After 40 million people spent 10 weeks qualifying for the highest-paying ever e-sports tournament, the Fortnite World Cup, with a prize fund of $30 million, an inconvenient fact emerged. Not a single one of the 100 solo finalists who made their way to play the battle royale computer game in front of screaming crowds of thousands in Flushing Meadows, New York, was a woman.
Media explanations immediately defaulted to the social discrimination templates that have been around since before consoles existed. According to the Guardian, gaming communities are “unwelcoming” while “women players are sometimes belittled and objectified, their abilities constantly questioned” when they are not being pelted with “misogynistic insults” through the in-game chat. In its analysis, Forbes spoke about unspecified but evidently unfortunate “root issues causing girls not to pick up games when they’re younger” in addition to the assumed “toxicity.” One of the many blue tick journalists commenting on the issue on Twitter distilled the argument to its essence: “male gamers.”
Of course, we have no definitive explanation for the superficial under-representation, and there are likely several factors in play here including the ones above, but I would propose three other reasons.
1. Girls are not that into Fortnite. The Guardian article recycled the popular figure that 46 percent of gamers are girls, but more detailed analysis shows that the numbers are not distributed equally between all genres. For all the clichés, girls dominate farming and life sims, and constitute a high proportion of casual puzzle gamers, but make up less than 10 percent of players of FPS and sports sims. Even though Fortnite is considered a relatively girl-friendly game, a significant majority of World Cup entrants were probably men in the first place.
2. Even the participating girls don’t want to put in the time. The top players talk of spending upwards of eight hours a day honing their skills at a competition where they have the exact same starting tools as hundreds of millions of other players. There has been talk of mothers throwing away their sons’ Xboxes, and years of homework left unfinished. That single-minded obsession, that readiness to risk everything for the small chance of a reward and the niche fame of having your handle on a leaderboard may not appeal to as many women. In fact, they may not be desired or possible for most men either. I am someone in my 30s who enjoys games, but I am not represented in New York, with the vast majority of the finalists being teen boys, who have the time, and can endure what at my age seems a non-enriching grind towards a hermetic proficiency.
3. Most controversially, girls may not be as good at these fast-twitch shooter games. Multiple studies have consistently demonstrated that females have slower reaction times than males, and perform worse at spatial reasoning tests. The differences may not be that noticeable among the normal population, but at the apex of the pyramid, where only the fastest, most precise and most aggressive survive, the disparity in ratios becomes overwhelming.
So, what we have is a game that does not particularly appeal to women, who don’t tend to play as much competitively, and even if they did might not reach the same standard.
But in the end, is it really so bad that most girls don’t want to spend hours of every day shooting people in the head?
Is it so catastrophic that the genders have different interests? That women watch more romantic comedies or that men consume more pornography or fill the Dungeons & Dragons and chess clubs? That more Instagram influencers, knitting website founders and models are women, while footballers and oil drillers are men? That males are on average stronger and faster, while females have, on the whole, superior linguistic and social abilities?
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Even in the most meritocratic activity, where all you need is a medium-powered PC and access to the internet, where no one needs to know which of the multiple genders you are, equality is redefined by outcome, and fairness is not a factor.
“The onus is on the game publishers, event organizers, big-name sponsors and team owners to attract and employ more female gamers,” writes the Guardian. “And to pay well-known female players the same as their male counterparts.”
So the eight boys who became self-made millionaires at the weekend did so by winning in an open competition, but a woman should be remunerated in the same way by the virtue of her genitalia? And women are so weak that they cannot perform as well as the men, because they find the entirely optional banter too crude for their feminine sensibilities?
Actually, this special pleading seems quite rote and non-specific here, and the real anxiety that shines through these concerns lies elsewhere.
I would guess that the feminists or the male allies penning these articles aren’t truly that concerned about getting girls to play Fortnite. The real worry is admitting that there is even a single thing men are fundamentally better at. That feminism as a movement has become so ideologically uncompromising that conceding superiority without a laundry list of excuses would somehow shake its whole edifice, undermine its belief that women should be engineers and CEOs. But is an ideology that is so fragile, so vindictive even towards teenage boys, worth fighting so hard for?
By Igor Ogorodnev
Igor Ogorodnev is a Russian-British journalist, who has worked at RT since 2007 as a correspondent, editor and writer.
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