In last week’s Friday ‘Nite, my weekly Fortnite lore deep dive, I took a look at just how much common DNA there is between Epic’s gargantuan battle royale game and the former zeitgeist-dominating TV series Lost. The conclusion, which I hope I’ve made clear, is that the higher ups in Epic’s storytelling department are Lost fans. In particular, it seems like a decade ago Donald Mustard, the chief creative officer at Epic and de facto Fortnite Bible writer, was clearly annoyed for the show, as were so many of us.
But Mustard is multi-faceted, and this week I’d like to highlight another of his more obvious influences, albeit one that seems all the more unlikely for a game that consists in no small part of teenagers buying avatars of their favorite Marvel superheroes.
In 2011, professor and historian Yuval Noah Harari published his career-defining work, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. A nearly 500-page introduction to our species from its bloody beginnings to the present day, the text has become a bestseller. To this day, it remains high on the reading list of many public figures, and Harari’s subsequent books, Homo Deus and Lessons For The 21st Century, have become bestsellers in their own right.
What does this have to do with Fortnite? Well, Mustard, famous for tweeting vague references to Fortnite’s history and future events, is clearly a fan.
Incompatible viewpoints and conflicting beliefs are the cognitive dissonance that fuels 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 appears to be exactly Sapiens’ thesis. In it, Harari argues that for a cocktail of controversial reasons, Homo sapiens survived to become the only human species. Ultimately, the author lays out our survival as a result of our ability to lie. We lie to ourselves, lie to one another, lie about what we know about the world, and lie about what we don’t know. Harari says it is this important and unique ability to tell stories, make promises and plan for an uncertain future that has been the unquenchable flame of progress throughout 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 beyond the common imagination of men.”
Our consciousness, however confused its origins, granted us this exclusive ability and ensured that we would survive (and in some cases kill with our own hands) some of the other six types of humans over the past 70,000 years.
While the pop anthropology book has sometimes been criticized for a lack of evidence to support certain claims about what early humans might have been like, it has nonetheless garnered many thousands of superfans, and apparently Mustard is one of them. Unexpectedly, this is important for the colourful, often ridiculous Fortnite, not only because it offers a glimpse into the mindset of its writers, but also because it may reveal details of the story that the ever-closed Epic Games are yet to share.
Sapiens often uses the term “imagined order”. Harari defines this as a power structure that does not exist in nature but one that we as homo sapiens invented to maintain the structure on earth. In Fortnite, the Imagined Order is the obviously villainous faction trying to control the Zero Point, the life-giving energy at the heart of the island. The Imagined Order is portrayed as the bad guys, and while I have my doubts, maybe that will be true in the end.
But the faction’s name gives at least one thing away: its power is as theoretical as fans’ persistent pipe dream of the island coming back from Chapter 1. The Imaginary Order’s dominance on the Fortnite island of Artemis is not inherent. The group simply planted their flag and dismissed everyone else as annoying intruders.
What can we deduce from this point? For starters it’s possible and I think very likely that we haven’t met the true grand rulers of the Fortnite world yet. Perhaps the oft-mentioned but never-seen Geno fills that role. Perhaps Dr. Slone is not the spearhead of the IO and there are other more powerful levels within the shadowy group that understand the island better. Perhaps the Zero itself is conscious, pulling the strings of the Loopers, the IO, the Seven, and everyone else who travels to the island.
While we don’t have that specific answer yet, we can assume that the Imaginary Order, be it good, evil or something in between, is not the ruler of the Fortnite multiverse. If it were, obvious Sapiens fan Donald Mustard would have given it a different name. Instead, Epic nods slyly to the IO’s fragile balance of power — its need to satisfy its own questions of the omniverse by pretending everything is neat and tidy.
The IO is said to be the instrument with which Dr. Slone and others bring order to the chaos, but as in Sapiens, perhaps we Fortnite players will understand that these once seemingly basic structures end up being quite pliable, even fragile. Well, either that, or Epic is just teasing a Yuval Noah Harari skin coming to the item shop soon.
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