Mon
Jun 11 2012 4:00pm
Life as a Video Game Called “Class”?

John Scalzi recently posted a blog entry entitled “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is,” and in it he aimed at describing how racism and sexism is played by referring to video games, specifically to RPGs. In most video games, players have the option of playing a harder or easier version of the same thing. In a video game like Guitar Hero, for instance, the difficulty level determines how many notes you have to hit and the complexity of the song you have to play. Scalzi uses this idea of a difficulty level to explain the concept of privilege to his mostly white, mostly male, and definitely nerdy audience.

“I’ve been thinking of a way to explain to straight white men how life works for them, without invoking the dreaded word ’privilege,’ to which they react like vampires being fed a garlic tart at high noon.”

Scalzi’s essay works. He drives home how being a Straight White Male is easier than being a Gay Black Woman, and the inequity seems real by the end of Scalzi’s post. However, as is often the case online, the conversation around the essay was just as interesting as the essay itself, and one repeated question that came out of Scalzi’s blog post might be articulated in this way:

How should class should be understood through video games?

“Imagine life here in the US — or indeed, pretty much anywhere in the Western world — is a massive role playing game, like World of Warcraft except appallingly mundane.” —John Scalzi, “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is,” May, 2012

As a PKD fan and as a Matrix paranoid, I want to believe. That is, I don’t have to imagine that life here in the U.S. is a massive video game like World of Warcraft. Scalzi suggests this possibility and I believe him right away. We really are in a video game, and this game is rigged.

One of the ways it is rigged is precisely as Scalzi suggests—the game is more difficult for people of color, for women, and for gays and lesbians, than it is for the lucky white, male, and straight minority. Also, since we are stuck inside a video game, the world turns out to not be as solid as we once thought. We’re in one of those universes that falls apart. We’re on the Truman Show, inside the Matrix, or maybe stuck playing Halo again and again, forever.

I want to believe this precisely because I’m interested in that question about how we might understand what social class is by looking at video games.

I recently checked out a book entitled Digital Culture, Play, and Identity from the Portland Central Library, and in this book, Ragnhild Tronstad writes about how identity is formed in a video game. Tronstad quotes a guy named James Newman who wrote for the journal Game Studies.

“Identification with a character’s appearance has little to do with the character’s appearance but connects instead to the way a character functions.”

Tronstad’s argument is that, over time, a character’s appearance becomes linked to her function. For example, when you’re playing the game Street Fighter 2, Chun-Li’s big breasts, small frame, and split skirt is linked with her agility and ability to deliver flying kicks to her opponent’s faces.

This is actually one of the reason’s Scalzi’s criticism has teeth. By talking about difficulty levels, he’s cleaving appearance from function. He’s pointing out how a person’s race shouldn’t be linked to their difficulty level, and yet it is. But, in a video game there really isn’t such a thing as an identity by itself. There is no Chun Li apart from the character’s appearance and the character’s function. If Chun Li were no longer able to deliver flying kicks she’d stop being Chun Li, and if her appearance was to change drastically (say she was made to look like E Honda) she would also cease to be Chun Li. There is no Chun Li except for this unreasonable linking of appearance to function. It’s not that Chun Li’s identity is being perverted by a conspiracy (some evil genius who sets her difficulty level to easy or difficult) but rather, Chun Li was perverted from the start.

Now, if we’re all video game characters, then the game we’re in is a unique one. For one thing, it’s a game without nonplaying characters.

Think about what playing Dungeons & Dragons would be like if there weren’t NPCs. If you were to spend the night at an Inn there would have to be somebody playing the role of the Inn Keeper. If you ran into goblins and started a battle, or ran into marauders, these would also be other players. Even if you just found gold pieces in a chest, this would mean that some other players had played the characters who mined the gold, another set of players would have had to play the characters who smelted the gold, and so on…

If life is a video game, then most of us have no chance of winning, if by winning you mean succeeding in a quest or saving a princess. Think about this: if our life is Super Mario Bros then some of us are playing the parts of every turtle, every mushroom, that Mario has to kill. Most of us can’t win.

