This weekend could be the last hurrah for Fortnite’s current map, since Epic Games has described the season’s standard game-changing event as “the end.” I feel ready for a new map, but I hope it retains the game’s fast food icons and restaurants. They aren’t the biggest part of Fortnite’s lore, but they’re the perfect background noise.
Outside of the big end-of-season events, Fortnite builds its world and tells its story quietly. Fans often invent their own lore, although bits and pieces are occasionally revealed through landmarks and changes to the game’s geography. The game’s architecture suggests a time before Save the World’s zombies and Battle Royale’s death match, when people still did normal stuff, like eating fast food, and getting manipulated by corporate fast food mascots.
Nearly all of Fortnite’s food is fast food. It’s represented by unpopulated buildings, food trucks, and player skins. People in Fortnite’s world could once eat at Fishsticks, the Double Plump Buffet (remember buffets?), Nugget Hut, or Dumpling. There have also been a handful of pubs, ice cream places, a Fork Knife food truck, and even what appears to be a butcher shop. In Season 9, many of these had outposts or signage at Mega Mall, making for a futuristic, though abandoned, food court. Fortnite’s fast food occasionally has its standout moments, but it’s also always there, in the background.
One of these long-term background stories is the rivalry between two of the game’s fast food chains, Uncle Pete’s Pizza Pit and Durr Burger, each of which has its own mascot. Pizza Pit and Durr Burger’s mascots are, respectively, a tomato head and a burger with googly eyes and a lolling tongue. Both mascots have appeared as statues on the map, along with their flagship and offshoot restaurants. Over the seasons, the tomato statue has been turned into a shrine, and the burger monument has morphed around the map and appeared in real life. As part of an in-game challenge, players have called the chain’s numbers on giant in-game phones. The chains are, apparently, enemies, and players are sometimes conscripted in their war. Players have been drafted as fighters for one or the other of the opposing chains in limited time modes, and have unlocked two of season 9’s Fortbyte collectibles by performing one chain’s emote in the other chain’s restaurant.
The pizza versus burger war doesn’t make sense to me personally. I’ve never had a moment where I had to choose between the two foods, nor can I think of a time when a pizza chain and a burger chain framed one another as corporate rivals in real-life marketing. These two food items feel like two different choices for two different circumstances. Part of that might be because I live in New York City, where pizza is plentiful and easy to transport, while burgers are clunky and can be messy. But they’re both quintessentially fast foods that are easy to have good feelings about, especially when represented in distinctive mascot form. Players liked the fast food wars-themed Food Fight limited time event, which capitalised on this. Like McDonald’s arches, the mascots are legible and seamless to rally around, appropriate symbols to fight for the sake of it.
Season 10 had another fast food craze in tacos. The game already had a taco joint, creatively called Tacos. At one point this season, tacos rained from the sky in Greasy Grove. Players caught in the taco storm were forced to dance while clutching tacos, and floor tacos could be eaten for health and speed boosts. Players reacted with less enthusiasm about the taco event than Food Fight or the Fortbyte food emotes, in part because it hijacked your character if you went to Greasy Grove. The event itself felt like a reference to the surprisingly embattled phenomenon of “Taco Tuesday,” which is one of those trends invented by retailers that has little to do with the actual desire for and eating of tacos. Taco Tuesday and Fortnite’s Greasy Grove demand we like tacos. Yes, people like tacos, but Fortnite’s despotic insistence that we love and consume them was off-putting. Players couldn’t really choose which mascot to fight for in the food LTM or the emote challenges—teams were randomly chosen in Food Fight, and both chains had their challenges—but still, there were technically two options, just like the real-life rivalry between Burger King versus McDonald’s. Fortnite wasn’t cool about the tacos, and people don’t want to think that they love anything because they’re told to.
In food, we’re told scarce things are good, yet fast food’s selling point is that it is never scarce. It’s everywhere, and for everyone (even more so now that chains are getting into meat substitutes). There are exceptions, of course; the McRib is always in and out of availability, and the performative shock of the recent Popeye’s sandwich being sold out worked well.
By and large, though, fast food marketing paints a picture of always-available abundance for all. That’s also Epic’s stated dream for Fortnite: Epic said this season that “The mission of Fortnite is to bring players of all skill levels together to have a fun experience where anyone can win.” Fast food is intended as a universal form of pleasure, which has translated into mortifyingly capitalistic advertising schemes in practice, but is not necessarily a bad sentiment at its core. You can just enjoy things, fast food says. It’s a refrain that might seek to drown out the industry’s dark side, its labour crises and environmental and health impacts (there’s also a similar dark side to Fortnite). For all of these reasons, fast food is right at home in Fortnite. This is a free-to-play game that’s everywhere, that’s easy to have and enjoy. Through mascots and storefronts, Fortnite suggests a universe of fun while damning the consequences, of satiety and accessibility, of everyone sitting down together. It may not have a Michelin star, but it’s not trying to.