U.S. Markets closed

Fortnite isn't actually responsible for 200 divorces this year

Andrew Griffin
Game enthusiasts and industry personnel visit the 'Fortnite' exhibit during the Electronic Entertainment Expo E3 at the Los Angeles Convention Center: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Fortnite is addictive, of that there is no doubt. But reports that it is so addictive it has caused at least 200 divorces are a little overstated.

Numerous reports – published by just about every news major news organisation – have recently claimed that some 5 per cent of divorces are being caused by the online game.

They all cited a website called Divorce Online, which provides tools to people who are splitting up and need legal advice. And that pointed to some numbers that make clear that the story might not be all that it seems.

In fact, what actually happened is just a standard and depressing break down of relationships because of an addiction to online games. And the recent reports about Fortnite appear to be just a consequence of something being too good – or bad – to check.

All of the reports originated with that post on Divorce Online. Its headline read "Is Fortnite becoming a relationship wrecker?" and it went on to say that the site had dug into data generated about the people who were using its services.

"The company has done some data mining after seeing an increase in enquiries where Fortnite has been mentioned as part of the reason someone wanted to file a divorce," the press release read.

"It has received 200 divorce petitions since January 1st 2018 where addiction to Fortnite and other online games has been cited as one of the reasons for divorce."

Many took that sentence and wrote stories suggesting that 200 divorces this year had been caused by Fortnite. But if that seems like a high number, it's because it probably is: that "and other online games" is doing a lot of work, allowing the site to tie the news to a game that is famous but which might not have been cited in those divorces, which were actually about games in general.

In fact, Divorce Online gave absolutely no indication how many of those divorces were caused by Fortnite itself. So it is likely it is much fewer than 200, and that the rest of the divorces were actually just the consequence of other games.

Further parts of the release make clear that the numbers – which the site says account for 5 per cent of divorces – are actually about digital addictions. “These now include online pornography, online gaming and social media, so it is no surprise to us that more and more people are having relationship problems because of our digital addictions," the site wrote in quotation attributed to a spokesperson.

A note at the top of Divorce Online's story gives a clue about why Fortnite was so prominent in the release, and why it received such widespread coverage. "Fortnite is all over the news right now as one of the most addictive digital games ever played," it wrote at the top, and that newsworthiness is presumably why the story has gained such attention.