Fortnite & The Myth of Participation Trophies

Aug 14, 2018

It has been almost twenty years since the mass hysteria surrounding “participation trophies” reached a fever pitch in our society and I’m happy to report that it appears to have been much ado about nothing. I guess the kids are alright after all.

For those of you who were lucky or childless enough to miss this cultural development: a “participation trophy” is a trophy or plaque or ribbon that youth athletes receive for being on the team, regardless of whether that team wins or loses the championship. This idea of an “unearned” trophy apparently made people mad. Very mad. They believed that it devalued the importance of winning and would transform our children into wimpy babies that wouldn’t be able to compete in the real world.

Participation trophies were the natural outcome of the self-esteem parenting movement, which valued building up kids’ confidence over their competitive skills. Baby Boomers pioneered this helicopter parenting tactic in a vain attempt to provide their children with the perfect upbringing they wished they had. Millennials, on the other hand, have been criticized for being soft, narcissistic and entitled. Obviously, the damn participation trophies were to blame (nevermind the economic ruin caused by Boomer economic selfishness).

So what do participation trophies have to do with Fortnite, the phenomena that has taken over the gaming world and our kids’ every waking moment?

In an unexpected twist, it turns out that our children have proven themselves to be incredibly immune to the debilitating influence of participation trophies. Fortnite has revealed them to be a generation of cutthroat competitors who would make Michael Jordan cry.

As the leader of the Battle Royale-style games, Fortnite has unleashed the competitive spirit of teens everywhere. Players are obsessed with kills and tallying wins (solo wins > squad wins). Respect in the game is based on skills and techniques, not just on showing up. Trash-talking abounds, and squads are quickly created and dissolved.

It looks like the psychologists who said that kids are smart and understand the difference between “participation” trophies and “real” trophies were right after all. Winning might not be the only thing, but it’s everything if you want to live off of that sweet, sweet twitch streaming revenue.