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Monday, April 12, 2021

Fortnite and the Power of Rosh Hashanah

The popular video game Fortnite Battle Royale by Epic Games may not seem to have anything to do with Rosh Hashanah, but it does.

The game is simple: One hundred players parachute onto an island and furiously race to gather materials, weapons and gadgets inside a steadily shrinking safe zone. The last player standing wins a Victory Royale.

Then you do it again.

And again.

Fortnite is like “The Hunger Games” but without the viciousness. The game encourages wholesome play, rewards kindness to other players and dancing with opponents on the battlefield is considered completely normal.

Over the past year, the free-to-play video game has earned an estimated $300 million per month, mostly by selling cosmetic upgrades and fun dance “emotes.” Along the way, Fortnite transcended gaming culture and staked its place in popular culture. Celebrities and famous athletes teamed up with the biggest Fortnite players and streamed their matches to an online audience of more than 1 million viewers. NFL players celebrated touchdowns with iconic Fortnite emotes and Major League Baseball teams celebrated their victories with choreographed renditions of Fortnite dances.

The popularity of the game is certain. Less certain is the explanation for its massive popularity.

While playing a recent game of Fortnite with my son, who is a much better Fortnite player than me, I realized the secret of Fortnite’s success is also the secret of Rosh Hashanah.

“Rosh Hashanah is a personal reset button. Together we acknowledge the end of a year and we refresh our commitment to never stop engaging in the battle. If we do Rosh Hashanah right, our new year begins with a blank scoreboard and renewed optimism for our success.”

Rosh Hashanah is the great equalizer. All year, battles rage within us. Good vs. Evil. Right vs. Wrong. Generosity vs. Selfishness. We rack up some wins and we take our share of losses. Overall, we may have grown into better people or we may have succumbed to our lesser selves. It can be tempting to stop battling and fall into a permanent state of inertia, allowing us define ourselves by our greatest triumphs or our worst failures.

Rosh Hashanah is a personal reset button. Together we acknowledge the end of a year and we refresh our commitment to never stop engaging in the battle. If we do Rosh Hashanah right, our new year begins with a blank scoreboard and renewed optimism for our success. A true Rosh Hashanah has the power to erase our past and grant us a new year free from our baggage. This is the brilliance of Rosh Hashanah and why it resonates so deeply within us. Everyone wants to shed their baggage and star in their own redemption story.

Unlike many popular video games, the in-game purchases sold by Fortnite offer no competitive advantage. It is a truly free game, and Epic Games chose not to reward players who spend money with any in-game advantage. This counter-intuitive concept has resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars of monthly in-game sales. More significantly, Fortnite Battle Royale ensures a level playing field for all comers. No matter how many matches a player wins or loses, every player begins the next game on an equal footing. The opportunity to try again and leave the past in the past is irresistible. It is the power of Rosh Hashanah.

Fortnite is an infinite stream of fresh starts. There is no baggage or advantage that carries over from one game to the next. Every game is a new beginning. Every game is another Rosh Hashanah.


Eli Fink is a rabbi, writer and managing supervisor at the Jewish Journal.

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