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Fortnite: Victory Social(e)

The viral video game dominates college culture



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Fortnite was released in 2017. It is a co-op sandbox survival game developed by Epic Games and People Can Fly and published by Epic Games. Photo illustration by Ty Vinson Buy Photos

Fingers on the Xbox One controller, IU freshman Andrew Gleissner directed his character to kill his final two opponents.

Two of his friends watched behind him. Two more, down the hall, chimed in on headsets. Another friend 301 miles away at Ohio University sucked in his breath.

Gleissner launched the RPG, and the words “Victory Royale” flashed on screen.

“Holy shit, we just did that!” he heard his friends scream through their headsets. His friends watching him went crazy.

Gleissner just stared at the screen in awe. His team had achieved 24 kills.

In the gaming world, this is impressive. In the real world, this could be impressive in another way. Five people in different locations had shared that virtual experience.

This is how far-reaching and dominant the video game "Fortnite: Battle Royale" has become in college culture. With 3.4 million concurrent players, according to Newsweek, Fortnite has become so popular the cartoonish, third-person shooter game has quickly expanded to almost all gaming platforms since its July 2017 release.

The iOS app, released about a month ago, is free to download, and it garnered $1 million from in-app purchases within 72 hours of its release, according to mobile media marketing company Sensor Tower. 

The plot resembles Suzanne Collins’ series “Hunger Games.” The player is dropped onto an island from a flying school bus with 99 other online players. He or she must then scavenge for weapons and elixirs, build forts and hunt in order to be the last man standing, achieving “Victory Royale.”

You can play alone, in pairs—called duos—or in teams—called squads. Through Xbox Live and PlayStation Plus, you can connect with friends online.

Many college students log hours upon hours of gameplay. Online, it shapes the internet with “memes” and jokes. In the real world, Fortnite shapes social interactions. 

Thirteen credit hours at Fortnite University

Gleissner ends class at 12:05 p.m. Friday and usually spends the rest of the day—and sometimes the night—playing Fortnite. He said he averages 13 hours a week of playing time, mostly on weekends. Once, he played for eight consecutive hours.

Since downloading the game Dec. 26, Gleissner has played more than 1,000 matches and logged more than 2,000 kills. He has won 34 times, and once won five times in a day.

Freshman Nick Schiele sees similar numbers. As an accounting major enrolled in 13.5 credit hours, he spends up to 13 hours a week playing Fortnite. 

Both Gleissner and Schiele say they will adjust their playing around exams, so it doesn’t interfere with school. Gleissner, however, said he will sometimes log on to YouTube if his class isn't doing anything.

“I’ve watched videos of streams in class,” Gleissner said.

One big inside joke

Outside of actual game play, Fornite also makes itself present online.

Fortnite memes have infiltrated the internet, especially in outlets aimed at college-aged kids such as the media outlet Barstool Sports. The media company’s niche gaming offshoot, Barstool Gametime, has 274,000 followers on Instagram. About one in three of this account’s posts feature Fortnite in some way. 

Schiele follows Barstool Sports on Instagram and said one of his new favorite memes was posted to Barstool April 5. It features a character in the game coming across the “yodeling boy” from a recent viral video. 

Another popular meme features girlfriends complaining about their boyfriends’ obsession with the game to the extent that the boyfriends no longer give them attention. This one is Gleissner’s favorite.

Freshman Brigette Frazee doesn’t play the game. But on IU gaming forums, YouTube and Twitter, she sees Fortnite memes and finds one funny.

In the game, players can hide from attackers inside bushes. It has turned into a meme, where people can survive for most of the game just sitting in a bush. 

“It’s creative on the game designer’s part,” Frazee said.

“I’m the Fortnite guy.”

Sophomore Harrison Wesner logs less than three hours each week. When he does play, however, he plays online with friends because it helps him spend time with them.

Schiele also plays with friends separated by distance. He likes to play online, often with his high school friends. It has helped the group reconnect.

“First semester I didn’t play, and we would just Snapchat,” Schiele said. “But we didn’t talk too much.”

While playing, he says the group will catch up on each other’s lives.

When it comes to weekends, Schiele said he doesn’t typically miss plans to play Fortnite. He will go out with his friends, but if the group gets bored, Fortnite comes into the picture.

“There are times I’ll be out with my friends and nothing is really happening,” Schiele said. “When that happens, we’ll just go home to play Fortnite.”

On his floor and among his friends, Gleissner is known for playing Fortnite. 

When he began playing, he would send Snapchats to his floor when he won or did something cool. Because of the interest he received from these Snapchats, he has since hooked up his Xbox One to the lounge’s 96-inch TV.

People come in and out of the lounge to watch him play.

“Me playing and others watching has become a weekend plan,” Gleissner said.

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