In May, Geoff Keighley announced the showing of a Christopher Nolan movie at Fortnite’s Party Royale island. At eight in the morning, I gathered with a handful of other avatars to watch the psychological thriller Inception. It wasn’t the best movie-going experience I’ve had, but it basically worked. Maybe Christopher Nolan will learn something.
The movie screening was announced during Fortnite’s Tenet trailer premiere in late May. Director Christopher Nolan is determined to show the upcoming Tenet in cinemas, despite several delays and what a gobsmackingly bad idea it is given the coronavirus. This morning’s Inception screening began with a Tenet trailer promising the movie would be in cinema in July, even though the movie has already been delayed to August. Touting an in-person experience before showing a movie in a video game felt like a weird juxtaposition. Despite how the Inception screening brings people together in new ways during this pandemic, the ways the experience fell short could just make people more eager to see a movie in cinemas again. While I’m sure this wasn’t intentional, I felt a bit suspicious as the screening played out.
Inception was shown in the US, while other regions got something different depending on the rights (UK got The Prestige ). I’ve actually never seen Inception, which might have made the whole experience a little trickier. Party Royale’s Big Screen is big, but it’s still one small part of what’s happening on my computer screen during a Fortnite game. My avatar kept getting in the way of my actually seeing the screen, and I had to continually adjust myself, which made me feel restless. Other players and their user names also occasionally blocked out the screen. I don’t mind this much for a shorter screening, or a concert or other event where listening and jumping around feel like a key part of the experience, but here it felt distracting.
The movie had subtitles, which appeared in Fortnite font on the bottom of my game screen. This was a nice touch – I wasn’t forced to squint at tiny subtitles on an in-game screen, and I could read them as long as I was in the area. But it also meant I had to keep glancing down to read them, further distracting me. The movie was easy to hear – Epic has been muting emote sounds during in-game events, so there wasn’t any noise competing for the movie – but given the small size of the screen and my own lack of familiarity with the movie, I leaned on the subtitles more than I might usually.
Overall, it was – as you’d expect – just really hard to watch a movie in Fortnite. It might have been different if I were chatting with friends, or if I’d seen the movie before. But I struggled to understand what was happening (this could, of course, be due to Inception itself) and my attention quickly wandered. I’m used to running around in Fortnite, or at least participating in its events. When asked to sit quietly, my attention span devolved to that of a small child. After about half an hour, I quit out.
Showing a movie in Party Royale isn’t a bad idea. The other night I attended Fortnite’s Diplo concert, and watching Inception a few days later made me feel like I had a very busy social calendar. It’s a feeling I haven’t had in four months, and I’m grateful to Fortnite for giving it to me. I don’t want Fortnite to turn into a metaverse empire; I enjoy its events, but I like playing the game more, and I don’t want it to become some kind of pop culture Second Life with guns. I could see the screenings being a good way to hang out with friends, but if the movie were secondary, you might as well just hang out while playing some rounds of the game and at least earn some battle pass levels. Streams of in-game events are usually an event in themselves, but Epic noted that, due to rights, streams of the event could be DMCAed. While this makes sense, without the fervour of streamers to bring some outside life to the experience, I wondered even more exactly what the event’s purpose was.
The movies will be shown several more times (go here to find your local screening time). It’s certainly worth checking out, despite the obvious reasons why it’s not ideal. It felt good to hang out with strangers. Wishing the person in front of me would sit down gave me a brief flicker of annoyed nostalgia for the realities of in-person events. Watching a movie inside a video game while standing next to a stranger dressed in a Ninja skin was, I’ll admit it, neat. From Disney+ finally letting us all see Hamilton to orchestras performing operas for plants, we’re all learning the creative ways we can be together without being in physical proximity. It’s not the same as doing these things in person, but it means we can still do them, and it opens up these experiences for people who weren’t able to have them even before the pandemic. We don’t have to watch movies in the traditional way anymore; Fortnite might not make them better, but there’s good in the way it makes them different. Maybe Christopher Nolan will learn his own lesson with Tenet.