Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Playing Fortnite as a Pacifist

As both a pastor and a lifelong gamer, I often dip my toes into the game du jour.

I played Candy Crush.  Once.'t my thing.  I played Pokemon Go, for about an hour.  Cute and good exercise, but again, not really my thing.

And The Game right now?  It's Fortnite Battle Royale, a wild free-for-all third person shooter/building game.  One hundred players start it, parachuting onto an island from a "battle bus."  There, players spend their time collecting weapons and equipment and resources to build forts, as a lethal energy storm slowly closes in and the play area gets smaller and smaller.

The goal: survive as long as you can.  Top 25 is great.  Top ten is better.  And being number one, the last player standing?  That takes some skill.

I wasn't sure how much I'd enjoy the game.  But my son downloaded it to our PS4, and so I gave it a go.

I was terrible.  I am terrible at the game as it is meant to be played.  I can't hit the side of a barn.  I can't build.

Yet most of the time, I'm top ten out of a hundred.  Sometimes, top two or three.  How?  Because I've found it's highly entertaining to play as a pacifist. 

In a game defined by gathering weapons and aggressively harvesting resources and building, I don't do either.

I don't collect weapons.  Oh, maybe a pistol, because it's easier to be small if you're holding a pistol instead of a pickaxe.  But I don't use it for anything other than reducing my profile.  I pick up heals and shield potions as I can find them, and then...I sneak.  I hide.  I move from shadow to shadow, behind trees, under stairs, and in bushes.

I also don't build.  Because building calls attention to yourself, makes you a target, brings in the aggressive players, instigates conflict over resource.  Why bother?

I don't hurry out of the Battle Bus, plunging in a wild rush to the island to grab resources and fight for advantage.  I wait as late as possible, and then open my glider immediately.  Then I peacefully float above the island, as the fighting begins far below me and rages on.  I have no part of it.  By the time I land neatly in the center of the storm's first circle, nearly four minutes of game time have elapsed, and typically half of the players who started have already been eliminated.

Then I just move slowly and quietly, and find cover.  If I choose that cover well, I might not move for ten minutes.

In a round I played yesterday, I got to number two, tucking myself neatly into a crevice in his fort while the gamer who would ultimately win fired wildly at nothing for nearly five minutes, building and building and building as the storm closed in tight.  

Eventually, I walked out into the open, pickaxe in hand, and stood there until the player saw me and ended the game.  Good for you, buddy!

My son thinks playing this way is insane, and he's probably right.  Camping in a virtual bush for 15 minutes with no intention of winning is...odd.  But it changes the whole dynamic of Fortnite.

Early in the game, it's peculiarly calming.  Soaring down, gentle as a dandelion, selecting your landing place with care.  Then finding cover and sitting quiet and watching the storm billow and the simulated grasses rock in a softly blowing virtual breeze.  You just sit and chill.  Maybe read a blog post.  It's nice.

Midgame, as other players build and battle one another, it's fascinating to watch their frantic exchanges, and more situational awareness is required to move stealthily, seek optimal position, and choose cover good enough that another player can run right by you and not notice.

Endgame requires considerable focus and a sense of where the remaining players are, as you move from cover to cover inward, the storm tightening into a tiny ring.  It also means...when you're in the top five...that you get to watch some brilliant and subtle building skills, reminiscent of something out of Inception or Doctor Strange.  And playing hard-core anyone who's stealth-played Metal Gear games will attest...can be genuinely intense.

Do you win?  No.  It's possible, if the other player fell or got trapped in the storm.  I know it has happened, and have seen the videos from others who use the same playstyle.

But the goal of pacifist play is different.  Success is not "winning" at the expense of others.  Not zero sum.  But enjoying the game, as you wish to play it.  

And that such a strategy means  consistently making top decile doesn't hurt, either.

There's a lesson in there somewhere, I think.