You know, normal video game stuff! Credit: Epic Games
Virtual offices. Floating, legless bodies. VR Mark Zuckerberg. I’ve been as skeptical of the metaverse as anyone, but Fortnite broke me from that disillusion. It showed me that not only is the metaverse already here, but it's already awesome — no matter what dystopia Zuckerberg tries to sell you.
I’m not sure what did it. Maybe it’s the part where Goku from Dragon Ball Z can hit the griddy. Or perhaps it was the time someone killed me while I was flailing around trying to figure out the shooting controls and then proceeded to spend several minutes taming a wild boar in a bioluminescent forest nearby. After that, my virtual assassin flew away using one of the machine sentinels from The Matrix as a handheld glider. It was a dizzying display of weird stuff coming together all at once that left my jaw on the floor as I watched it play out on my TV.
One thing is clear: Fortnite isn’t really a video game. It’s a crackin’ virtual hangout space with a video game happening around it and it’s more accessible than anything that requires a VR headset, like Meta's Horizon Worlds or VRChat. It's totally free and is available on every gaming device, and phone on the planet.
It’s like if Ready Player One was good
People seem to have forgotten that Fortnite was originally a game about building outposts to outlast hordes of monsters. Ever since it got a battle royale mode (where 100 players drop onto a map and fight until one is left) in 2017, the game's been a bit of an enigma to me. I blinked and, suddenly, this weird game that came out to little fanfare and got a trendy mode became massive less than a year later. I played it for a little while in 2018 because it was free and I had nothing better to do, but I merely thought it was a decent video game. I never thought it would become the internet's primary hangout destination.
And then it started. In 2018, developer Epic Games briefly added Marvel villain Thanos as a playable menace in Fortnite and the crossover barrage began. Over the last four years, like a snowball triggering an avalanche, friends of mine who I never thought would be Fortnite people became...Fortnite people, including our dear former Mashable gaming guru Adam Rosenberg. My social feeds eventually became full of frankly hilarious screenshots of Thanos dabbing and videos of things like a virtual avatar of wrestler and Hollywood muscleman John Cena riding the titular dragon from DBZ.
Once the avalanche fully consumed me and I reinstalled Fortnite to my PlayStation, I finally started to understand that whatever happens in the battle royale part of the experience doesn’t matter all that much. Sure, winning is great, but it’s secondary to seeing Goku, John Cena, Darth Vader, and Street Fighter's Ryu do two-year old TikTok dances either before or after a lightsaber duel.
You can just explore the expansive map (which features cities, islands, the aforementioned glowing forest, deserts, and more) and do quests to unlock more goofy skins and accessories. You can go "fishing." You can hop into a car with a working radio station and just joyride around the landscape, or do the same with a boat in any of the map’s huge lakes. It's not quite as social as something like VRChat; you can't just voice chat with anyone (only friends you've added to your party), meaning much of the socializing happens in the form of dancing. But, honestly, talking to strangers online can be a drag anyway, so I don't mind that so much.
Epic adds new elements to the map multiple times per year and updates the in-game store daily with new skins to buy with real money, which is the one part of Fortnite's wild metaverse I don't love. Having to spend a few bucks to be Goku was a bummer. There was even a Balenciaga high fashion collaboration with branded skins for sale. But Epic made $9 billion in revenue in just two years, so I can't blame the company for doing things this way. And the good news is that you can access every part of the map and participate in the actual game part of Fortnite for free, with no restrictions.
And that's not to mention the bonkers live concerts they've done with artists like Ariana Grande and Travis Scott. It all works because the ultimate objective is to have fun, regardless of what you choose to do. Nobody is pretending that Fortnite is going to revolutionize dating or exercise, or work meetings, like so many VR apps (both from Meta and otherwise) have promised to do in the past. Though, if someone did hold meetings in Fortnite, I’d be impressed.
It doesn’t matter that Fortnite doesn’t have the best shooting controls or whatever; there’s just no other game or app that offers this experience on every single gaming console or mobile device you could possibly own.
But Meta still wins in the end
Well, every device except for the one that Meta is banking on to spread the good word about its version of the metaverse. So far, Fortnite has invaded every gaming ecosystem except for VR, but rumor has it that could change soon.
A tweet from Fortnite leaker HYPEX said there was language in a recent update to the game that pointed to support for Meta Quest headsets sometime down the line. As much as I’d like to position Fortnite as a good version of the (perhaps unfairly) much-maligned Horizon Worlds app from Meta, it’d definitely be a coup if Fortnite got Quest support.
Even if I and others have complained about Mark Zuckerberg trying to force us to wear VR headsets for work, it’s a no-brainer to get Fortnite onto the Quest marketplace. Heck, it would probably even be fun to play, since Fortnite is a fun, goofy time no matter where you play it. Adding VR support for Fortnite would only cement it as the one, true metaverse.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go make Vegeta dab after crashing a speedboat into a fishing dock.