Friday ‘Nite: Fortnite’s Most Unlikely Inspiration Is This Popular Science Book
In last week’s Friday ‘Nite, my weekly Fortnite lore deep dive, I took a look at how much shared DNA there is between Epic’s gargantuan battle royale game and the former zeitgeist-dominating TV series Lost. The conclusion, which hopefully I made obvious, is that higher-ups within Epic’s storytelling department are Lost fans. In particular, it seems like Donald Mustard, the chief creative officer at Epic and de facto Fortnite lore-bible scribe, clearly nerded out for the show a decade ago, like so many of us did.
But Mustard is multifaceted, and this week I want to highlight another of his apparent influences, even as this one seems all the more unlikely for a game that is made up, in no small part, of teenagers buying avatars of their favorite Marvel superheroes.
In 2011, professor and historian Yuval Noah Harari published what would go on to become his career-defining work: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. A nearly 500-page primer on our species from its bloody beginnings to the modern day, the text went on to become a bestseller. To this day, it remains atop many public figures’ recommended reading list, and Harari’s subsequent books, Homo Deus and Lessons For The 21st Century, have become bestsellers of their own.
What does this have to do with Fortnite? Well, Mustard, famous for tweeting vague teases to Fortnite’s story and future events, is clearly a fan.
Incompatible viewpoints and contradicting beliefs are the cognitive dissonance that fuel the creativity, myth making, and invention vital to humankind and our continued existence.
And our ability to conceive, and believe, in Imagined Orders our ultimate evolutionary superpower.
— Donald Mustard (@DonaldMustard) November 14, 2021
What Mustard is referring to in his somewhat cryptic tweet seems to be the exact thesis of Sapiens. In it, Harari argues that homo sapiens survived to become the singular human species because of a cocktail of controversial reasons. Ultimately, the author lays out our survival as the result of our ability to lie. We lie to ourselves, lie to each other, lie about what we know about the world, and lie about what we don’t. Harari says that it’s this important and unique ability to tell stories, make promises, and plan for an unclear future that has been the inextinguishable flame of progress in human history. Harari put it best when he wrote:
“There are no gods in the universe, no nations, no money, no human rights, no laws, and no justice outside the common imagination of human beings.”
Our consciousness, however confounding its origins, granted us this exclusive ability and ensured we would outlive (and in some cases slaughter with our own hands) some of the other six species of humans over the last 70,000 years.
While the pop anthropology book has sometimes been criticized for lacking evidence for certain claims about what early humans may have been like, it’s nevertheless won over many thousands of superfans, and apparently, Mustard is one of them. Unexpectedly, this is important to the colorful, often ridiculous Fortnite not just because it provides insight into the mindset of its writers, but because it may reveal story details that the always tightlipped Epic Games doesn’t intend to share yet.
In Sapiens, the phrase “imagined order” comes up a lot. Harari defines this as a power structure that doesn’t exist in nature, but is, rather, one we invented as homo sapiens in order to maintain structure on Earth. In Fortnite, the Imagined Order is the apparent villainous faction that seeks to control the Zero Point, the life-giving energy at the heart of the island. The Imagined Order is presented as the bad guys, and though I have my doubts, maybe that will end up being true.
But the faction’s name reveals at least one thing: Its power is as theoretical as the persistent fan pipedream that the Chapter 1 island is coming back. The Imagined Order’s dominance of the Fortnite island, Artemis, is not bestowed by nature. The group has simply planted its flag and decried all others as annoying interlopers.
From that point, what can we infer? For starters, it’s possible, and I think very likely, that we haven’t met the true grand rulers of the Fortnite world. Maybe the oft-mentioned but never seen Geno serves this role. Maybe Dr. Slone does not represent the tip of the IO’s spear and other more powerful levels exist within the shadowy group who better understand the island. Maybe the Zero Point itself is conscious and pulling the strings of loopers, the IO, The Seven, and everyone else who journeys to the island.
While we don’t have this particular answer yet, what we can assume is that the Imagined Order, be it good, evil, or something in between, is not the be-all and end-all ruler of the Fortnite multiverse. If it was, apparent Sapiens fan Donald Mustard would’ve given it another name. Instead, Epic is slyly nodding to the IO’s fragile balance of power–its need to satiate its own questions of the omniverse by pretending everything is neat and tidy.
The IO is meant to be the instrument by which Dr. Slone and others make order out of chaos, but like in Sapiens, we Fortnite players may come to understand that these once-seemingly foundational structures are quite bendable, even breakable, in the end. Well, either that, or Epic is just teasing a Yuval Noah Harari skin coming soon to the Item Shop.
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