What Fortnite Taught Me About the Concepts of Fun and Play in Games
Fortnite may be a fad that many are tired of, but the tools that the game contains really demonstrate what makes video games fun in the first place.
Fortnite fatigue is a real and valid feeling—for every person neck deep in V-Bucks, there is another person who will simply say “it’s okay,” as they would with any other crazy fad that those darn kids are into. The fact of the matter is that Fortnite is everywhere, whether you like it or not. Fortnite has taken popular culture hostage—every tiny change and addition to the game is headline-worthy, parents are hiring tutors to teach their kids how to score Victory Royales, and blockbuster titles like Call of Duty and Battlefield are racing to catch up.
But amongst the saturation of Fortnite lies within one simple truth: Fortnite is fun. If you haven’t found fun from Fortnite, you aren’t looking in the right places. In fact, I’d like to argue that the game embodies the idea of fun in video games.
My relationship with Fortnite began out of morbid curiosity—only having heard the news that this B-game that I was generally unfamiliar and uninterested in was receiving a free battle royale mode, I downloaded it on my PlayStation 4, knowing full well that I would never have a PC just to play PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. My feelings towards the game were lukewarm at the time, and one of my first pieces ever as a professional games writer declared Fortnite to be “discount PUBG.”
This sentiment has not entirely aged well.
Never would I have guessed that a game with a “generic” art style and gunplay that isn’t “clean” would become the center of all video gaming soon after. My friends and I at first explored the game out of reluctance, but this attitude soon changed to genuine enthusiasm. We began to explore the mechanics of the game within the sandbox, learning how to truly take advantage of the ability to build structures. The members of our squad were making plays, calling shots, and creating hype-filled memories.
But Fortnite did not immediately enamor just all of us yet.
Having a group of friends to play video games can be a luxury, but there’s a certain catch-22 to it—if your friend is all playing the same video game, you have little choice but to jump on the same one. So let me put my friend Morgan on the spot, as the fact that we transitioned from Overwatch to Fortnite in our late-night PS4 sessions did not entirely sit well with them. While they wanted to squash some fools as Symmetra, the boys needed their help to find taco stands and llamas.
To Morgan, the game simply was not fun—the mechanics weren’t fun, the gunplay wasn’t fun, and most importantly, the constant string of losses was not fun. The prospect of almost being required to play Fortnite in order to socialize with their friends became a contentious point. But with that, the evolution of both Fortnite, and Morgan’s opinion on the game, was a sight to behold.
There was something about the 5.0 update of Fortnite that made me think a lot about the word “play.” We talk about “playing” games as if though it were a sport, but I thought about the word “play” in the context of enjoyment, entertainment, fun, etc. Games focus on immersion and simulation—you take the role of a soldier, or a wizard, for example. But you aren’t using a gun or a wand—you’re using a toy. And with the 5.0 update, Fortnite players were spoiled with toys.
There’s a stupidly simple message Epic is sending with the addition of full-fledged golf and racing games within Fortnite: they want to add as many fun things in the game as possible. There is a novelty to clearing out Lazy Links and attempting to play out an entire game of golf before being rudely interrupted by another squad, or completing a full race on carts while the enclosing storm gets closer. It turns out, the All Terrain Kart was just what Fortnite needed. I have many fond memories screwing about with Warthogs in Halo 3, and the kart brought me back to that headspace of fun. And thanks to the power of modern share systems, we could capture all of those moments of insanity that we created within this sandbox.
What resulted after the 5.0 additions were some of the most fun sessions of play I’ve had since I was a child. And because most of the people in our little gaming group had either an Xbox One or Nintendo Switch, the fun could be shared by all.
I noticed an interesting shift in Morgan’s attitude, from hesitance and occasional anger to determination and eagerness. I asked Morgan last weekend for their permission to write about this shift, thinking that it was due to these new playthings—but this wasn’t necessarily the case. “It’s because I want to win.” Unlike our sessions months before, the taste of the Victory Royale is more familiar, and more desirable as a result. Even though the idea of “winning is fun” isn’t exactly the most healthy one, there is still much to be extrapolated from it.
Think of all of the strategy, planning, and play-calling that goes into any team-based video game—and now add buildings, launch pads, and interdimensional rifts. Yes, you’re competitive, but you are still utilizing absurd tools in a Rube Goldberg fashion to secure that win. You are playing with a sandbox, you are using fun toys, and even if you don’t realize it, you are having fun. Fewer things are more fun than a plan gone right.
Fortnite reminded me what “play” truly meant. With so many tools and options provided to us, we were able to create something of our own, even amidst the 100-player shoot-em-up nature of the game. We made the game our own.
Let me share you one last video that I believe exemplifies my serious dissertation on the concept of fun. Here’s Morgan riding a shopping cart, driven by their boyfriend Peter. Just two souls alone in a large world with nearly 100 people in total, creating their own little world—and a memorable moment together. This is what play looks like.