Battle Royale Rumble
I approached the stone supply shed with caution. My first experience with Fortnite Battle Royale was going well. I picked up a pistol where I originally landed and was able to get the better of two players who were assuredly more experienced than I. There was only one thing that gave me the advantage. I had a gun. They didn't.
Now, standing in this stone shack, the names are scrolling at the bottom left of my screen, player after player being taken out in some distant part of the map, far away from the sanctity of my shack. In the middle of the floor is a pump action shotgun. I load up, feeling slightly more equipped for this entire experience when I hear them. Footsteps. They sound cautious at first, the sound of someone who understands the potential danger of what might reside within the shack. I had read enough articles and watched enough videos of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds to know that I closed the door when I entered the shack, hopefully lulling my opponent into a false sense of security.
The footsteps get closer. I can hear the player circling the shack, assessing whether or not someone, I, was inside. They approached the door. I am surprised to find that I am literally holding my breath in anticipation of the encounter. My right palm is slightly sweaty but I don't dare to wipe it off on my jeans out of fear that I might miss the critical moment. Then, it happens. The door flies open and I discharge my shotgun immediately, the recoil causing my character to take an inadvertent step backwards. The conflict has begun.
To my surprise, my shotgun blast flies into open space, hitting nothing but air as the scattershot barrels into the wide open. A painful silence begins but only lasts a second or two. My instincts kick in and I shut the door to plan my next move. The footsteps outside of the hut become more manic, seemingly moving back and forth in all directions at once. It is at this moment that I come to an unavoidable conclusion. I have no clue what I am doing. I've read very little about Fortnite before this experience and I only downloaded it because I heard it was fun and it was free. I had read somewhere that the major mechanic of the game involves building towers to defend against...something...I don't know. What I don know is that there are icons at the bottom right of my HUD that I have ZERO familiarity with. It looks like I might be able to build walls or some stairs if I have the resources...
I'm brought out of my mental tour of my toolset by the sound of hammering. I don't quite know what to make of it at first until I see the south facing wall of the hut. It appears to have spawned a health bar? "The wall has a health bar?," I say out loud to no one. Details start to flood my mind as I remember the first tool I had at the beginning of the match. I picked up the pistol so quickly that I forgot I even had it and had never experienced it. I equip it. Looks like a pickaxe, swings like a pickaxe, feels like a pickaxe. I swing it at the north facing wall out of curiosity. I see a green health bar appear on the wall and it is diminished by a sliver. Ok, cool, I can destroy walls.
Oh, shit. They are about to break down the wall.
This realization happens in a flash and I see that the south wall has only a fraction of its health bar left. I jump into action. I run out of the front door at the moment the south wall crumbles. I barely see the intruder before I get outside, shots whizzing past my ears. I turn the corner around the hut to come face to face with my enemy. I fire two slugs out of my shotgun in quick succession before they can turn to face me. The shots find their mark in my enemy's torso. They drop. I have survived. My reward turns out to be a sniper rifle, an armor potion of some sort, and a few items I can't recognize. 32 players remain.
This five minute exchange during my first ever game of Fortnite Battle Royale awakens something in me. I am not a PC gamer, not from lack of interest, but because it costs a lot of money to start that hobby. Due to this lack of hardware, I have never played PUBG. I have, however, watched a lot of PUBG on Twitch. While I found the streams I watched entertaining, I never quite got what was captivating everyone. It didn't look that good. It didn't seem to control especially well. Why did everyone care so much?
It was in this moment, the sequence of events above, that I got it. When I was in that shack, I was terrified. I don't believe this to be an overstatement, equating my feelings during that exchange with those that I felt while playing games in the horror genre. The difference in this game though was my adversary. Unlike horror games, I could not predict the actions of my enemy. There was no pattern to memorize, no weak spots to exploit. It was just I and They, two sides of a coin. Now, I happened to win this exchange, and I went on to finish 4th overall, a feat that I have yet to replicate. Yet I find myself thinking about this game constantly, willing my work day to move quicker so I can jump back in. It has awoken a thrill for competitive gaming in me that I thought was long since dormant. It has also allowed me to feel like a part of the conversation that I have listened to for months about Battle Royale games. It truly felt like nothing else. The fact that one moment in this game has affected me so significantly makes me foam at the mouth for the launch of PUBG on Xbox One next month. I look forward to a winter of subjecting myself to such unique and wonderful terror.