Obviously, Super Mario Bros just wouldn’t work without NPCs, but this life we’re in seems to be the kind of game that operates without them.

So, to return to the question of how to think about class through video games, what I’m arguing is that class is the way we link appearance to function. It’s the way we populate and play the game. Class is in the background, it’s what has always already happened before you start to play. Class is the game itself.

“Ever get the feeling that you’re playing some vast and useless game whose goal you don’t know and whose rules you can’t remember? […] You are a gamer whether you like it or not.” —McKenzie Wark, Gamer Theory, 2007


Douglas Lain is a fiction writer, a “pop philosopher” for the popular blog Thought Catalog, and the podcaster behind the Diet Soap Podcast. His most recent book, a novella entitled “Wave of Mutilation,” was published by Fantastic Planet Press (an imprint of Eraserhead) in October of 2011, and his first novel, entitled Billy Moon: 1968 is due out from Tor Books in 2013. You can find him on Facebook and Twitter.

42 comments
Jack Jack
1. JackJack
Wow, where do I even start?

I read the article some time ago, and there is something there that seems not-quite-right about it. I am a Straight White Male, and after reading it, I was not angry or bitter, just a little confused. Moderately disturbed, as it were.

I grew up in... ah... nobody cares. I saw a friend of mine die of a mulitple drug overdose. He mixed and went over. He was more privileged than I, being rich at a young age, but his life still doesn't seem to me "easy mode." The idea that you have no right to complain about anything, ever, because of your race, gender, and/or sexuality is, I think, what strikes so many people wrong about the comparison. It seems as if though I am depressed, or not having an easy SWM life, than I should shut up and get over it, because I have no right to complain.

Easy mode? No. I wasn't rich, my family wasn't rich, I didn't have the best education, and I was part of a torn family. But, life was apparently easy for me because I was a SWM.

It just doesn't ring true. Was it easier for me than someone else that didn't have sexuality, race, or gender to deal with? No. Absolutely not. But the idea that you have no right to say anything, no right to hurt, no right to believe that something is missing in your life; that is absurd.

My life was easier, but not easy. It is slightly better, now. But if anyone looked at me as a human being, instead of my racial, sexual, or gender qualifiers, I hope they'd see that human beings should not be defined by such narrow parameters.
Dru O'Higgins
2. bellman
Even in easy mode the Orcs jump up and down on your head sometimes. I don't think anyone is saying they don't. I believe the point of Scalzi's article wasn't that white men shouldn't complain, just that we should be aware that things are more difficult for others, and would be more difficult for ourselves were our races/sexes different.
Eugene R.
3. Eugene R.
I have long wondered if the various controversies that swirl around roleplaying games are traceable to the unease that we feel when we examine the assumptions of game elements and concepts (role, alignment, species, gender, career/"class") and compare their arbitrary nature to the (allegedly) less mutable corresponding elements and concepts of Real Life (social position, religion, "race", etc.). People who are "game-averse" thus view games as dangerous not for the spurious reasons of promoting witchcraft or carjacking but more for leading us to question just how Real Life was "designed", by whom, and for whom.
rick gregory
4. rickg
JackJack and the OP both get Scalzi's post wrong. If you read the post carefully, it DOES NOT say that every SWM has it easier than every non-SWM. What Scalzi says is that, for any set of initial conditions, the SWM will generally have it easier than others. So, JackJack, if you'd been colored, gay, female, etc and grown up in the same conditions you likely would have had it harder still. Note the comparatives - easiER. HardER. Not that you had it easy, but that you likely had it easiER than a non-SWM might have in those same circumstances. It amazes me how many people blew right past this when reading that post. It's a fundamental point, but because people don't read critically, a lot of folks missed it.

