Sorry, Zuk. ‘Fortnite’ has always been the ‘real’ metaverse.

Virtual offices. Floating, legless bodies. VR Mark Zuckerberg. I’ve been just as skeptical about the metaverse like everyone else but Fortnite broke me out of that disillusionment. It showed me that not only is the metaverse already there, but it’s already awesome – whatever dystopia Zuckerberg is trying to sell you.

I’m not sure what it did. Maybe it’s the part where Goku comes from Dragon Ball Z can hit the griddy. Or maybe it was the time someone killed me as I drifted around trying to figure out the shooting controls and then spent several minutes taming a wild boar in a bioluminescent forest nearby. Then my virtual assassin flew off with one of the machine sentries from The Matrix as a hand glider. It was a dizzying spectacle of strange things all coming together at once and leaving my jaw on the floor as I watched it play on my TV.

One thing is clear: Fortnite is not really a video game. It’s a great virtual meeting place where a video game takes place around it and it’s more accessible than anything that requires a VR headset like Meta’s Horizon Worlds or VRChat. It is completely free and available on every gaming device and phone in the world.

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It’s like Ready Player One was good

People seem to have forgotten that Fortnite was originally a game about build outposts to survive hordes of monsters. Ever since it got a Battle Royale mode (where 100 players fall on a map and fight until there’s one left) in 2017, the game has been a bit of a mystery to me. I blinked and suddenly this weird game that came out with little fanfare and got a trendy mode enormous less than a year later. I played it for a while in 2018 because it was free and I had nothing better to do, but I just thought it was a decent video game. I never thought it would become the internet’s premier hangout.

And then it started. In 2018, developer Epic Games briefly added Marvel villain Thanos as a playable threat in Fortnite and the crossing barrage began. In the past four years, like a snowball that caused an avalanche, friends of mine I never thought that would be Fortnite people became…Fortnite people, including our dear former Mashable gaming guru Adam Rosenberg. My social feeds eventually became full of downright hilarious screenshots of Thanos dabbing and videos of things like a virtual avatar of wrestler and Hollywood powerhouse John Cena riding the titular dragon of DBZ.

When the avalanche consumed me completely and I reinstalled Fortnite on my PlayStation, I finally began to understand that whatever happens in the Battle Royale portion of the experience doesn’t matter that much. Sure, winning is great, but it’s secondary to seeing Goku, John Cena, Darth Vader and street fighter‘s Ryu does two-year TikTok dances before or after a lightsaber duel.

You can simply explore the expansive map (featuring cities, islands, the aforementioned glowing forest, deserts, and more) and take on missions to unlock more goofy skins and accessories. You can go “fishing”. You can get in a car with a working radio station and just take a drive through the countryside, or do the same with a boat in one of the huge lakes on the map. It’s not quite as social as something like that VRChat; you can’t just voice chat with just anyone (just friends you’ve added to your party), meaning much of the socializing takes place in the form of dancing. But to be honest, talking to strangers online can be a drag anyway, so I don’t mind that.

Epic adds new elements to the map several times a year and updates the in-game store daily with new skins to buy with real money, which is the only part of Fortnite‘s wild metaverse that I don’t like. Having to spend a few bucks to be Goku was a bummer. There was even a Balenciaga high fashion collaboration with branded skins on sale. But Epic made $9 billion in revenue in just two years, so I can’t blame the company for doing things this way. And the good news is that you can access every part of the map and participate in the current game part of Fortnite free, without restrictions.

Not to mention the crazy live concerts they’ve put on with artists like Ariana Grande and Travis Scott. It all works because the ultimate goal is to: lots of fun, no matter what you choose to do. No one is pretending Fortnite is going to revolutionize dating or sports, or work meetings, as so many VR apps (both Meta and otherwise) have promised to do in the past. Although, if someone held meetings in Fortnitei would be impressed.

It doesn’t matter that Fortnite doesn’t have the best shooting controls or anything; there is simply no other game or app that offers this experience on any game console or mobile device you could own.

But in the end Meta wins anyway

Well, every device except the one that Meta counts on to spread the good word about its version of the metaverse. so far, Fortnite has invaded every gaming ecosystem except VR, but rumor has it that this could change soon.

A tweet from Fortnite leaker HYPEX said there was language in a recent update to the game that pointed to support for Meta Quest headsets somewhere down the line. As much as I’d like to position Fortnite as a good version of the (perhaps incorrectly) much reviled Horizon Worlds app from Meta, it would definitely be a coup if Fortnite Got Quest support.

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Even if I and others have complained about Mark Zuckerberg trying to force us to wear VR headsets for work, it’s a good idea to Fortnite on the Quest marketplace. Heck, it would probably even be fun to play since Fortnite is a fun, crazy time wherever you play it. Add VR support for Fortnite would only cement it as the one, true metaverse.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to dab Vegeta after crashing a speedboat into a fishing dock.

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