streaming footage of Fortnite online, which contributes further to its popularity. AP Psychology teacher Amanda Vara agrees. She says that humans, as social creatures, tend to follow the crowd.

“We like to be part of a group. We like to feel that sense of belonging,” Vara said. “Often, we want to follow the crowd to fit in—to not feel like we’re going against the crowd. When we go against the crowd, it feels uncomfortable.”

As Fortnite continues to add more players, the game developers frequently release updates that add purchasable cosmetics, new areas to explore, map redesigns and more. “Rolling Stone” reports that with every update, the developers seek to improve the multiplayer mode.

Vara believes this update cycle can contribute to players becoming hooked. Game companies understand that people get excited by anticipation, she says, so developers capitalize on this human instinct—even down to the different sound effects.

“Our dopamine levels in our brain spike when we learn something new or we accomplish something, which is amazing because dopamine is the pleasure chemical,” Vara said. “So we … get a physical satisfaction, a pleasurable feeling, whenever we learn something new, and I think that could be related to the game—especially the team aspect of it.”

Beyond Fortnite, Vara says video games are powerful because they can cause gamers to “dissociate” from the real world. This effect, however, is not only seen in video games.

“When you’re reading a book that you’re really enjoying, you dissociate from the world around you,” Vara said. “Like maybe your mom or your friend is talking to you right next to you, but you’re just so into [the book], you’ve blocked everything out.”

But while books have been a source of entertainment for centuries, the fate of Fortnite is yet to be determined. For now at least, the game’s following is only continuing to grow.

On March 14, a famous Fortnite player known as Ninja teamed up with rapper Drake, among other celebrities, to stream Fortnite on the website Twitch, a site that allows gamers to livestream gameplay. That single stream topped 600,000 viewers, breaking the site record. At the beginning of March, Epic Games also announced that it’s developing Fortnite for mobile, and they are now allowing a select number of iOS users to test the game.

Students across the school have downloaded the game and are playing it before, after and during class. Epic plans to release the game for Android as well, but for now, Galaxy users will have to wait. The developers have not announced an expansion onto other platforms, but Thien is certain that if they keep innovating, Fortnite will remain popular.

“If you make a perfect game, of course everyone’s going to play it,” Thien said. “And every little flaw, if you keep on correcting it, you’re going to eventually have the best game on the market.”