Fortnights playing Fortnite – Notes from quarantine

How did a 50-year-old get addicted to Fortnite?

I made it eight weeks into this never-ending, pandemic self-isolation hell before I had to find something, anything, to distract me from social media and whatever awful thing “President” Little Finger had done lately.

Did I learn a new language? No. On the contrary, I’ve been steadily forgetting languages I already knew.

Did I start doing crafts, cooking or home improvement projects? If you even have to ask, you don’t know me.

Did I take online classes to improve my chances in our current demoralizing job market? Actually, yes, but judging by the inclusion of a section devoted to Google+ marketing and advertising strategies, I determined that they were horribly out of date.

Ultimately, I gave in, waded through a sea of unmask morons in downtown Minneapolis and purchased an Xbox One.

The last time I held a video game controller was in 2003, right before I sold my Nintendo 64 as part of my purge of belongings before leaving the country for years of nomadic wandering and writing about nomadic wandering. There were two reasons why I hadn’t purchased a new video game system since resettling in Minneapolis in 2007: 1) It got me all worked up before bedtime and 2) I thought I would become worryingly addicted.

Well, I was right on both accounts. But it makes no difference (for now), because I’m one of the tens of millions of people who have found themselves jobless and only one step above house arrest during this shitty precursor to the End Times, so if I stay up playing video games till 2 a.m., so what?

Fortnite has many layers

The first game I started playing, and still the only game I play, is Fortnite. For the uninitiated, Fortnite is a first-person shooter game set on an a Hunger Games-type island, in a similar Battle Royale configuration, each round starting with 100 players and ending with one victor.

The playing field is laden with weapons, ammo, gear, med kits, shield potions, treasure chests with yet more of the aforementioned, speed boats, helicopters (though, oddly, as of yet no drive-able cars) and a handful of heavily defended vaults.

If you can dispense with the henchmen guarding a vault, including the extremely difficult-to-perish “boss” who holds the vault key, and kill, or at least not be killed by, the 10 or 15 other players who are also trying to get in that vault, the loot reward will set you up nicely to annihilate everyone you encounter for the remainder of the game. But even then there’s no guarantee you’ll make it to the top 10.

The electrifying chaos of the game means that with the right weapon and a fortuitous opportunity, even rank amateurs can take out top players with, say, a sniper rifle at 200 yards or a well-thrown grenade into an already occupied vault, without having to survive a head-to-head confrontation that you’re sure to lose.

What makes Fortnite unique among first-person shooter games?

Sounds like other first-person shooter games, right? What makes Fortnite unique is that players can “build.” Once you’ve collected building materials, A.K.A. “mats,” which come in increasingly sturdy wood, brick and steel, you can use them in numerous ways to build yourself an advantage or, even better, build your way out of trouble.

In their simplest form, mats can be used to build walls around yourself when you’re under a hail of bullets and you need protection for long enough to figure out where the attack is coming from and launch a counter-attack. After a particularly bad altercation, when you’ve taken lots of health damage, you can use mats to “turtle” yourself for as long as it takes to administer med kits and/or shield potions to return to maximum health.

You can also use mats to create high ground if you’re on a flat piece of terrain or your attacker is up on a hill or rooftop. Building a series of connecting ramps can quickly get you to a rooftop, hilltop or just on top of another player for the all-important high ground advantage.

“Build-offs” are not uncommon among top-tier players, especially near the end of a Battle Royale when each player is simultaneously trying to get high ground on one another or intimidate the other person into doing something desperate and stupid. A blinding flurry of walls being erected, destroyed and re-erected is not uncommon while opponents try to get a shot off on one another or do some emergency healing.

Fortnite can also be played on a PC, which creates controversial advantages. First is the superior frame-rate processing, assuming you have the right equipment, which gives PC players a speed edge in virtually every scenario. A nimble keyboard right-left arrow flick to perform a quick-peek shotgun blast from behind a wall simply cannot be replicated on a console controller. In fact, if you’re on a console and facing off with someone on a PC, you don’t even see their bodies when you’re the victim of this move, just a cloud of buckshot exploding in your face.

Additionally, aiming using a mouse is much faster and more accurate than a controller stick. Building is also vastly easier when one can dance their fingers over a keyboard to build themselves a five-story, brick tower for protection and a shooting advantage in two seconds. Only a true master on the controller can keep up with that building pace, using a dizzying combination of moves and buttons to accomplish the same thing.

It gets emotional

In only a matter of weeks, I developed opinions about the game. Passionate ones. Namely the issue of “aim assist,” which is only available on Xbox and Playstation.

Aim assist drives PC players insane with simultaneous envy and contempt. Despite their overwhelming advantages in every other aspect of the game, PC players are in the habit of blaming their defeats on the other player’s aim assist.

