A short history, first

It was Christmas, 1985, and all I wanted that year was an Atari. I was 9, and all my friends had one. I felt like it was my turn to soak in 4-bit greatness.

Instead, my mom and dad got me something called a Nintendo. “I read it’s the next big thing,” I remember my mom telling me. I feigned excitement. This “Nintendo” thing looked OK and all, but I knew what I wanted — an Atari and a stick-figure football game.

But I tried the Nintendo. It was an early model with the old Gyromite robot and a gun for a new game called Duck Hunt. About a week later, my mom took me to the store and I got another new game called Super Mario Bros.

I was hooked. For the next 20 years, video games were a big part of my life. Nintendo through Super Nintendo through Playstation through Playstation 4. I even walked on to a Madden tournament in Houston one year and won my way to the quarterfinals (before being skunked 21-0 by a foul-mouthed 14-year-old with his mom standing behind him).

That kid didn’t discourage me from video games. Having my own kids did, though. Babies and work and babies and work and babies and work pushed my little “side hobby” way to the side, and eventually my PS4 was nothing more than our Blu-Ray player. Until recently, when my 7- and 4-year-old boys began showing an interest in it (Lego games, mostly, but we’ve done some Star Wars Battlefront this year as well).

It might be a free outfit, but at least you can’t call me “default” anymore, punks.

And now, the story story

My daughter (8) and older son knew what Fortnite was, and neither had ever played. One swears that’s where “flossing” came from (it’s not), and the other said his classmates played it.

The only thing I knew about the 1-year-old game developed by Cary-based Epic Games was that it existed, and people loved writing about it. Consider this from an article this week from Variety:

In June, Epic announced that 125 million people have installed “Fortnite” since its launch in 2017. Analysts say the game makes an estimated $300 million a month for Epic Games, though Epic declined to comment on revenue.

It’s a game for teens, mostly, but 20- and 30-somethings make up a huge chunk of their demographic as well. Men and women are playing the hell out it. Parents have begun hiring tutors to make their kids good at it.

I’d had enough. The former “gamer” in me (I use that term very, very loosely, as “gamers” today make a boatload of money and drink a boatload of Red Bull and Code Red, according to their sponsors) had to learn more. Then the cheap dad in me learned the genius behind Fortnite’s success.

The game is free.

At least the Battle Royale part is — the 100-player last-man-standing game is free to download on PS4, Nintendo Switch, PCs, Mac, XBox, iPhone and so on. They make their money from the “skins” you buy (that’s clothes for people my age) and the other aesthetic touches you give your character. The other genius part is spending money doesn’t give you an advantage — though those of us who choose to use the default settings get mercilessly ridiculed online (more on that later) and you’re almost shamed into buying something.

The basic premise: 100 players jump from a flying bus onto an island and scatter to gather weapons and building materials in cities, rural areas, ghost towns, neighborhoods, shopping centers, gas stations, etc. Then you find each other and kill each other — all while a developing storm narrows the map as you play (standing in the storm kills you, so eventually if you’re in the top 2-8 players, you’re all confined to a small area and must kill to survive).

The winner wins. Then everybody plays again.

I didn’t know any of this when I downloaded the game and gave it a try. I didn’t know where to find weapons. I didn’t know I had to chop down trees and walls and fences so I could build my own forts and sniper stands and staircases. The men and women who are good at this game are frighteningly good.

I, however, suck. So bad.

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I’m a 42-year-old man, and I’ve played Fortnite for a week now. And usually only for a little while, after the kids are in bed and the wife has no interest in my company. 🙁

I’ve been killed many times. Often within the first minute of landing. I’ve also lasted to the Top 5 a few times — both on four-man teams and in solo play. I’ve only killed 8 people in that span … my propensity to last a while is mostly from clever hiding and sneak attacks and not from one-on-one battles.

I’ve played enough to earn a free “skin” … meaning those punks who were supposed to be my teammate one night who kept calling me “default” can go eat a bag. I’ve also learned to build a little, and I was far too excited to actually win a one-on-one battle recently.

Which leads me to the point of this article 

I’ll be darned if Fortnite isn’t a pretty great little game. I get why it scares parents — not the violence or the idiots who call you ugly names or even worse, “noob,” while you run around in circles looking for guns. It’s the addictiveness of it. It’s the world building. It’s the sleak game play and smooth graphics. It’s the little Easter eggs hidden throughout. It’s the fact anybody can play this without having to throw down $60 and that we adults who make actual money and decide not to spend it on frivolous outfits have the same chance as the kids who spend mom and dad’s hard-earned dough on lessons and shark outfits.

I’m not going to become a pro at it. And who knows how long I’ll keep going. But this past week has made me appreciate the hype. It’s also convinced me that I can have as much fun playing games today as I did on the little 8-bit Nintendo 30 years ago.

I’ve even introduced it to the kids — only the “playground” area where people aren’t trying to sniper them from all angles. I’m sure some of you parents are groaning now and wondering what I’m thinking … but the way I see it, my kids are going to learn about this game anyway. Everybody talks about it. They’re going to play it somehow anyway, at a friend’s house during a sleepover or on a 7-year-old’s phone at school (sigh). So why not introduce it to them as a parent? Play it with them. Spend quality time with them. Let them laugh at me when I slip down a mountain accidentally and “off myself” within 30 seconds of landing.

Of course, the mere existence of this blog post will lead to the game being instantly unpopular in no time. Then I’ll go back to letting pre-teens drill me in Madden.