Second, John wasn't expressing some universal law. He was, I think, trying to say that in general, if you are placed in a given situation and you're a SWM you will probably have it easier than non-SWMs. Not that in every single case throughout time and space. Not that any SWM will have had it easier than any non-SWM even when the situations are very different. But in general, if the situations are the same, yes, we SWMs will have it easier.
Jack Jack
5. JackJack
3. Eugene R.

Great point. If everyone is viewed as "other, but equal," it throws a wrench in the works, and that's one thing. But, to show how the Other is restricted by their making, it's a knife in the eye of many sides of the Equality discussion.

For some reason, it's easy for me to see that some people will have to go through more to become "Elite," simply because I've been playing games for so long. But, I'm somewhat still insulted by the "easy mode," label.

Eh, maybe "medium," for your average straight white male, "easy," for your rich, straight white male, "beginner," for your rich, family-stable, straight white male. Everything else is "hard," "expert," or "extreme." Those people whom are capable of overcoming the most difficult obsticles to make themselves respected among every level.

There are levels to this, if you follow his logic, but he only touches on weird "point allotment" examples. I didn't decide to be unattractive, I didn't decide to have bad eyesight, but apparently, as I "level up," can do that in his world. What? Dumb luck gives you these points for the important beginning of your "game."
Jeremy Goff
7. JeremyM
Nice job on this article. It draws a nice mental picture, for me at least, of how to work the issue of class into this particular discussion. I read the original post when Scalzi put it up and I didn't comment at the time because my initial response was, "Well, of course".

You have to keep in mind that Scalzi wasn't tackling the issue of class in his article, just of the disparity that race and sexual orientation plays in you're starting point. From there you can add on class etc. The problem gets a lot bigger the further out you take it. The original article was more just to call people's attention to the fact that as a SWM you have an easier starting point regardless of which social class you start in. From there it's up to you to decide what, if anything, to do with the information. I personally am not going to apologize for being born a SWM, nor do I think someone should have to apologize for being born rich. But it does make me want to make a conscious effort in trying to empathize with someone else if I'm ever in a situation where I would need to. That's my take on it at least.
Eugene R.
9. lorq
I really like the final comments in the above article regarding class -- as the game that's already-in-play.

Often I've thought that, while people talk a lot about adolescence as a time when one is "coming to terms with one's identity", what is *really* going on is that one is coming to terms with one's class position.

In this country there's a reasonable amount of comfort in discussing the tensions that arise in high school around race, gender, and sexuality. But the elephant in the room is the tension centering on class.

What is high school if not a long, slow "processing" of each student -- given his/her aready-existing class background and aptitudes -- into a particular class position?

It really is the name of the high school "game."
rick gregory
10. rickg
Jackjack.

Yes you did:
Was it easier for me than someone else that didn't have sexuality, race, or gender to deal with? No. Absolutely not.
That to me says that you don't believe that you had it easier than you'd have had it as a non-SWM. You still seem to want to say that if there's any exception the entire concept is invalid... this is silly. It's a framework for thinking, not an ironclad rule.

And again

It seems as if though I am depressed, or not having an easy SWM life, than I should shut up and get over it, because I have no right to complain.



Again, not what John ever wrote. You're bringing your own baggage and not reading what's actually written, but filtering what you think he wrote through your own prejudices.

And I think you're overworking that poor Er.
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
12. tnh
Douglas:
class is the way we link appearance to function. It’s the way we populate and play the game.
Can you unpack that? I can't make any sense of the way you've stated it.

JackJack: Nobody said you had it easy. They said you belong to a class that consistently has it easier. Which you do. Big difference.

As for the idea that you don't have the right to hurt, or to complain about it, nobody's said that either. You are called upon to notice that other people hurt too, and that their complaints have been given less attention and tolerance. Some of them hurt quite a lot. Odds are, you're far from being the most seriously wounded case on the triage list.