In truth, aim assist is virtually a myth. The issue, I believe, that drives PC players into foaming tirades after a nice one-shot kill is the conspicuous zero to 100 percent aim assist setting available in console game systems. But in actual practice, my experience has been aim assist ranges from barely perceptible to nonexistent, even when you have it maxed out.

In all my time playing, I can only remember a handful of times that aim assist noticeably helped me zero in on a target. Meanwhile, the PC players can pick you off while executing an impossible running leap off a building, sailing over your head with their precision mouse aiming.

I guess what I’m saying is PC players are whiny bitches and I welcome their vitriol, making me infamous and hopefully earning me recognition and profitable sponsorships for being the trash-talking, unorthodox villain.

It gets very emotional

I play Fortnite every day, usually for a minimum of two hours. In the early days, I played upwards of six hours on a few occasions. When I’m not playing, I’m Googling and watching videos to find answers about game play, learning details about a new weapon that’s appeared, or just honing specific skill sets.

I routinely yell at my TV when something unexpected happens or I stumble onto one of the 17 new bugs that are seemingly introduced into the game each week. When someone shoots me in the back while hiding in some bushes, I go on unflattering cursing jags loud enough to wilt flowers outside. These rages are even less flattering when you consider that, for all I know, I may be cursing out an 8-year-old girl in New Jersey. Don’t worry, they can’t hear me.

Almost every time Fortnite releases an update, they “nerf” (fuck up) some aspect of the game, requiring everyone to re-calibrate their controller settings and strategies to something that’s almost, but not quite as good as before the update. I wait impatiently for the super nerds to post deep dive analysis videos after every update, so I can adjust my game-play as well.

After each update, there’s also a brief round of reaction videos showing Fortnite YouTubers losing their goddamn minds over all the additions and changes, which I find highly entertaining, but not as entertaining as watching all the concurrent “Fortnite has been ruined forever!” videos from those who loathe change. I’ve seen people less upset after hearing they need invasive surgery on their genitals.

Is Epic Games fucking with Fortnite players?

That said, based on how they handle things, a casual observer might be inclined to agree that Epic Games, the creator of Fortnite, intentionally or not, is definitely fucking with the players.

For example, simply starting the game takes about five minutes, which seems unnecessary, considering it’s 2020, my Xbox One runs on a 1.75 GHz processor and I can Skype people in Afghanistan in less time.

After you power up your Xbox, which I’m not counting in the start-up clock, you select Fortnite from your home screen. This brings you to a second screen that asks, again, if you want to start Fortnite, in case you changed your mind during the 60 seconds it took to get to that screen. Then you arrive at a screen asking what kind of Fortnite you want to start; “Save the World,” “Creative,” or what 95% of the people are there to play, “Battle Royal.” For reasons that only a geek or a sadist would understand, this button usually needs to be hit twice to advance.

Finally, Fortnite has loaded, but not so fast! You don’t get to play yet, you friendless virgin! First, you have to suffer thorough the “News” screen, which is, more often than not, just an up-sell opportunity for new skins (player appearances), outfits and other crap in the heavily-featured Fortnite store. After you exit that, you are again asked if you want to start the game, in case the pot roast you put in the oven at the beginning of this absurd exercise has finished cooking.

You’re then taken to a “lobby” where they assemble 100 players before each Battle Royale. Often, despite there being 100 players twiddling their thumbs, the game does not start. Sometimes the game doesn’t start for so long that players start leaving, because they have finished high school since they switched on the Xbox, when they were but sophomores, and have to start packing for college. And so you wait even longer for 100 players to assemble again.

Finally, the Battle Royale has begun! But you’re still not playing yet. You see, before you are allowed to start shooting and blowing up what are probably children in Ohio with rapidly developing PTSD, you soar over the island in a flying bus (don’t ask) and leap out when you’re near the point where you’d like to start fighting, after free-falling and then slowly gliding to your intended landing spot.

Once you hit the ground, THEN you can start playing. All told, getting to this point takes about five agonizing minutes, so perhaps you can empathize when I try to shove the entire controller in my mouth after I’m picked off in the first minute and am once again waiting for the next round to begin.

There’s a lot of time waiting to play or watching others play

Did I mention that starting a new round of Battle Royale after dying takes anywhere from 2½ to 3½ more insufferable minutes? Three minutes may not seem like much time in the grand scheme of things, but after you’ve been killed in the first 60 seconds of several consecutive games, that three minutes is more than enough time to erupt in a veritable tornado of fury around your condo. Needless to say, this hectic downtime, frequently spent punching furniture and shouting at disembodied Epic coders about how much you hate this fucking game, does not improve your playing finesse once you finally hit the ground again.

