It’s the most popular battle royal game to date… at least, that’s what my friend told me when I asked him to explain Fortnite to me.

See, I’m in the camp of people who have a vague idea of what Fortnite is, thanks to borderline-addicted friends and the Internet, but have never played it – and have no real desire to. But it seems that I’m in the minority, because Fortnite is the best thing since Pokemon Go, taking schoolyards, computers, Xboxes and PlayStations by storm.

So, what is it? Fortnite is a ‘co-op sandbox survival game’ with two versions – the solo, ‘Save the World’ version and ‘Battle Royal’, which lets players team up with their friends and play other teams.

“Originally Fortnite was never meant to have a battle royal mode, but just before release they threw the mode together and released it for free,” my friend continues. That’s another reason why Fortnite is so popular – it’s free.

Clinical psychologist from Benchmark Psychology, Tania McMahon, says that like all video games, Fortnite has some seriously addictive features built right into its structure. Far less graphic and violent than most of the popular video games that have come before it, Fortnite is attracting a number of players from outside of the typical ‘gamer’ stereotype.

“People are simply trying it out because it seems fun – it’s casual and easy to pick up, so it appeals to non-experienced gamers and people who otherwise might not play video games all that much,” says Tania.

The biggest drawcard, Tania says, is the social aspect. Groups of friends organise to meet up in the game after school, for example, to battle against other team members, and there’s a strong element of bonding involved – missing out on a game means not you won’t be included in the lunchtime conversation at school the following day.

But what makes people continue to invest their time, and even money (through microtransactions, such as purchasing new ‘skins’ or dance moves), in Fortnite is the game’s design itself.

“The thing about Fortnite is that when you lose, it seems like you just lost by the skin of your teeth – as though it was a really near miss that could be avoided next time. But when you win, the victory feels massive and you feel so rewarded,” says Tania. “In reality, there isn’t a great deal of skill or expertise that’s involved in winning or losing in Fortnite. It’s kind of like a pokies machine in that way.”

Tania explains that Fortnite is designed so that every interaction and world is constantly changing – there’s an infinite novelty. Games like Fortnite activate the same part of your brain that drinking or doing drugs or smoking a cigarette will switch on, albeit to a much lesser extent, because the rewards just keep coming.

While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Tania explains that there are certain psychological impacts that can result from playing video games like Fortnite, and these impacts are particularly profound in children.

“Our brains, specifically our frontal lobe which controls executive functioning – forward thinking, impulse control and the consequences of our actions – don’t fully develop until we’re about 25, which is why you hear stories of children who are left to their own devices forgetting to do things like eat or shower because they’re so engrossed in their video game,” says Tania. “Games like Fortnite are designed to suck you in, and there are strong links between excess screen time and sleep issues, and then concentration, attention span, school performance in turn.”

But parents, there’s no need to freak out and throw the PlayStation out the window, because the golden rule – ‘everything in moderation’ – definitely applies to Fortnite. Tania says that parents should always be aware of the recommended timeframes for screen exposure, which can change over time as psychologists and other experts learn more.

“For kids five and over, it’s generally advised that they sit in front of a screen for no more than two hours a day, but this is pretty flexible,” says Tania. “Some experts say that as long as everything else is being done – school performance is consistent, behaviour stays the same and children are getting outside and socialising with their friends and family – whatever screen time can be fit in around that is generally okay.”

And as for the success Fortnite itself? The game has earned an estimated $126 million in revenue in February of this year alone, and players who livestream their sessions on the platform Twitch are making bank, too – Tyler ‘Ninja’ Blevins reportedly makes $500,000 a month from viewer donations. Not too shabby for a free game.

I might just have to pick up a controller (is that even what they’re called?) and give it a go myself.

Anastasia White

Anastasia White  

Anastasia (‘Anny’ to her friends and family, thanks to some nickname experimentation in year 4 that unfortunately stuck) is a born-and-bred Brisbanite with a love of coffee and her cat, Olive. Having recently finished a degree in journalism, Anastasia loves being able to learn and write about so many different topics for a variety of audiences.