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What the Hell are My Kids Playing?

By Daniel Shaw:

The world of gaming certainly has come a long way, hasn’t it? While some have stuck with it since the beginning, others decided at some point or another that they were done with this ride. And since getting off that game train, these folks have found themselves passed by in the gamer’s world. Many parents, grandparents, and aunts & uncles can’t help but look in wonder whenever they take a peek at what has today’s kids’ attention. Perhaps it’s something in the art style, or the way the characters interact with one another. Maybe the game utilizes lexicon that was never adopted by the old guard: i.e. abbreviating nearly all of the English language. Something about certain games simply makes them nonsensical to a layperson. It really isn’t too hard to imagine people’s confusion, or to sympathize with their issues, since games today have taken huge leaps in terms of graphics and production. However there are some that have garnered a truly perplexing amount of fandom loyalty from gamers of all ages. Whether they be mobile, PC, or console-based, some games simply make us scratch our heads and ask: “what the hell is this?”

Being a child of the 90’s, I was witness to some aspects of pop culture that, while now mainstream, are somehow no less esoteric. Few things can boast the same kind of cultural longevity as Japan’s gift (or curse) to America: Pokémon. I easily recall receiving a VHS tape from gaming publication Nintendo Power. The live-action half-hour skit introduced the concept of one hundred and fifty-one species of Pokémon, and how we humans would interact with them. The world was vividly colored and the mythology engrossing enough. In this fantasy realm, the world we live in is also inhabited by a widely diverse variety of creatures with magical powers. Trainers would obtain various Pokémon throughout their travels and “train” them to duel another’s Pokémon. Leave it to a well-constructed anime to distract us kids from the fact that these characters were abducting wild animals from their natural habitats and forcing them into legalized dog fights. I guess even the prolific local TV station “4Kids” couldn’t dub over subtext.

Like Dragon Ball Z, this show is still going to this day as well as continuing the game series that started it all. The story was divided into two games, which were sold separately: Pokémon Red & Blue, later to be joined by Yellow. First arriving on the original Game Boy, Pokémon completely blew up the market. Many stores saw their entire inventory sold out over a single weekend. The success of Red and Blue even inspired the creation of a strategy-based tabletop card game. The card game became just as popular, of course, and the collectable possibilities that it offered made it a no-brainer (some of the rarer cards command absurd prices on eBay). With the video games, the card game, and multiple spinoffs of the TV show still running, you might think the concept would be easily grasped by even an outsider.

You would be wrong.

I am speaking generally, not assuming that every non-fan is completely clueless about this IP. However, generally speaking, outsiders really don’t know what to make of it. Even my own parents found themselves scratching their heads as they watched me play the game or give a few hours to the show. One might even begin to suspect the property’s creators seek to alienate kids from their elders in some way. But really it comes down to how kids’ interests evolve, and Pokémon has certainly maintained itself with the changing times; albeit sometimes hit and miss. The recent mobile game Pokémon GO sought to encourage people to leave the house by having them track down virtual Pokémon in real-world locations. This, unfortunately, had the surprisingly unforeseen side effect of people walking out into the road with their eyes glued to their phone: miss. Deadpool superstar Ryan Reynolds is set to voice Pikachu in the property’s first live-action movie Detective Pikachu, very likely a hit.

At the end of the day, it’s just a fun little story about characters who, if real, would likely be hit with many counts of poaching and illegal animal trafficking. “But Daniel,” you may be asking, “that’s a long-established legacy title from yesteryear. What does that have to do with today?” I’m glad you asked, imaginary reader whose voice is in my head. Parents may have been baffled back in the day (as well as now) by Pokémon, but nothing compares to that which is mystifying parents, friends, and teachers the world over right now: enter Fortnite.

Everybody, yes EVERYBODY, is playing Fortnite. It has three game modes, board games, card games, action figures, vinyl pop figures, stuffed animals, car decals, Party City dishware, and Halloween costumes. And amid this level of cascading merchandising that would have Yogurt from Spaceballs blushing with envy, the one thought running through our minds is a single question: What the hell is Fortnite?! Once you cut through the jungle of extras, Fortnite, at its core, is actually pretty simple to understand.

As previously mentioned, there are currently three games to choose from. Fortnite: Save the World is a player-versus-environment shooter in which players construct bunkers from collected resources and defend these bunkers from waves of zombie hordes. Fortnite: Battle Royale, the most popular of the three, is exactly as the title suggests. Up to 100 players square off in one large arena in an “every man for himself” free for all. Players may also form duos or entire squads to compete alongside each other. Everyone enters the fray weaponless and must quickly scrounge for resources. This does well to add an interesting layer of strategy to what had become an admittedly formulaic style of gaming. The final title, Fortnite: Creative, is likely where I would be spending most of my time. Creative allows a player to take an essentially blank canvass and create their own unique environment for others to play in. Customizers can create islands, race courses, even whole arenas. These can then be added into Battle Royale for some truly memorable play-throughs. So if the game is so straight forward then why all of the confusion?

The thing that is strange to onlookers is just how absorbed many players seem to be in it. Their attention is entirely on playing the game, to the point where the outside world completely vanishes around them. This has become a concerning trend among not only parents, but also school teachers. Many of them have begun to notice their students ignoring lessons and/or neglecting their homework. I just graduated tech school a few months ago, and I can personally attest to this. Grown men sitting behind me played the game on their phones while our instructor was lecturing. It got so bad that eventually all our phones had to be surrendered on his desk before class started.

Therefore, the million dollar question is what is it about this game that keeps people so utterly enthralled to it? It could be the all-in-one nature of the three modes. Save the World could appeal to the horde-mode lover, someone who simply enjoys battling wave after wave of enemies. Battle Royale offers the tried and true arena setting to those who seek squad teamwork or free-for-alls. And Creative is definitely geared toward players who enjoy world building and letting their imagination run wild. It’s a pretty clever setup that has something for everyone; kind of like a well-stocked buffet line. Whatever the reason for Fortnite’s strange ability to hold people’s attention, the answer may be the simplest one: it’s just really fun.

For many laypeople, the easiest and most expedient way of learning more about these properties is traditional research. Explanations and product history can be found through a Google search or by browsing YouTube videos. On the other hand, getting to know any particular IP can also be achieved by giving it a try. Pokémon and Fortnite are actually very comparable, as there are several ways to set foot into each of their respective worlds. Pokémon can be accessed through its many ongoing licenses, and Fortnite is just a download away for any Android or Apple device.

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