On a weekend where Super Bowl ratings hit a 10-year low, the game Fortnite was charging into the history books with the world's first live, digital concert which saw 10 million concurrent gamers drop in to see the show.
The headliner was Marshmello, a DJ and electronic music producer known for wearing a bulbous, marshmallow-like mask, who made video game history on Saturday with an in-game Fortnite Battle Royale concert that hosted 5% of the Epic games 200 million registered gamers. To put this into perspective, let's consider that, of the 15 million people in New England, half are Patriots fans—for a live event at Gillette Stadium, which holds 66 thousand, less than a single percent of fans would be in attendance. Consider too, that even the largest concert venues in the nation hold little more than 100,000 people. Not only was this a massive win for the artist Marshmello, but for young gamers in general, who are beginning to see themselves as members of a vast social network rather than simply button-mashers and head-shooters.
The entire set was 11 minutes in total, and was attended by celebrities, athletes, and tons of teens
While live-streaming concerts are nothing new to the music industry, this fully digital event, which featured a guest appearance from Logic, is the first of its kind to be featured in a video game. And that game was not FIFA, Madden, or Call of Duty, but indeed Fortnite, the revolutionary, free-to-play platform which has struck a particular chord with teens.
Concerns over kids slamming doors, breaking their consoles and arms while pulling dance-moves, or becoming inculcated in their increasingly longer play sessions have all been well-documented. Not to mention the game's most popular feature is Battle Royale, in which 100 players drop into one giant map featuring a battle bus, buildable and destructible environments, and intense PvP combat where the last one standing wins. But the "violence" is blood-free and often comical—players are not killed, they are "knocked down," sometimes by avatars dressed as unicorns, volleyball players, or giant fish. And while the game celebrates the victor of each Battle Royale, new games begin in a loading zone where players can show off their emotes, chop each other without dealing damage, or jump around frivolously. It is a metaphor for what the game really is—a fantasy realm where players laugh and yell into their headsets, bust dance moves, and build forts and community together.
Fish Stick is one of the many gender-neutral skins players are randomly assigned each game
And the live-event model presents something even more innocuous—a damage-free, light-filled environment where players jump into a new skin and dance, stand, or clap about. In fact, at the peak of the Marshmello show during the song "Alone," the gravity settings were turned off, allowing players to float above the stage. The hit song, accompanied by lyrics angsty teens are too familiar with, "I'm so alone/ Nothing feels like home/ I'm so alone/ Trying to find my way back home to you," seems to me a microcosm for this moment in history as we all look to various outlets for connection and escape. In Fortnite, the inherent messaging to this new generation is positive without being hokey, a festival of light in dark times.
Just as previous generations have been defined by automobiles, war, the rise of the internet, recession, and smartphones, it is entirely possible that Fortnite is forging a path forward for the next one. So, while those of us who grew up on Grand Theft Auto and first-person shooters may turn a bewildered, if not cynical eye at the Fortnite fanfare, perhaps we can take a closer look the next time we see kids laughing into their headsets across the world.