As if marinating in limbo for three minutes for every one minute of game-play weren’t bad enough, Fortnite has a delightful feature that leaves you spectating the person that killed you for anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds after you’ve been croaked, during which time that player, if they are especially immature or sadistic, can “emote,” knowing that you can still see him or her. Emoting can range from knee-slapping donkey laughs, to victory gestures or just dancing on the pile of scattered gear that was once your player, before collecting all your loot and running off to kill someone else.

Let me set the scene for you. You’ve just been shot from behind 12 seconds into a game by some little turd who came out of nowhere, somehow already brandishing a gun even though you’ve both only just hit the ground. Knowing from experience there aren’t any motherfucking weapons where they came from adds a hair-yanking layer of incredulity to this injustice.

After the eternal wait just to start playing, then to die in seconds, if you’re human, you’re probably shout-cursing about WTF just happened and while this is going on, this fucking guy, again, probably a preteen in their parents’ basement, taunts you to add insult to injury. I think this explains why game controllers have a half-life of three months. They can survive being spiked into the carpet or smashed against one’s forehead only so many times.

In some instances of poetic insta-karma, the player that killed you will immediately be killed themselves by a third party. When this occurs while they’re in mid-celebration over your death, it’s [chef’s kiss].

As upset as I get, at least I hold it together better than these guys.

Maximizing Fortnite game-play

Even though I only play solo, versus duos and squads, I have in a sense joined the Fortnite social community. Since none of the bazillion Fortnite YouTubers had the actual first-timer information I desperately needed when I started, despite deceptive claims in their video titles, I created my own damn YouTube channel, breaking down all the components of the game to help people get through their first few days.

Though my dedication to Fortnite greatness is middling at best, I’ve gone out of my way to maximize my fighting experience which is, no denying it, ridiculous. I started out playing while luxuriating on my couch, back when I was less emotionally invested and swear-y. Now, I position my desk chair barely five feet from my 70-inch, 4K television, so my field of vision is completely filled with Fortnite.

I play using headphones, mainly because I want to hear every click of a gun-reloading and telltale footsteps of an approaching player, as these noises play an extremely important role in situational awareness. (Except, of course, when that fucker is sitting perfectly still in a bush for a full minute, waiting for me to turn my back to them.) I also wear headphones so my neighbors aren’t disturbed/concerned by the deafening gun-play and explosions coming out of my TV speakers and sub-woofer.

I had to rearrange my condo’s internet set-up for Fortnite. My wi-fi (95 Mbps down, 6 Mbps up) wasn’t fast enough to keep up with the game. I had to remove the face plate on the only active cable port, located in my bedroom, feed the cable back through the wall into the living room, so I could plug an ethernet cable directly into the Xbox.

The up-sell is relentless and expensive

Despite being free to download, playing Fortnite is not free. The tip of this up-sell iceberg is the subscription to Xbox Live ($59.99 per year). No idea if Epic gets a cut of that or not, but it’s nonetheless required just to get past the game’s log-in screen.

Then, if you want to take part in anything other than the Battle Royale and a few other free game options, you need to buy a Battle Pass ($9.50). Each time Fortnite releases a new version, or “season” as they refer to them, that’s another $9.50.

Oh, but there’s more! The Fortnite store runs on V-Bucks, the deceptively innocuous currency one uses to purchase Battle Passes, new outfits, paraphernalia and so forth. The current V-Buck exchange rate is US$100 for 10,000 V-Bucks. That sounds like a lot of V-Bucks, but after two or three new outfits, the latest skins and entry into a tournament or two, one’s V-Bucks account needs replenishing. For most players, this means pestering their long-suffering parents.

I haven’t taken the bait for any of these wallet drainers, beyond the requisite Xbox Live pass, but with the constant updates and start-up screens showcasing the latest additions to their store, kids are becoming famous for burning through thousands of dollars in the Fortnite store, which apparently does not require parental approval once a credit card has been entered.

Why do I keep play a game that I seem to despise?

When I’m not Hulking out over some defeat that was out of my control, this game is undeniably exhilarating. More importantly, it makes time fly by, which was why I got the Xbox in the first place.

The satisfaction of eliminating another player is equal to the rage of being eliminated. Battling your way into a vault and bolting with all manner of advanced weaponry is a singular thrill akin to, I imagine, escaping from prison.

And, despite my teasing earlier, all the updates, changes and addition are indeed exciting. Fortnite strategy is multifaceted and fast-paced, so staying alive while keeping tabs on weapons, ammo, your shields, remaining players and (I forgot to mention) the infernal, health-draining storm that continually closes in on an ever-narrowing circle of safety utilizes the full might of my juggling multitasking skills.

Also, between you and me, I just really needed to shoot something.