Sorry Zuckerberg, Fortnite Is The Only Metaverse Worth Caring About

Facebook founder and extraterrestrial lizard man Mark Zuckerberg recently launched social media platform Horizon Worlds in Spain and France. To mark the occasion he shared an in-app screenshot that resembled some bargain bin DS game about dressing up babies or cleaning horse stables. It looks like total shit, and is a perfect distillation of how detached people like Zuckerberg are from the virtual worlds they are trying so hard to pioneer.

In the world of video games and the internet, metaverses have existed for decades. Habbo Hotel, Second Life, PlayStation Home, and VRChat are all examples of people existing in worlds that go far beyond our own. Entire economies, social politics, and customs can be found in places like this, and Meta is so obsessed with its singular, outdated vision that absolutely nobody cares about. It’s a joke, and its pristinely corporate appearance only drives home how out of touch Horizon Worlds really is. Zuckerberg looks like he’s about to walk me through the tutorial of a bootleg Wii Sports.

Horizon Worlds is basically an extension of Facebook (or Meta, which I still feel dirty using) and is pitched as a place for friends, family, and colleagues to meet up in the medium of virtual reality to extend the idea of what a social media platform is capable of. Unfortunately it is a painfully dull interpretation of that idea. Avatars are bland, functionality is basic, and it fails to realise just how much broader the internet is when it moves beyond such a singular and corporate definition of how we express ourselves online. Zuckerberg was grown in a lab and has no concept of real human contact, so perhaps that’s a big reason behind all this.

For all its issues, Epic Games has been pushing forward the vision of what a metaverse can be with Fortnite for quite some time. What began as a hastily pieced together battle royale mode in the wake of PUBG’s global popularity has become one of the biggest platforms in any medium. Fortnite is a place for films, television shows, wrestlers, singers, movie stars, sporting icons, and so many others to gather in a discordant singularity that is almost impossible to comprehend on a surface level. Recent weeks have seen Goku and John Cena added to the roster, who are currently doing battle with Harry Kane, Master Chief, and Spider-Man. It’s ridiculous, and really shouldn’t work, but the internal fiction created by Epic Games allows this metaverse to exist as both a narrative foundation and a real world concept.

Fortnite is far more than a melting pot of every character under the sun, desperate for a brief chance in the spotlight to promote upcoming films and TV shows – it has actively worked to incorporate this crossover potential into its very bedrock. While only hardcore fans follow the ongoing narrative, it seems to concern splintering universes and a constantly changing island which exists to bring all of these disparate elements together. Epic Games has made a serious effort here, and while telling this story within the battle royale itself we’ve seen similar ambitions evolve outside of it. People often forget how much it has achieved.

Major concerts from the likes of Travis Scott and Ariana Grande have redefined what it means to present live spectacle in the medium, while players uniting to watch sporting tournaments, entire films, or unrivalled set pieces across the island has made Fortnite so much more than just another game. It is a constantly evolving platform, one that isn’t even close to reaching its final destination because we have no idea where that even is. The statement of intent is clear though, and Epic Games won’t stop until its metaverse has become something all-encompassing. Few things dominate the cultural zeitgeist quite like Fortnite, and it’s hard to believe it all began as a repurposed version of a game that was clearly doomed to fail. It was impossible to predict, and the same goes for the future.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the coming years see this ambition stretched even further. The island is likely to grow even larger with future seasons, while the overarching narrative will only further the concept of an untenable metaverse begging to break free. Right now we might only interact with a selection of emotes and avatars, but these have become an unmistakable part of the game’s culture that penetrates online spheres and dominates discussion.

We’re all talking about the Dragon Ball Z event right now because the idea of combining these anime icons with the game’s existing cavalcade of characters is a recipe for dream showdowns and ridiculous memes. But it’s also a testament to everything Fortnite has built up to this point in order to make it at all possible. There is no easy way to predict where it will go next and how this will influence the wider medium. Fortnite is not only an industry leader, but a perfect case study of how metaverses can deliver interactive social experiences that cannot be had anywhere else.

Recognisable characters, major performances, and striving to change the status quo is a part of that continued vision, and it doesn’t feel like anyone else on the planet is approaching metaverses with that drive right now. To Epic Games, it is more than a corporate buzzword, is it a sign of the future we are all currently hurtling towards.

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