Probably goes without saying, but my 12-year-old son likes the video game Fortnite. He introduced me to it…and I got hooked.

But I’m not necessarily hooked in the same way that everybody under the age of 30 is hooked. Don’t get me wrong, I really like playing it. The problem for me is that I don’t have nearly enough time to play to get good, and I’d also be pretty embarrassed as an adult and a parent if I were good. (Embarrassed…but psyched out of my mind.) What I am hooked on is the pliability and possibilities of Fortnite. To me, the essence of the game and its insane popularity can be attributed to one incredibly strategic facet of creative: TONE.

You can look at Fortnite through many lenses:

·      It’s a lethal, oddly post-apocalyptic game where you loot a landscape of different types of places and structures to find weaponry and resources that you use to kill other players.

·      It’s an architectural problem-solving game where you adeptly (or ineptly) build extremely simple or incredibly complex forts to protect yourself or give yourself an advantage over other players.

·      It’s a quirky, individually tailored game where you outfit yourself with different skins based on mood, aesthetic sensibilities, randomness, or even intent.

·      It’s an expressive, fun-loving game where you emote and dance in front of or with other players in genre-spanning styles…and then you likely do those dances in real life as well.

This bullet list could mercilessly continue in describing the game in endless ways, but the point is that all of these lenses through which to view the game are based on tonal flexibility. That flexibility gives the game’s designers the ability to make really interesting choices, and also to update the game seemingly seamlessly when things work really well or don’t work at all.

In a single game, a player could transition from a super-intense gunfight to a virtual dance-off to a wild ride down a mountain in a shopping cart to opening a rainbow-colored, piñata-inspired llama to hang-gliding into a giant “divot” left by a comet’s impact on a deserted island. (Btw, the comet’s impending impact was tracked by a countdown clock that may have been followed by more people than followed the latest World Cup.)

Anyway, the decision(s) by Epic Games to deliver such a distinct tone gave them carte blanche to do whatever the fuck they want to do. When you’re creating something and you face the question, “How are we going to do that?,” the tone of your project can be a door-opener or a door-slammer. The tone of Fortnite is a door-destroyer.

No matter how annoying you think it is or how much you might think video games are ruining kids’ brains, you can’t deny what a global phenomenon Fortnite has become. To not at least have an understanding of how and why this has happened seems at best curmudgeonly and at worst irresponsible. I would suggest you play it. (Plus, it’s fun.)

Jed Jecelin