Gill sits across from me, dressed in classic eggshell blue velour pants and a black vest top two sizes too small. A tattoo on her right shoulder helps identify what local tribe she belongs to and her tightly scraped back blonde hair culminates in a delicious bun. Outside, the rumblings of a non-descript London high-street barely register through the smeared windows of the ‘greasy spoon’ we’re sat in. All London life is here. That’s a lie.
This scene is facsimiled across the entire nation. The woman sat before me is no more special or less ordinary than a wet weekend in Worthing. But there is one thing she shares, along with ladies the world over. A pain that is audible. A grief that cannot be aired without fear of teenager-style rebellion.
“He plays this bloody game…Fortnite,” she says, sipping her diet Coke. “And when he ain’t playin’ it, he acts like a right little idiot, just like my teenage son.”
It’s a video game that has men and spotty teenagers gripped. Its rise in popularity was so swift, they were powerless to resist. It has now entered our lives and bled into our collective consciousness. It’s a meme, it’s a YouTube video, it’s headline news; It’s a man-devouring plague that has spread across social media like a bad case of acne.
“I don’t know who he’s talkin’ to on there,” she says. “But he’s thirty-three years old with six kids. He should grow up.”
The online phenomenon can have players participating in teams of four to encourage teamwork. In many cases it’s a forum for middle-aged men to act like tossers and embarrass themselves in the company of strangers. It’s a place where men can regress, it’s like an online junior school playground before class; it’s full of bravado one-upmanship. I have sampled this online battleground for myself, to see what is really going on. I donned a pair of oversized headphones and dared to air a greeting.
‘You sound well gay, mate’
These were just a few of the responses I received from a collection of pre-pubescent neanderthals online. The desire to respond in kind with a volley of clever put downs and words they would no doubt have trouble spelling was tangible, but I held nerve. Not a place I wish to visit regularly. But British men – and men all over the world – are doing just that.
Gill is angry. She twiddles with the Rolo-sized sovereign ring on her left hand and stares at the street scene outside. I ask her how it started and she tuts. She is an intelligent woman, I can tell. She holds my gaze while single-handedly navigating social media on her phone and tending to the thing sat in the pram beside us.
“I came home from the park after meeting my mate Shazza,” she says. “He (Darren) was sat there in his joggers playing his game. I asked him why he hadn’t cleaned up and he just told me to…”
She cuts off, her eyes roll into the back of her head and she screws up her face and her lips purse, turning white and looking like a cat’s anus.
“He spends all his time playing it,” she huffs. “He didn’t even bother going to the dole office this week. This is how bad it’s got.”
Women all over are feeling what Gill is feeling. Their partners, boyfriends and husbands have been stolen and replaced with vacant, absent shells. Their behaviour changed, their every waking hour lost in this virtual black hole. They are snappy, cold and distant when they are not enveloped in this new craze. They are changed men. Most describe it as being a ‘man child’.
In the North of England alone, divorce applications have risen by 14% since the release of this game, and pregnancies in the same area fell by 7%.
“It used to be a steady stream of reasons, ranging from adultery, gambling right through to cross dressing,” says Sue, a divorce councillor from Stoke.” “Nowadays, we’re surprised if the form doesn’t state video games.”
The game also entices participants to part with real money to purchase in-game currency that they may use to purchase items in-game. It seems that this digital mistress is not just content to steal your man, she also wants to hurt your bank account. This can have all manner of effects on relationships. Stephanie Wells, from Southampton recalls.
“I check our bank regularly,” says Stephanie. “George couldn’t be trusted with a pair of garden shears. I then kept seeing random payments, but they were itemised. If they hadn’t been, I would have suspected him of buying those stupid football stickers again. He’s forty-one for God’s sake.”
I take a sip of warm coffee – or something closely resembling coffee – and smile. I ask Gill what steps she has taken to wean her beloved off the game. Her phone bleeps, she mouths something I won’t print and then throws her phone on the table. Her mouth is once again contorted in the shape of a feline’s back passage.
“I tried bribing him,” she says. “He just said that my breasts were distracting him from the game. I tried hiding his controller around the house. But he got well angry when I’d forgotten where I’d hidden it; I had to buy him a new one.”
I try not to think about the fact that my wages – in some small part- most likely paid for said controller. I bury my resentment deep and carry on with the interview, in a desperate rush to get out of here and find the safety of the nearest, safe wine bar or corporate coffee house.
This game is causing such an issue amongst forgotten partners, that an online forum has been set up by American Donna Klapsky. She created the ‘League against Fortnite’ as a place where women – and men – could be heard. A platform where the jilted could find comrades in their fight against childish indifference. Reading some of the posts on the site, this is a place where dirty laundry is aired, and nobody baulks at the stains.
“I want to encourage dialogue,” says Donna. “I want the voices to be heard to unite against this evil.”
But there are nuggets to be found, hidden amongst the shit throwing.
If you are experiencing an issue with this game, try these;
- At social events, if your partner offers any of these phrases, divert the conversation; Are you in to gaming? Have you got a console? What’s your gamer tag?
- If your man seems restless and distracted, suggest a trip to Ikea or the in-laws.
- Sell your television.
There is a whole host of options to be found on the website, so check it out.
Bear this in mind; this is a phenomenon. These things will pass, another fad will take its place. This time next month we’ll be engrossed in all things royal wedding and we likely won’t care.
Gill sighs as she recalled one step she has taken.
“One night, the kids were asleep. We were sat in front of the telly when I went to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. When I went back in the lounge he had turned on the bloody Console. ‘Just one game’ he said, lying little twat. I decided there and then I wasn’t having this, so I took the controller off him and started playing. It turns out I was quite good at it.”
By doing this, she had forced Darren to obey an unwritten law in the guy code. Rather than face the shame of being worse at something than his partner, he gave it up completely.
“He won’t go near it now,” she says. A smile wants to spread across her puffy face, but something sits behind the eyes.
“The game is on mobile now,” she sighs. “I can’t bloody win.”
I check my phone for the nearest Uber.
Gill’s is a sad story. Let it be a warning; learn from it. Use the tips, don’t use the tips.
If you can’t beat them, join them. If that fails, burn the sodding thing.
Jason Moody for Pf Magazine
Lazy sod. Husband. Writer. Brentford FC fan.