Date of Award

December 2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Media Studies

First Advisor

Michael Z. Newman

Committee Members

Stuart A. Moulthrop, David S. Allen


Avatar, Cosmetic Items, Fortnite, Microtransaction, Video Games, Virtual Goods


Cosmetic microtransactions, the act of paying for virtual items that customize certain parts of video games and virtual worlds such as skins that change the appearance of the avatar, are looked upon more favorably in the gaming community than performance-enhancing microtransactions, where one pays for virtual items that enhance the abilities of avatars or speed up the progression of the game. Video game industry spokespeople have adapted this rhetoric and emphasized that the microtransactions in their games are for cosmetic items only with no bearing on gameplay. However, the way players use cosmetic items in games and the way cosmetic items inspire certain game mechanics suggest that their function in games isn’t purely ornamental. Using Fortnite as a case study, I argue that cosmetic items can influence gameplay and that the lucrative aspects of cosmetic microtransactions influence game design. Players use cosmetic items not only to be fashionable, but as tools to fashion their own metagames - games within, around, and outside of games. Game companies know that players care about cosmetic items and avatar customization, and they design their games to make cosmetic items as desirable as possible. Cosmetic microtransactions help us understand that visual design is one of the biggest influences on gameplay and the business of games.