From books and films to TV shows and video games, the last-man-standing trope is massively popular. Is it a reflection of our dog-eat-dog free-market ideology?

You are dropped on to a remote island with only your wits. You are going to have to scavenge weapons, ammunition, first-aid kits and the like, while 99 other people do the same. And then, at some point, the shooting will start, because this is a contest of elimination. As the old Highlander movies had it, there can be only one. The last person left alive wins the game. Welcome to the battle royale.

Such is the basic idea behind the staggeringly popular “Battle Royale” version of the world-beating video game Fortnite, which has 40m players logging in every month, and grossed $223m in March of this year alone. Its success has inspired a slew of other battle-royale games, including a mode in the forthcoming instalment of the juggernaut Call of Duty franchise. A fight to the death among many contestants, until one victor emerges, is also the setup of the Hunger Games trilogy of books and films (from 2008), in which 24 young people from the poverty-stricken Districts are selected every year as “tributes”, to participate in an obsessively televised fight to the death, for the enjoyment of the decadent inhabitants of the Capitol.

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