Fortnite's impact on English

August 1, 2018
Fortnite's impact on English

Fortnite is a phenomenally successful online game that has drawn in over 125 million players since its launch in 2017. Available across multiple platforms, including on mobile, Fortnite offers a variety of battle scenarios, from cooperative game play to last-man-standing action (the latter in Battle Royal, which has been the most popular Fortnite release to date). In fact, Fortnite has become so popular that it is impacting our culture and language.  

Consoles and noobs

‘Console’ and ‘noob’ are hardly new words in the gaming world. However, their use has boomed since Fortnite’s release, according to the Oxford University Press. In the 500 Words Competition from BBC Radio 2, which asks UK children aged from five to 13 to submit 500-word stories, both words cropped up with far more regularity in 2018 than in previous years. 

The use of the word ‘game’ has also boomed in this year’s submissions, occurring 66% more often than it did last year (a jump from 17,000 mentions to 30,000). Boys between the ages of five and nine were those most likely to use the gaming-related terms, perhaps indicating that Fortnite’s 12-rated action is actually being enjoyed by far younger players than those it was originally intended for. 

With native language acquisition still underway during childhood, it is perhaps unsurprising that the influence of games such as Fortnite can be seen in the language that young people are now producing. However, Fortnite does more than simply challenge players to learn new terms in their own language…

Fortnite and translation

Gaming forums are awash with Fortnite players looking to connect with other players who speak the same language as them. There are also a number of lively discussion threads where members debate the linguistic difficulties that arise from playing a video game with players from around the world. 

When it was released on iOS, Fortnite topped the iOS charts in 47 countries within 24 hours, while sitting within the top ten in a further 11 nations. While some players battle alongside their friends, others prefer to venture out into the game world alone, playing against strangers, and it is this that presents particular linguistic challenges. Spanish-speaking players seem to dominate many Fortnite servers, while one English-speaking player reported that, “I play EU servers from London and English is the least spoken language I hear when playing.”

However, as well as complaining about the experience, that particular player spoke of the fun to be had from trying to communicate with single words. With services such as Spanish translation unavailable during the live gaming action, it is down to players to work their way through the game linguistically if they connect with others around the world. For many, this means picking up a few words of other languages, so Fortnite can be said to be encouraging the spread of foreign language acquisition, albeit in a small way! 

The language of gaming

Of course, Fortnite is hardly the first game to have had an influence on our language. However, games of that ilk have ramped up the speed at which new terms enter our vocabulary. The online and mobile gaming industry has become enormous, with the result that new words like ‘pwn’ and ‘griefer’ have become standard gaming terminology. 

Pwn is a particularly interesting term. The word is commonly used to describe someone suffering a humiliating defeat (“Wow, Sarah just got pwned!”) but it’s origin is fairly obscure. According to Oxford Dictionaries, the term is believed to have originally been a typo, deriving from the word ‘own.’

Final thoughts

Languages are constantly evolving, which is one of the things that makes them such a fascinating study. As the online and mobile gaming industry continues to expand, it will be interesting to see how much more its linguistic influence spreads over the coming years. 

How do you feel about this? Is it a natural part of language’s evolution? Or is gaming’s influence on language less than positive? Share your thoughts via the comments!


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