Are you afraid that if others have the same right you do to say "Don't complain to me, I've got problems of my own," your sorrows will never get any attention? Which pretty much boils down to "you're afraid that they'll treat you like you've treated them"?
But if anyone looked at me as a human being, instead of my racial, sexual, or gender qualifiers, I hope they'd see that human beings should not be defined by such narrow parameters.
And once again: for others, that's never been an option. Their entire lives have inescapably been configured by race, gender, and class. You've gotten to pretend that such things somehow, magically, shouldn't be an issue, because they're not an issue for you. People who have to live with those markers know they're always an issue. They can't escape them.

Here, watch this. Don't worry; it's Dave Chappelle. He's funny. He's talking about hanging out with his white friend Chip, and the amazing sh*t Chip gets away with.

Chappelle lives in a universe of rules about what you can and can't do in the vicinity of police officers. You say people shouldn't be defined by narrow parameters like race? If I didn't know anything about you, I'd still know you were white when you said that, because for you, there are next to zero penalties for pretending that race doesn't matter. For someone like Dave Chappelle, there are serious penalties for pretending race doesn't matter.

Henry Louis Gates is the most prominent black academic intellectual in this country. He's a Harvard professor, not young, walks with a cane, lives in a tidy house in Cambridge. More establishment than that, you do not get. He was nevertheless accosted by police in his own home, in the middle of the day. After he showed them his ID, they still arrested him for "disorderly conduct", put him in handcuffs, and held him at the police station for four hours.

That's what I mean by only white guys getting to pretend that race shouldn't matter. Even Henry Louis Gates, in his own home, in Cambridge for pete's sake (which is practically a theme park for moneyed academics), never gets to forget he's black. The threat is always there.

Only white guys get to pretend that gender doesn't matter, too. Women never get to forget they're women. On average, you still get paid more than we do for the same work, get promoted oftener, and rise higher. You don't have to think twice about staying late at the office with a co-worker. The world isn't full of jerks who'll sexually harass you any time or anywhere, who make it clear that there's only one thing you're good for, and who may assault you if they think they can get away with it.

You don't have to live with that, either.

You, being human, have some sorrows in your life. LGBT teenagers have an appalling suicide rate. Life occasionally disappoints you. No physiological reasons can account for the number of black men who have dangerously high blood pressure. You feel bad sometimes. 95%-98% of all victims of domestic violence are women. Being alive hurts? No kidding.

You're surrounded by people who deal with all this heartbreaking sh*t day in and day out, and go on living and working; but you nevertheless feel massively sorry for yourself, because you might have to momentarily admit that you have it better than they do.
Jack Jack
13. JackJack
10. rickg
Was it easier for me than someone else that didn't have sexuality, race, or gender to deal with? No. Absolutely not.
That to me says that you don't believe that you had it easier than you'd have had it as a non-SWM. You still seem to want to say that if there's any exception the entire concept is invalid... this is silly. It's a framework for thinking, not an ironclad rule.
An exception makes a statement false. I learned this in first grade. A framework for thinking based on a falsehood is not something I'd want to base my ideals on.

12. tnh
And once again: for others, that's never been an option. Their entire
lives have inescapably been configured by race, gender, and class.
You've gotten to pretend that such things somehow, magically, shouldn't
be an issue, because they're not an issue for you. People who have to
live with those markers know they're always an issue. They can't escape
them.

I didn't choose, either. I don't believe I should be judged on those parameters, and I don't think anyone else should. I didn't choose. No one did. The whole "choosing Easy Mode" is absurd. I didn't. Did you? You have it easier than some people, is it your fault? Is your life a cakewalk?

And you're still playing that "oh, you may have a right to be upset, but there are others who have it worse so stop it."
David Goldfarb
17. David_Goldfarb
Today, the rules are the same for everyone. You win or lose as you play based on your actions, not your race or gender.
Tell that to Trayvon Martin.
Eugene R.
19. lorq
Many interesting things about this thread.

