Death is such an absolute and final thing. That seems redundant to say, but it is important to define what death actually is when we relate actual death to the digital form of dying that takes place in videogames. In games, we die and come back. Death is a cycle that circles in on itself. It is a comma—an extension—but in life, death is a period. It is a declarative statement of no more, of unbeing. Yet, there are always fragments. The spools of life end their weave but fragmentary threads remain. This is also true of dying in games—in Fortnite, specifically.
Life under capitalism is burdened and weighed down by the things of capital. Debt, credit scores, unpaid loans, cars, houses, and more. These things don’t often go away in death. They just get shackled to someone else and the brutal treadmill of capitalism continues unchanged. In consuming things, we take on more and more. Our physical beings may die an absolute death but the knots that bound our physical bodies to capitalism only get tied to someone else. Thus it becomes nearly impossible to see death as an absolute or to see death as something fully human—we can comprehend death but we rarely see who has died; rather we see what they have left, for better and for worse. The same thing occurs in Fortnite. The game cannot view death outside of the structures of capitalism. In fact, its mechanics refuse to. Player characters are only as meaningful as the money they put into the game and the rewards therein. Everything is coded through colors that determine rarity. But even these skins and player-owned items do not mean anything when a player’s virtual body dies in Fortnite. All that remains is what they consumed in a match. Their post-death is not defined by anything they’ve done; their legacy is only the items they picked up during the match.
A body does not stay where it dies. It disappears and all that is left is an assault rifle, some ammo, a few medical kits, and a grenade. All we are in a match in Fortnite is what we pick up. We’ll die and hop into another lobby but we leave behind what we consumed and never got to consume. We destroy trees and buildings and bridges in order to get more building materials. If we die, they are left in the grass. Like in life, post-death is not as much defined as what we did in life as much as it is defined by what we left behind, what we never got to consume, and what we did get our consumerist hands on. The backpack slots in Fortnite are less about the power they can offer us through holding weapons as much as they are an extension of capital. We can only hold and consume so much, but we drop what we no longer want in the rush to get the next best thing. And then death happens.
Death fragments the self. It is a final, unfixable break. Fortnite lets us die again and again to the point where the actual act of dying becomes wholly meaningless. Yes, you’ll lose a match but it does not really matter in the grand scheme of things. That does not bother me, it is just the fact that everything is boiled down to what one picks up that bothers me. It is jarring and genuinely uncomfortable to kill someone in Fortnite and watch their body disappear as all of their gear and weapons blow out of them and are left where their body should be. The body becomes meaningless; items become everything. People bicker over a rich family member’s will. Their body is gone and their relation to this Earth and to other people are forgotten in the wake of their accrued capital. Capital and wealth in Fortnite are guns and healing items. We forget the bodies we kill because we know that they’ll drop some loot. By following that train of thought again and again, we play into the cruel hands of capitalism—bodies become nothing more as a means to obtain capital (mainly through violence) and we willingly accept it. It becomes normal. I have been playing this game for over a year and have only recently grown uncomfortable by how the game verbalizes and portrays death. Nothing will change, though. There is a new Marvel Comics tie-in now. The treadmill that is capitalism just sped up.