This morning, Twitter was aflame. There were takes abound, goofs afoot. It was a bloodbath, and the target was a familiar one: it was the prestigious magazine The New Yorker.
Earlier today, The New Yorker published the article, "How Fortnite Captured Teens' Hearts and Mind" with the baffling dek, "The craze for the third-person shooter game has elements of Beatlemania, the opioid crisis, and eating Tide Pods." With that kind of nonsensical hook, you just know I had to read onward. And so did many others, apparently.
The story is a doozy, in a rough way of course (it includes a choice quote from a source that reads, "Think of Fortnite as a visual form of media," from a dude who apparently just discovered the Webster Dictionary definition of "video" in "video game"). It equates Fortnite to all sorts of things that are also "popular," but have literally nothing in common with. The game is labeled as a PG-rated apocalypse, even though its real-world inspired guns are the same you might see in a Call of Duty game. It's like comparing Dark Souls to anything the slightest bit difficult, or likening fettucine to udon. All the comparisons drawn just don't go together.
This isn't to dismiss the breadth of excellent work The New Yorker publishes on a regular basis, but it's still the latest in bizarre articles from major general publications positioning video games as some weird phenomenon that no one else knows about. Video games are a $36 billion industry, according to the ESA. If your friends aren't playing Fortnite, they're probably playing something else. Video games aren't some niche hobby anymore, and they haven't been for a long time.
There are plenty of writers in the journalism space that can deftly cover video games for a general audience; writers who can make a topic a reader may be unfamiliar with exciting and engaging. Take, for example, writer Simon Parkin's excellent and accessible work on games for The Atlantic and The New Yorker, or any of the Rolling Stone's stellar published profiles on professional esports players. Yet, mainstream media continues to peddle out embarrassing "guess what, video games are popular!" articles in their stead.
Anyways. Listen up I guess, because here's seven other things that are similar to Fortnite if you're standing from 100 miles away, squinting as the sun shines straight into your eyes, with zero knowledge of what video games are. Munching on Tide Pods was just the beginning.
There's nothing more counterculture than being one of the biggest games in the world right now, at least in the Western Hemisphere. When I say "punk rock" in this context, I mean mall punk. The vintage-looking Dookie t-shirts at Hot Topic. The Gorilla Biscuits hoodie, if you want to go for a deeper cut. The spiked choker and cherry red Dr. Martens-clad crowd. Fortnite isn't really punk rock—unless you count that pink-haired limited skin—but it might as well be to a publication comparing a video game to The Beatles.
Coincidentally (or not), The New Yorker recently published an excellent inside look at vaping's popularity among teens and young adults, and more specifically the vape pen brand Juul—originally intended for recovering smokers. Fortnite, like Juul, is the sort of battle royale game for those abandoned by PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds. Those without the $29.99 fee to pony up for access, those without the skills of stealth. Fortnite, in a way, can be argued as the safer alternative. The skill ceiling is only really high when players are at the end game; the game's free-to-play and it's available on basically every platform. For people wanting to test the waters of the battle royale genre, but don't want to necessarily commit to all its hazards, Fortnite's the perfect fit. The only problem is that it got bigger than Epic Games could have ever imagined. Just like vaping.
That Time U2 Gave Every Apple User Their Album For Free
U2's had some hits. 1987's The Joshua Tree is arguably one of the greatest rock albums of all-time, like it or not. (At the very least, it was highly influential and you know every song on it verbatim just because that's how life is.) In 2014, U2 released their long anticipated album Songs of Innocence. It was officially unveiled at an Apple keynote, and shoved onto users' Apple devices in unison at no extra cost. The problem was: nobody wanted it. Apple had to even dedicate a webpage to assist users in easily removing the unwanted album from their libraries.
Fortnite, to people who don't play video games usually, can be seen as a similar nuisance. It's infesting classrooms, thanks to its recent mobile release. It's what your kids are up to late at night behind the dim glow of their laptops. It's what your colleagues are probably talking about at the water cooler. For those who don't play Fortnite, the all-surrounding talk of the game feels like an exclusive club you're not allowed into. It's an annoying thing, pestering your everyday life. It's like U2 dropping an album in your library that you don't care about, sandwiched in between Tyler, The Creator and Uffie.
The writer sits staring at his screen, stumped as to what will complete his trifecta—or triforce, haha get it—of off-base comparisons to Epic Games' runaway hit. His eyes scan the room, hungry for a lead. He knows he can do this. He played Asteroids about 100 years ago. He played Pac-Man while drunk off IPAs at a bar once. His eyes catch something dusty in the corner, something left unused for years and years and years: a Wii Fit Pad. Aha, the writer thinks. Mario! Fortnite's the biggest craze since Mario. Next comparison.
The Opioid Crisis
Wait the article already does this? Never mind. Moving on.
There is nothing old people understand less than Vines and memes. Vine was a social media platform for six-second videos that sadly shuttered back in 2017, with nothing more than a final gust of wind from the boy who kicked too much. Vine captured a lightning in a bottle moment for youth: it was an accessible platform that found itself tailored for impromptu comedy. It made stars of nobodies. It made comedy out of everything. It found beauty in simplicity.
Vines, just as with Fortnite, were curiously popular during their peak, and yet, adults couldn't grasp its greatness. It's like Snapchat—the social media platform that feels like it has a maximum age requirement for users. For the adults who try oh-so hard to understand the young'uns, Fortnite is just another exercise in that. Some will never understand. Some will try to. Some truly will.
I'm always fishing for a reason to talk about K-Pop, and this is it. The writers at The New Yorker should be on the hunt too. Korean pop music, like Fortnite, is extraordinarily popular, but the average middle-aged white man would not like to admit it. Recently BTS, one of the biggest K-Pop groups in the world right now, sold out three nights at Los Angeles' Staple Center and had to add a fourth night. Later this year, K-Con New York will be headlined by girl supergroup Red Velvet. K-Pop is undeniably massive, so much so that Western producers and songwriters like The Chainsmokers are even helping create songs overseas.
It can probably be argued that Fortnite finds itself in a similar category. People who don't play it don't like to admit its foothold on the gaming zeitgeist—hell, I'm even guilty of it, even the New Yorker article mentions it. But when my little cousins who don't really even play video games cop to enjoying it, it's obvious there's something afoot. There's no core mystery to the phenomenon. It's just free and easily playable, and thus, that's how Fortnite has captured teenagers' "hearts and minds." It has nothing in common with the opioid crisis or any other inexplicably "popular" thing. It's just following in the footsteps of all fads. One day it'll fade, or it won't. So it goes.