First, how JackJack and Matthew1215 basically make the same cognitive error. Scalzi (and Lain) are both clearly talking about *social position*. That's the whole thrust of Scalzi's article. The "player setting" of SWM is a *setting*. A place, a level, a room at the motel. Both JackJack and Matthew1215 say, "How dare he! Why, *I*..." And this is to miss exactly the point Scalzi and Lain are making. The position doesn't care about *you*. You just happen to occupy it. It's the place, the level, the room you were born into.

Second, the sheer amount of verbiage each is willing to fill up this thread with. No one can streeeeeetch out complaining quite like SWMs can. (This is why it's especially rich to hear Matthew1215 whine at such length about whining.) One would almost think they just assumed everyone else in the world had an infinite amount of time and energy to listen to their every word. Which is, of course, a familiar default assumption of the SWM position.

Third, notice how, by insistently *not* seeing it, by essentially ignoring the point of the articles in question, by simply refusing to address the central concept being conveyed by them, they have now become the centers of attention on the thread. "I *have* to make this all about me -- even if I have to be willfully obtuse to do it!"

I'm a SWM myself. When I read Scalzi's article, I thought it made vivid something that was blindingly obvious to me back in grade school: that because of structural circumstances that had nothing to do with me personally, the position I occupied was easier than others.

From one SWM to others: either you acknowledge the existence of these positions, these player levels -- i.e. the existence of social structure itself, which preceded you on the scene, and which, again, doesn't give a rat's ass about you personally -- or you deny it. And if you deny it, all I can say is: such denial is a *wholly* typical behavior of that very position you occupy. The denial doesn't belong to you: it belongs to your position. But go ahead. Parrot away. Join the chorus of the SWM position. You rugged individualist you.
Eugene R.
20. Covil
Maybe I do have it easier that minorities, I don't really have any experience to contrast with. But I do know that I've spent pretty much my whole life being told that I'm a bad person and that I should feel guilty just because of how I was born and what my ancestors did. That I for some reason have to make amends. So as you can imagine my sympathy is less than overwhelming.
Pamela Adams
21. Pam Adams
bad person and that I should feel guilty just because of how I was born and what my ancestors did.

So, because of who your ancestors were, what you look like, and maybe even due to your gender, you're being treated unfairly? Welcome to the club. Sucks, doesn't it?
Ashley Fox
23. A Fox
Wow. There is a whole lot of very bitter shit lurking here.

I havent yet read Scalzis post, but shall on the morrow. The subject matter, however is very familiar....as, unfortunately, is this 'discussion'.

@ 2, 4, 12, 19-tossing out some agreement. Go yous.

Speaking of tossing, or rather tossers...

"The world isn't full of jerks who'll sexually harass you any time or anywhere, who make it clear that there's only one thing you're good for, and who may assault you if they think they can get away with it."

To borrow a phrase, God made man. Samuel Colt made men equal.

In all honesty, this is a fair point, a real difference in life
experience between the genders. My response to it is threefold: 1,
technology has solved the core problem; 2, most societies have made
taking advantage of this difference significantly illegal; 3, it's ....
sort of ... odd... to blame society for basic facts of biology that we
have to live with. It's a different experience of life, to be sure, but
point 1 above renders it mostly irrelevant to this discussion. This is
America; we have a right to keep and bear arms; if you do not want to
experience life as a woman who is (on average) smaller and weaker than most males, you have the right to experience life as a woman with a gun who has more power in a holster than most men habitually carry with them."

