First things first: In March of 2018 I was rushed to the hospital for a life-saving surgery. There were complications. I woke up in mid-April from a medically induced coma. One of the first things I remember anyone saying is, “Does he play Fortnite?”
No, I didn’t play Fortnite. The battle royale version of Epic’s base-building game had come out the previous September. I remember the buzz building through the winter and into spring. I had covered the game’s predecessor, Fortnite: Save the World, from announcement through its early access launch in mid-2017 and subsequent lukewarm reception. Fortnite: Battle Royale was a game I’d get around to eventually.
I hadn’t gotten around to it by March of 2018. The day the lining of my aorta split open, interrupting blood flow to my spine and causing near-instant paralysis from the chest down, I was playing Sea of Thieves for review. I’ve not been able to play that game since, but that’s a story for another time. I managed to call 911, was rushed to a nearby hospital, then flown by helicopter to another facility for surgery. I should have died, but thanks to the speedy medical response, I did not. I should have woken up the next day, but thanks to years of smoking causing complications getting me off of the ventilator, I did not. After several days of keeping me sedated to keep me from pulling out my breathing tube, I was given a tracheotomy and put to sleep for several weeks.
Read More: The Dreams Of A Man Asleep For Three Weeks
When I woke up sometime in early to mid-April, I could not talk. I could mouth words, and for a brief period when my trache tube had gotten a little loose I could form raspy, gasping sounds, but that’s not a fun way to converse. It took a couple more weeks to regain proper hand and arm movement, so I couldn’t write or type. I could, however, hear the nurses asking my spouse about what I did for a living and, upon hearing the answer, ask if I played Fortnite. The Fortnite. That Fortnite thing. Battle Royale. Their child / nephew / friend / husband played it obsessively.
The Fortnite craze had been gaining steam as a mainstream cultural sensation for months at that point, but I’m not one who ventures outside of my established gaming circles much. I don’t go to bars. I don’t meet friends for lunch. I don’t grab a quick coffee and catch up. Even before I became paralyzed I enjoyed staying home, talking with folks on the internet. Folks who knew I was aware of Fortnite as a game and didn’t feel the need to talk to me about it.
In the hospital it felt like it was all anyone wanted to talk about. In the first hospital, where I recovered from my initial surgery before spending a month and a half in intensive care, there was a sign board where my family could write facts about me for the staff. I think it was my younger sister who wrote about me being a video game journalist, so she is at least partially to blame for all of the Fortnite talk. I saw dozens of nurses during my stay, and at least half of them brought up the game. So I guess the sign board worked.
My favorite Fortnite mention came from an attending doctor, who asked me about the game during his rounds one morning. This was right before he took my spouse aside and asked her to consider what would happen if they couldn’t wean me from the ventilator and to think about what my quality of life would be like.
In May of 2018, I was moved from the main hospital to an LTAC, or long-term acute care facility. It was there, over the course of a month, that I was finally weaned off of the ventilator. They got me breathing on my own again. They reintroduced me to talking. They got me eating properly instead of through a tube in my stomach. They asked me about Fortnite three or four times a week. There was one guy, a bald, brutish physical therapist, who would talk to me about Game of Thrones instead. I quite liked him. He knew nothing about Fortnite.
I left the LTAC in early June, transferred to a facility closer to home for in-patient rehabilitation, preparing me for my new life as a person with use of one third of their body. Fortunately, part of that one third was my mouth, and re-armed with a voice I could finally tell the staff, clearly and concisely, not to ask me about Fortnite. No, I didn’t play it. Yes, I know it’s popular. I’m more of an RPG fan. Role-playing games. Final Fantasy? Lower stakes, more story? I’d go on like that until the staff got bored and left, at which point I’d put Food Network back on and take a nap.
I finally came home from those many hospitals in July of 2018. I started working again in early August. Three years later I played my first full round of Fortnite.
Oh, I’d installed the game on several occasions over the past three years. I’d log in to grab a screenshot of something available in the in-game shop for an article. At one point I even logged into a Creative Mode world to report on a new AMD graphics card that had made its debut in the game. But I never played a round of Battle Royale proper. Not until everybody started shouting about Ariana Grande.
I am not an Ariana Grande fan, but I am not so old and heavy as to not get swept up by particularly powerful waves of hype. Last Friday, as my online coworkers and colleagues began to buzz feverishly about the singer’s in-game concert, I decided it was time to install the game once more. And hey, I had some promotional V-Bucks in my Xbox account’s wallet, I might-as-well use that towards the Ariana Grande skin.
Well, dammit. Now that I had the skin, I should probably attend the concert. I made it into the second performance early on Saturday morning. I was completely blown away. The lavish in-game event was the sort of thing I’d dream of back in high school in the early ‘90s. It was like Trapper Keeper art came to life. I half-expected to wake up drooling on plastic-covered cardboard school supplies.
I recorded the entire event. Unfortunately, I recorded it without sound, so I vowed to catch another show the next day. While I was waiting out the countdown timer, I hit play. Then I hit play again. Then I started queuing up immediately upon dying, eager to get back into the action.
All the excuses I had for not playing started to melt away. Worries that everyone would be better than me at shooting quickly dissipated as I realized there were still plenty of opponents dumb enough to get lured behind a rock or building to chase a seemingly terrified foe. I was concerned about gathering resources and building things, but you don’t have to do any of that. If anything, a freshly built structure is a sure sign that someone is around to shoot at. And nothing is more fun than standing on the other side of a wall some player is demolishing for resources, shotgun in hand, just waiting for the rubble to clear.
Okay fine, I was having fun. I bought the battle pass. I started doing quests to unlock new skins and gear. Around ten a.m. Sunday morning, I got my very first Victory Royale.
I went on to earn two more Victory Royales yesterday, which I feel is quite the accomplishment but others tell me is much easier to do these days, what with the game’s use of bots and all. Still, that doesn’t take away from my sense of accomplishment. I look at my stats on Fortnite Tracker, and I feel proud.
I did manage to get into the final Ariana Grande performance yesterday afternoon, and it was just as spectacular the second time around. I did record sound this time, but I also left a marker on my game map which is present for every single scene, so my video is, once again, garbage. But I am prepared for whatever Fortnite concert comes next. I’ve got some cool skins, some dance moves, and the knowledge that if it came to it, I could probably take out at least half of my fellow concertgoers before one of them got me.
If I wound up back in the hospital tomorrow, I doubt anyone would ask me about Fortnite. So much has happened over the past few years. New gaming sensations have come and gone. We’re still in the grip of a global pandemic. I imagine that if any medical professional asked me what I did for a living and I answered “game journalism,” they’d simply nod and go about their business. Which is a shame, because I really want to talk about Fortnite right now.