Like a squillion zillion kids of all ages, our O is a Fortnite nut.
And I think it’s brilliant.
Even though I don’t play it myself and have less than zero interest in doing so.
But because he is so into it, and it is such a phenomenon, I wanted to have some idea of what is going on. So I Googled into it.
Daddy’s getting down with the kids!
I stand in our kitchen/dining-room now and again and watch O playing and he just seems to be having such a time of it.
He’s online with other kids, ones he knows, and ones he “meets” online. They’re working together, sharing and swopping stuff, working out strategies, slagging each other off … the usual.
And he’s there in my kitchen so I know where he is!
This much I knew already: it’s about killing or being killed. But it’s all very exaggerated and cartooney:
Except when players are killed they don’t explode in red mushroom clouds of guts, grizzle and flying eyeballs; they just disappear.
And rise again to play in the next game.
No word yet in the tabloids about the shocking increase in the numbers of kids being lost to cults peddling reincarnation, or believing they will live forever thanks to Fortnite.
The kids get it: it’s fantasy.
If you’ve just dropped down from Planet Supercilious a moment and want to know just how massive Fortnite is, ask any kid over eight about that silly dance Jesse Lingard did when he scored that screamer for England against Panama in the World Cup.
It’s called the shoot dance, O tells me, and, yes, it’s from Fortnite.
It seems nearly all the top players in the World Cup were playing Fortnite … not just Dele Alli and Harry Kane and all the England Boyz, Griezmann and Pogba of France … loads of them.
But they’re all at it … freak, geek and meek … even the ones who don’t rhyme, scan or alliterate easily.
Okay, okay, I’m no fan of nasty, violent video games and the idea of my son playing them.
But watching him playing Fortnite, and listening to him working as part of a team, as they plot and shoot, and build and work their way around their island battleground, I hear the insults and bantz, but I also hear kids happily playing together, having a laugh and a thrill as they find a way to win. Or at least die trying …
I know it’s supposed to be free and Epic, the crowd that make it, do take the proverbial by charging for “skins” (those silly outfits the players wear in the game) and for those daft dance celebrations, but that part of it is up to parents to negotiate, and the older kids … well
The players can earn money (the game’s internal V-Bucks currency) to “buy” certain things, but, of course, the really cool stuff has to be paid for in good old euros, pounds and dollars.
I admit I only had the haziest notion of what the hell Fortnite was all about for ages.
So Wikipedia and Google filled in a few gaps.
That might explain the ‘wikipedia-ness’ of some of things I am saying, and O would laugh if he read this, but really it has only borne out what I had already gleaned from watching O on his PlayStation.
Fortnite Battle Royale is O’s particular kill-or-be-killed survival game of choice.
Up to 100 players are virtually-dropped onto an island — from a flying school bus — where, they compete (it says here) individually or as part of squads of up to four, to be the last player standing within a shrinking battle arena.
They are fighting to the death in a Battle Royale and that last “man” standing wins.
Along the way, each player, or group of players, seeks out caches of weapons, armour, and stuff to heal wounds, while also collecting building materials by breaking down wood, metal and rock things you meet along the way with a pickaxe thing. These are quickly turned into walls, ramps, floors, and roofs for protection, or to slow down other players.
So there’s a bit of Minecraft mixed in with the Killing Games.
Like all the most compelling games games, Fortnite Battle Royale is actually simple to understand, but there is room for skill and strategy. So you can get good at it. Play it competitively even.
With all the cool and colourful scenery and effects and the visceral thrill of being the hunter and the hunted, the players get totally caught up in it all.
Multiplayer games last up to 30 minutes, and players can quickly re-enter a new game, making long sessions extremely easy — “Just one last game, Dad/Mom” …
The visuals really are fantastic and with weekly updates and challenges, the game is constantly evolving so, again, it keeps the kids coming back for more.
Added elements, such as those V-Bucks, allow players to complete challenges for rewards.
Then there’s the huge social media following via YouTube and the rest.
That’s the bit that really amazes me: kids actually enjoy watching another kid playing these games. Millions of them, apparently!
Watching some dude with funny-coloured hair with headphones on going to war from his box bedroom in a Croydon high-rise. And him jabbering all the while like a Magaluf DJ!
To help them on their murder mission, players are also on the look-out for assault rifles (preferably the Legendary scar), pump shotguns, bolt-action sniper rifles bandages, medkits, and shield potions.
They see, and want those “skins” that look cool, they reckon, but have no bearing on the actual game.
Or they pick up on the dance moves players — or rather their avatars — perform mid-battle or after a kill. Like our man Jesse was doing in the wonderfully named Nizhny Novgorod Stadium.
Look around you, on the street or in supermarkets, you’ll see kids doing these daft dances. They’re on TV too, at big events, adults doing the same thing. Silly but fun.
And here’s the funny thing, again, for me: listening to O playing, I rarely hear acrimony. It really does seem to bring out only good in him … laughing, talking with his online mates, and working together on these missions.
And it has really bridged a social gap for him this summer. I have mentioned before how O has just finished his first year in secondary school, and how he has so far failed to a find a “bessie”, or close friend.
He does go out a bit, but not that much, So Fortnite and the World Cup have been brilliant for him.
Fortnite Battle Royale is like going to war with other young people, who you come to rely on and get to know. This and the heightened experience of doing virtual battle forges bonds and, yes, “friendships”.
And O does know all too well the difference between it and the real thing.
As Peter Gabriel sang one time, it’s “Games without Frontiers, war without tears”.
The players have to think on their feet, and if they are in teams, work together on strategies, and I smile at the shrieks and squeals out of O when a game is at its most exciting.
And I hear the insults and the slagging when things aren’t going so well.
The other day we got the fantastic news that O was chosen to train with the National Academy in his age group in soccer, but instead of being really excited, he was annoyed at the time that another player had taken some amazing gun off him when they were supposed to be trading, and immediately left the game!
Like Gabriel sang, “If looks could kill, they probably will ….”
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