A. Im not going to even touch on the issue of God, although I will direct you to take a good hard look at the class, gender, and race of that nefarious religion, not to mention the privilages that it feircely upholds.

b. again, I am not going to go into detail over bearing arms. You guys are just generally batshit crazy over that. Honestly it's like telling a child not to play with fire, then giving it matches just in case it has a fleeting desire/animal instict to burn the freaking world down. guns=gun crime. Simple.

c.How has tech solved the core problem? You seem to be conflating murderous retribution with the initial cause. Very odd logic that. The problem is the way that privilaged men think they can simply take what they want, the problem is that women are viewed, and used, as objects, not people. The problem is that men feel their control under threat by the womans movement, again focusing on a seperation of gender, the creation of competition (which is bloody stupid as biologically it is our own genders we should view as a threat as it is their DNA that could potencially usurp our own). The problem is the patriarchy, the problem is capitalism...well there are many problems, or aspects of the same problem. The problem is men like you. (Im not accusing you of being a rapist, but your views are certainly conductive to a culture that accepts rape. And it disgusts me.)

d. Many things are illeagle. Laws are illusions, they only gain reality if people abide by them. Guess what? They dont.

e. ::whistles:: Here, boy! C'mon, here boy! Awww jus' so you know you are not an animal. You have itellect, a conscious, you have choice, you have free will. You do not need to rape the nearest woman everytime you have an erection. Theres a fact of biology for you. Point C touches upon some of the sociological aspects.

f. "if you do not want to experiance life as a woman" This is what horrified me the most. You have, in one foul sweep of your pallid bejewlled arm, accepted and supported that being a woman means being raped and used by men. That that is a given, the lot of women. And that the only way for a woman to stop this is by getting a gun and shooting her rapist. That the rape itself is irrelevent.

What the fuck is wrong with you?

Women are people, you do realise this? Actual, real, living, breathing, thinking, feeling people. Being a woman is many, many wonderful things. Being a woman in western (and relatively we have it easy compared to some parts of the world) culture also has its hardships, its bitterness, its glass ceiling and its pains. One of these is just how common, and commonly accepted (as you do) rape is. This is a Very Bad Thing (im trying to use simple terms for you). The problem is not how a woman should deal with this, apparent, inevitability, but rather how to STOP IT FROM HAPPENING IN THE FIRST PLACE!

Also you seem to think the only way to stop rape, is not to stop men from doing it or by addressing the cultural/sociological norm and values that has led us to this horrifying place, but rather, for a women to embrace her degredation and commit murder, further hurting herslf, giving up on hope, life and autonomy.

I rather think you are evincing the very worst of the concerns that are being raised here when we examine privilage.
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
24. tnh
JackJack @13:
Was it easier for me than someone else that didn't have sexuality, race, or gender to deal with? No. Absolutely not.
That's an unsupported assertion in the individual case, and the data is seriously not on your side in the general case. Also, you have repeatedly misrepresented the other side of the argument. No one has said that you, personally, have had it easy all your life. They've said that you belong to a class which consistently has it easier than any other.

You've had this pointed out to you several times. It's taken up a good bit of space in this discussion. You keep ignoring it, and arguing with a point no one has made. Could you please address this? You're making a hash of this thread.
An exception makes a statement false. I learned this in first grade.
Not a rule, outside mathematics; and it wouldn't be applicable in any event. The pertinent rule here is that one anecdotal report (that's you) does not constitute a statistically significant refutation. And, as I said before, the data is seriously not on your side.
TNH: "And once again: for others, that's never been an option. Their lives have inescapably been configured by race, gender, and class. You've gotten to pretend that such things somehow, magically, shouldn't be an issue, because they're not an issue for you. People who have to live with those markers know they're always an issue. They can't escape them."
I didn't choose, either.
Nobody said you chose to be straight, white, or male. What I said was that you have the luxury, unique to straight white middle-class males, of choosing to pretend that race, gender, class, and sexual orientation don't matter, and can be ignored. And make no mistake about it: that is a luxury. No one else gets to pretend those issues don't exist. Just ask Henry Louis Gates, or Trayvon Martin.
I don't believe I should be judged on those parameters, and I don't think anyone else should.
Everyone else is judged on them. You belong to the only class that escapes it. Why does this confuse and distress you so much?
I didn't choose. No one did. The whole "choosing Easy Mode" is absurd. I didn't. Did you?
Again: no one chooses what they are, and no one has said they did.
Christopher Johnstone
25. CPJ
Every now and again I get this deep-seated worry. What if the reason we've never been contacted by anyone else living out there is that we're it? What if we're the best the galaxy has spat out so far? What if we are the 'ancients', the first, smartest, most generous, most caring, most enlightened and best hope for civilisation anywhere within a hundred light years?

