Even though Fortnite creates a violent, virtual world where players face off in a winner-takes-all Hunger Games-style competition, the game changes the costs and benefits of day-to-day decisions in the real world, from going to school to being a criminal.
Fortnite Is Controversial
Most people have heard of Fortnite by now, especially teenagers. But the game has also garnered criticism from children’s rights groups and parents because it purportedly exposes children to violent behavior and can encourage it.
The Basics of Fortnite
Released in September 2017, it is the most popular game of 2018. Developed by Epic Games, Fortnite Battle Royale is available to play for free on PC and Mac computers, XBOX, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, and most mobile smartphones. Over 125 million people have played the game in the past year.
For some perspective, there are about as many Fortnite players as there are people in Mexico, and there are more Fortnite players than there are people who own a Nintendo Switch and a PlayStation 4 combined. There are about as many Fortnite players as there are people in the five most heavily populated states in the United States (California, Texas, New York, Florida, and Illinois).
The total number of minutes watched during a one-month period increased to 6.98 billion in March 2018, an increase of 2,559 percent from Feb. 2018. Viewers watched over 7.6 billion minutes of Fortnite content in August 2018.
Twitch, a streaming service particularly for videos of video games, hosts billions of minutes of Fortnite gameplay every month. The total number of minutes watched during a one-month period increased to 6.98 billion in March 2018, an increase of 2,559 percent from Feb. 2018. Viewers watched over 7.6 billion minutes of Fortnite content in August 2018.
Tyler Blevins, better known as Ninja, is a Fortnite superstar; he earns $500,000 a month from viewer donations, he has 18 million subscribers on YouTube, he played Fortnite with Drake earlier in March, and he will soon be the first video gamer featured on the cover of ESPN’s magazine.
The Costs and Benefits of Fortnite
Playing and watching Fortnite is a choice people make that depends on the costs and benefits of playing, as well as the costs and benefits of relevant alternatives. Consider the 36 million views of Ninja earning 32 kills. Every single viewer expected the benefits to be greater than the costs.
The ability to play and watch Fortnite changes the costs and benefits of everyday life.
The ability to play and watch Fortnite changes the costs and benefits of everyday life. When we choose to read a book, we give up the opportunity to develop defensive construction skills, which is a big deal in Fortnite. When we choose to write a proposal for a new client, we give up the opportunity to play with a squad of other players. Bragging rights and everlasting glory are at stake!
Despite the upshots of playing Fortnite, most of us are willing to go without. We are willing to bear the opportunity costs of reading or working. Yet some people are not willing to bear those costs, and they play Fortnite, instead.
More Fortnite, Less Schooling, Less Work
According to a recent survey of 1,000 players, most players spent less than 10 hours per week playing the game. Yet 7.7 percent of the respondents played 21 hours or more in one week, and 12.1 percent played between 16 and 20 hours.
In the same survey, when asked whether playing Fortnite led to missing school (336 of those polled were high school or college students), 14.5 percent of students said, “Yes, a lot,” while 20.54 percent replied, “Yes, but not much.” Of the 314 respondents with a full-time job, 5.73 percent said they miss a lot of work to play Fortnite, while 15.92 percent said they missed some work to play. Intuitively, the opportunity cost of working and earning a paycheck is higher for full-time workers, and so they are less likely to miss work than students are to miss class.
Some people value playing Fortnite even at the expense of maintaining their marriages. At least 200 divorce petitions filed in the United Kingdom since January 2018 cited Fortnite as the reason for separation. Maybe they should have been more like this player, who used Fortnite to earn a date for prom.
Taking this information at face value, a person’s decision to play Fortnite depends on how they perceive the costs and benefits of their alternative options.
Taking this information at face value, a person’s decision to play Fortnite depends on how they perceive the costs and benefits of their alternative options. The substitutions away from school and work are not necessarily a good or bad thing. We might bemoan the loss of instruction because of Fortnite, but that conclusion depends on the quality of instruction and whether students would have paid attention in class. Furthermore, maybe those marriages were doomed to begin with such that playing Fortnite was a more valuable use of time.
Fortnite and Criminal Activity in the Real World
Fortnite is also likely to have implications for criminal activity and for other violent behaviors. Instead of engaging in violent behavior, people can play Fortnite. There is no evidence of a link between Fortnite and falling criminal activity yet, but there are plausible reasons to believe there will be.
Economist Michael Ward began to wonder whether there was actually a relationship between violent video games and criminal acts. In a 2011 study, he found that crime rates fell when people had more access to video games. Ward measured the number of video game stores in over 400 counties in the United States across 11 years and found that counties with a 1 percent increase in the number of game stores led to a .1 percent reduction in crime rates on average.
Contrary to psychological explanations of violent behavior, the economic approach suggests that the opportunity cost of criminal activity rises when more video games are available, which encourages a substitution away from criminal activity.
Contrary to psychological explanations of violent behavior, the economic approach suggests that the opportunity cost of criminal activity rises when more video games are available, which encourages a substitution away from criminal activity. As Ward suggests in a Learn Liberty video on the topic, this is hardly evidence of a positive relationship between exposure to violent video games and crime rates.
Ward, along with Scott Cunningham and Benjamin Engelstatter, support the 2011 study with an article published in the Southern Economic Journal. In particular, the authors measure video game sales and find a negative relationship with crime rates. One of their more interesting findings is that crime rates fall for a short amount of time after new video games are released.
Following this logic, Fortnite increases the opportunity cost of criminal activity. Diehard criminals may not be affected by the popular game, but marginal criminals, or those on the fence so-to-speak, may find playing Fortnite to be a more valuable use of their time. If this logic is valid, it suggests Fortnite could be one of the most far-reaching deterrents to criminal activity simply because there are tens of millions of players.
Once we realize how Fortnite changes the costs and benefits people face, we can better understand why people change their behavior—whether they are students, workers, or criminals.