The confrontations could get ugly. One student in Towler’s class “begged his parents for [money] to buy a skin because no one would play with him” because he wore basic virtual clothes. While the bullying wasn’t always Fortnite-specific, Towler recalls that it seemed “vicious for [the student] to have another avenue for the meaner kids to attack him.” Things got better for that kid, but when your social scene begins and ends with Fortnite, having nobody to play with is like a mark of death.
Players earn prestige with other fans based on their character’s look. And in the realm of Fortnite, there is nothing worse that having a standard character, otherwise known as a “default.”
“On more than one occasion I heard the kids refer to one another as a ‘default,’” Towler says, referencing things he’s overheard at school. “At one point they started to use it just as a generic insult both in and out of the classroom.”
The abuse goes beyond insults. Fans who play as defaults end up getting ostracized by classmates, too. Libby, a middle schooler in seventh grade, told Polygon that defaults at her school “get made fun of,” and that mockery is compounded by the fact that these players are often on mobile platforms, which are perceived to be a worse experience.
“My 10-year-old is obsessed with buying skins,” Twitter user Travis Manley tells Polygon. While Manley plays with the basic costumes to show his kid that skins don’t dictate your capacity in the game, his son genuinely believes that cosmetics reflect skill. Based on conversations with dozens of parents, it seems that young children circulate playground rumors that a sophisticated costume says something about your in-game ability. According to Manley’s child, “People with cool skins must be better players.”