I find it a deeply depressing thought.

I am of course leaving it intentionally vague as to what elements of the thread have made me think these thoughts. I hope that by not being accusatory I will perhaps leave more space for others to feel safe to self-reflect.

Chris
Ashley Fox
27. A Fox
I rather think that the 'selection' is meant that if in a game scenario you could choose, and experiance different perspectives there would be an initial seclection process, not that you get to choose in, you know, real life. Part of the overall analogy of a game representitive of life.
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
28. tnh
JackJack, take a break for a week.
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
29. tnh
Apologies to those who've lost comments, or were in the middle of writing replies. If it makes you feel better, I've deleted some of my own.

We cannot continue to devote this thread to a loud, sprawling, apparently endless argument that's unrelated to the original article.
Eugene R.
30. cyan
I don't understand how Chun-Li's breast size has ANYTHING to do with her agility or ability to deliver flying kicks.
Eugene R.
31. a1ay
30: nothing, except that they're both aspects of a video game character. They have exactly as much to do with each other as the Master Chief's accent has to do with his ability to fire weapons accurately from both hands simultaneously.
I didn't think it was very well put either tbh. In fact the whole post could do with a bit of an edit; there's no real definition of "class" for a start.
Brian R
32. Mayhem
@30
Yes, this article does have some rather confusing analogies,
I don't think the author put their point across very well.
I wonder if it was supposed to be something to do with leverage & weight distribution?


Trondtat's point ties in well with World of Warcraft, where function is separated from a malleable character appearance out into well defined tropes - Healer / Tank / Damage and so on. Those archetypes and the roles they induce are easy to relate to, and would tend to attract certain types of people.
But extrapolating it to fighting games makes little sense - in original Street Fighter each character was its own archetype, though they've merged and remerged since. Appearance *is* the character, it isn't something that can be disassociated or changed by the player.

As for the authors focus on class - read Scalzi's follow up post.
Money and Class in general are stats - they modify an existing position but are not an integral part of how they are perceived. There are exceptions - caste in India would be the first to come to mind - but in general someone born into a moneyed family will have extremely different starting points if the family is black or white, even if both live in the Hamptons or Mayfair. Both will have a better start than those born into a poor family, but they are emphatically not starting from an equal point.

The US is an odd one out in the world - Class in the US is inherently linked to wealth, whereas in the UK and most other nations, Class is linked to ancestry.

Go back 100 years and Class in the UK was a significant starting factor. Today, it is a still relatively powerful modifier - yet individuals can start from a low background and reach the heights of power. At the turn of last century, that was simply not possible.
Take a different commonwealth country, like Australia/NZ or even Canada, and class simply ceases to be a major factor. Wealth certainly is, but class can be effectively ignored.
Eugene R.
33. a1ay
I wonder if it was supposed to be something to do with leverage & weight distribution?

*chuckle* Nice one. "They're not gratuitous! They're a counterweight!"

Go back 100 years and Class in the UK was a significant starting factor. Today, it is a still relatively powerful modifier - yet individuals
can start from a low background and reach the heights of power. At the turn of last century, that was simply not possible.

