What is the psychology behind Fortnite

There's a lot of excitement - mainly because people on both sides are blaring their opinions out. On a question that wasn't asked at all. So here it is very clear, so that there is no confusion: Yes, computer games can be addicting. Vigorous paddling can lead to the release of happiness hormones like cocaine abuse. The World Health Organization (WHO) officially classified addiction to video games as a mental illness back in May, despite violent protests from manufacturers. From January 2020 onwards, diagnoses should be allowed.

Fortnite is one of the most popular video games right now, downloaded by 250 million people worldwide. The game is at the center of a class action lawsuit pending in Canada. The parents of two children, ten and 15 years old, strained it, and the law firm Calex L├ęgal expanded it into a class action lawsuit. The plaintiffs ("Fortnite" is in Canada, as in Germany, approved for ages twelve and up) accuse Epic Games of deliberately developing the game with the aim of making people addicted. Therefore, the company should have put up a warning, similar to the one on cigarette packets. Anyone who has played the game once knows: Gambling can actually be addicting. The gameplay is quite simple. 100 people connected to one another via the Internet land on an island by parachute, they have to collect resources, escape a storm, eliminate each other. The last survivor wins. However, it is very tricky to win a round.

"Victory Royale" is the name of such a success that, at least in the short term, makes you as happy as a triumph in table tennis, and this is exactly where the argument of the other side begins, who do not find gambling so bad: The players should work together in team rounds talk to each other, help each other. They improved hand-eye coordination, learned how to deal with defeat, developed ambition, and improved their skills - just like in table tennis. And: These feelings of happiness would also be poured out during running training and when eating cheese. Not just when sniffing cocaine.

Children and adolescents are more prone to become addicted, a study by the University of California found last year, shortly after the launch of "Fortnite". "When someone sees a computer game or a smartphone, the reward system in the brain lights up," says Ofir Turel, head of the study: "Some parts of the brain are not fully developed by the age of 25, others are. For reward, for example is more trained than that for self-control. " A 13-year-old is therefore predisposed to impulsive behavior and also to the fear of missing out on something if he is not playing. Withdrawal is therefore more difficult.

So once again: Whether or not "Fortnite" is addicting, that's not what the class action lawsuit is about. The questions at stake are even more interesting and meaningful because they go deep into the entertainment industry: What are companies doing to get people addicted? And: Do you have to warn against your own products? The tobacco industry serves as a reference; four years ago, a lawsuit was successful that accused the tobacco industry of failing to warn sufficiently about the dangers of smoking. Epic didn't do that either. The complaint states: "You have studied the human brain intensely for years. You launched an extremely addicting game that is deliberately aimed at young people." Specifically, there is the accusation that Epic Games hired psychologists to investigate how the human brain reacts when gaming.

At its core, the process is about a limited and therefore so precious good: people's time. Those who get as much of it as possible can earn a lot of money, as companies such as Facebook, Microsoft and Netflix have proven. It is interesting that Netflix boss Reed Hastings said in an interview with SZ that his company competes less with TV stations or other streaming portals than with manufacturers of video games. More than two billion people gamble worldwide.

"More important than pure subscription numbers is the time someone spends on our portal. That can be measured independently and also compared, and not just between streaming portals," says Hastings: "The better we are, the more of this time we get . " So it makes good business sense to try to get people addicted. The question now is whether it is also right to do so without any indication of the dangers.

Epic has so far not commented on the lawsuit with reference to the ongoing proceedings, the company now has 30 days to respond. A trial could take a year.