Written by: Gene Cole, Opinions Editor
The Vancouver Canucks made for an interesting headline recently, when the team introduced a video-game ban for the players during away games.
While this affects all games, Fortnite, a massively popular battle royale shooter, has been mentioned as the primary target. Bo Horvat, a centre for the Canucks, defended this ban as being about ensuring the team is bonding and spending time together, but the targeting of video games and Fortnite specifically is probably not worth the time.
This isn’t the first time Fortnite has been named in a news headline about people shirking responsibilities. Last month, an article on a U.K.-based divorce blog noted that nearly 200 divorce cases in the U.K. cited Fortnite as a reason for the divorce (with general online-related addictions being cited in about 5% of all divorces). While there are always some video games garnering a lot of attention and a lot of popularity, Fortnite’s name pops up in very bizarre places.
Why this game specifically is getting mentioned so often? These headlines rope it back to a problem with video games as a whole, but I think it’s a lot deeper than that. There are a few traits of Fortnite and its presence in culture that make a ban seem unnecessary to me.
Just a game
Athletes are often treated as being larger than life, but the fact is that the Canucks’ players are employees. At their core, like retail workers or office clerks, they have a routine to which they have to adhere if they want to get paid.
The day-to-day events and expectations differ in certain ways, but if these players value their jobs and respect their teams, then freedom to play video games shouldn’t get in their way. If they don’t meet their job’s standards, then they’ll likely be removed or singled out for their job performance.
There’s some debate between certain players on whether there are actually players skipping their responsibilities to play Fortnite or other games, but if they were, the headlines should be about the obsessed players being fired or approached about it. Gaming in general is like any other hobby; some people get too into it. But it’s a worldwide industry and pastime, making this ban feel archaic and equivalent to banning books or movies.
Free and accessible
For those who have never played Fortnite, it’s beyond easy to get started. The game is free to download on most gaming consoles, and starting a game is as easy as hitting a “start” button. Doing poorly in the game has no consequences besides losing experience points, so you have nothing to lose by trying it. When you see a friend or a popular streamer playing it, there’s little reason not to try it if you find it interesting.
To me, this is a big part of why so many people are playing it. I’ve chosen not to purchase certain games solely because I can’t find others to play them with, and I also don’t feel comfortable spending $80 for a game I might not enjoy. For Canucks players, $80 might not be an issue, but the game being free and quick to download has still likely contributed to its presence among them. Banning something that’s free and easy for them, while also having no real harm besides taking their time, is a hard sell.
This is probably the main reason the game has been brought up in so many circumstances. This isn’t to say I think news headlines are using it to get hits, because Fortnite is a specific character in these stories. Rather, the popularity is a cause of the obsessive nature some players have.
At the time of writing, Fortnite is the most viewed game on streaming service Twitch, and videos about Fortnite pass around YouTube with millions of views very quickly, even when it’s just celebrities imitating the game’s dance emotes.
This couples with the game being constantly active; it has patches released nearly every single week, with new content and changes to the game’s balance. When a game has this much activity, it’s easy to invest a huge amount of time and energy into it. However, this is just inherent to the game’s design and marketing and a video game ban anywhere can’t change that it’ll be in people’s minds way more than some other hobbies.
Entertainment and competitiveness
There’s also something to be said for competitive athletes finding new ways to spend time with each other. Not every hangout needs to be team dinners and movies with the boys. It’s fully reasonable for teams to spend time with each other staying in and playing something cooperatively could be just a safer (and possibly more intimate) activity.
Even last year’s Stanley Cup winners, the Washington Capitals, spent much of their downtime playing Mario Kart 64 in their hotel rooms to unwind and bond between games. Fortnite likely can fill this same void.
This game also fills a niche of being simple, hugely competitive fun. Fortnite is played by a huge population, but it has a clear winner of each round (whoever’s the last player alive) and a growing competitive scene.
Competitive hobbies like this seem fairly appealing for athletes, who live off of competition and — I assume — can appreciate it in a less consequential environment such as gaming. Football player Cassius Marsh has talked about how he thinks this is a very healthy and appealing quality of gaming for athletes, and is a big factor of his enjoyment of trading card game Magic: The Gathering. Fortnite has a lot of the same qualities.
So is Fortnite a problem? Probably, but it’s not because it’s a video game or because it’s a new craze that people want to wag a finger at. It’s because it’s an entity that’s popular for reasons that we don’t really have a comparison for, and we don’t know how to properly understand and work around that. The Canucks can ban Fortnite, and it may or may not help them, but it won’t fix the reasons they got hooked on it in the first place, and it’ll still be a major obsession elsewhere.