In their off-campus apartment earlier this month, Ryan Michener and Tommaso Stalletti had just started another round of the survival video game Fortnite — the popular video game that has taken over the free time and weekend plans of many students.
Michener, a junior finance major and four-time Fortnite winner, plays first.
In the game, a storm is coming, which, in Fortnite terms, means all players must run toward a circle, the location of which is pointed to by a white arrow on a small map. The purpose of the storm is to draw players together and to force them to kill each other.
Failure to make it to the circle will cause Michener to lose “health,” a measurement dictated by a green meter at the bottom of the screen. Health, when depleted, will end his life in the game. Michener has yet to see other players on the screen and is waiting for another player to pop on the screen at any moment.
“I hear somebody!” Michener said.
Seconds later, Michener’s player was shot to the ground.
For Michener and all but one of the 99 other players in the round, death is their shared ending. That’s because winning requires one task: to outlive everyone else.
Fortnite was released on July 25, 2017, and, as of this March, has climbed to the top of the iTunes charts in 13 countries. It’s free of charge and accessible on almost all gaming devices, including on an Xbox, PlayStation, PC, Mac and iPhone.
As a result, Fortnite can be played practically anywhere, anytime. Michener and Stalletti play the game in their apartment or before parties on the weekends. Because the game is virtual, gamers do not need to be physically in the same location to play each other in the game.
“It’s like ‘The Hunger Games,’” said Stalletti, a junior risk management and insurance major. “Be the last person alive. You’ve got a one percent chance [of winning] basically.”
The game starts in a lobby, where players wait for opponents to sign up. Due to the popularity of the game, this can take a few minutes, or just seconds. Once all have joined, each player is lifted up into the air in a flying bus and flown over a map of the playing field. Using controllers to steer, players choose where they want to land on the map.
Because the goal is to stay alive, some players opt for discreet areas — where they suspect fewer players will land. Others drop in more populated areas and go straight for the kill.
“Some people [consider it] bloodthirsty when you just go for kills,” Michener said. “My little brothers say that.”
Laura Hutson, a junior media studies and production major, plays Fortnite on her Apple computer. Hutson said Fortnite attracts a wide range of ages, partially because of its cartoonish design. Her 9-year-old niece is an avid gamer.
“She’s actually very good at it,” Hutson said. “I don’t necessarily think it’s a children’s game. But, with kids, it’s so bright and colorful [similar to how] Minecraft is bright and colorful.”
Those who dislike Fortnite’s colorful design, Hutson said, often opt instead for PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, an online multiplayer battle royale game.
“PUBG is very, very similar to Fortnite,” Hutson said. “It’s just less colorful [and] in the desert. But PUBG costs money.”
Fortnite’s affordability is another factor that sets it apart from other games of its kind.
“There’s plenty of other games that cover different kinds of platforms,” Hutson said. “But [they’re] not free. … That’s the dynamic of Fortnite, that you can come together with all your friends on all these different platforms and play a free game.”
While the game is free, players have the potential to make money while playing if they’re talented enough. Some players live-stream their games on apps like Discord or Twitch, where users can log-on to watch and comment.
For the best players, users will donate money during the stream or pay for emoticons to use in the chat bar. Because the best players get so many views, advertisers will pay for screen time during streams.
“That’s how they make their money,” Hutson said. “The better that they play, the more subscribers they get, the more money [they make].”
The most well-known Fortnite player is Tyler “Ninja” Blevin. Last month, the 26-year-old gamer from Chicago played the game with hip-hop artist Drake, who awarded him $5,000 for winning the game.
Hutson said the game takes a lot of skill, and the gaming industry is changing rapidly because of it.
“You don’t see a lot of people saying, ‘Oh why are you gaming?’” Hutson said. “That’s not really a thing anymore. In the 1980s, movies depict any kid with a computer as an automatic loser. Now, if you’re not using a computer or a phone, what are you doing? I think gaming is going to go through a sort of revolution. Fortnite is just the beginning of stuff like this.”
UPDATE: This story was updated to clarify a quotation by Ryan Michener.