Lloyd George, Philip Snowden, Ramsay MacDonald, and Colin Campbell, all either at the heights of power or well on their way there by 1912. In fact, in 1916 the Prime Minister was the son of a failed Welsh hill farmer, and we've moved on so far that in 2012 the Prime Minister is an Old Etonian aristocrat...
But you're right, mobility was less common in 1912 than today.
Eugene R.
34. Gerry__Quinn
"Scalzi uses this idea of a difficulty level to explain the concept of privilege... “I’ve been thinking of a way to explain to straight white men how life works for them, without invoking the dreaded word ’privilege'".

Right... because the only reason people could disagree with him is because they have a bizarre aversion to a particular word and thus fail to understand the point he's making. So using a different word for the same concept will totally change everyone's opinion.

Or maybe he's too smart to think that, but he just likes preaching to the converted.

David Goldfarb @17: It's not clear whether Trayvon Martin's race was a factor in his shooting. However, I agree that his gender probably was, and if he were female s/he'd still probably be alive today. Funny how that male privilege works sometimes.
Ashley Fox
37. A Fox
Oh dear, you dont actually believe Fox news right? Becuase they outright lie, manipulate and vomit forth propaganda. The rest of the world views it as a disturbing joke.

I havent heard of Trayvon Martin but in uk we had the murder (which seems to share similar discrepancies) of Mark Duggan. A young black man who was shot by police becuase he was a young black man and they assumed he was doing something illeagle. They even tried to say that he had shot at police first. This did not hold up to whitness accounts and footage. He was unarmed. Eventually the police came clean about this. Duggan had some criminal eements to his youth (so many in the media used this as a justification).

Before the police admitted the manner of his death they repeatedly ignored his family, who marched on the police station in peaceful protest. They wanted to know how their son/brother/friend had dies and why. They police brutalised a 16yr old girl in response.

The London Riots ensued. (although it spread to quite a few cities over the country).

An undeniable clash of classes (which deliniate race, wealth etc etc), an uprising of those who have been crushed beneath the boot of privalege (whilst being told that they need the accountraments of said wealth). It grew and boiled beyound the initial cause, a cathartic outletting or rage and misplaced anger.

So I do find it very odd when people have such a problem with such a benign article. Privalege exists and it has ramifications. Syria, Egypt, riots were the theme last year, and privelage (or lack there of) was a great driving force of it.

EDIT. Im, um, am not a crazy person. This post and last were responses to posts that have now disappeared. Just so you all know O_o
Brian R
38. Mayhem
@Ajay
Yep, I'm reading the Sharpe books again at the moment, and its interesting to compare the England of the 1800s with that of the 1900s - there are vast changes in social mobility caused by the two world wars. The figures you mention above are sterling examples of the rise of the liberal and labour movements, which simply didn't exist earlier.
Curiously it is really only in the last 10-20 years that things have started to go back to how they were, but this time the ruling class is one of wealth like the US, not one based on land, despite the fact that 70% of the land is owned by 1% of the population. The Aristocracy is still there, but they are almost a parallel system now, occasionally interacting.

As for @37 - gotta love having your context pulled out from under you eh? I agree with most of what you say, although the London Riots were an interesting case - most of those having a go were relatively privileged, the dominant factor was they were very young, and wanted to smash stuff.
As you say, racial tension was the initial trigger, but the vast explosion was of callous youth seeing an opportunity to get away with something and taking it. Noticeably, there were very very few adult rioters, and the organised criminal element was almost invisible in the affected areas - they were busy knocking off the quiet parts while the cops were busy.

Compare that with the uprisings in the middle east, which were in the most part classic examples of popular uprisings against an oppressive leader, as seen 20-30 years earlier in many former communist countries. The key difference though is that the destabilising influences were mostly internal, and are unlikely to lead to a rampant capitalistic society - the middle eastern populace wants democracy, but on their terms, not the West's.
will shetterly
39. willshetterly
My favorite comment on Scalzi's post was "I’m thankful for all the advantages I have over Herman Cain’s daughter. I really dodged a bullet there." Because it points to a truth: the easiest setting in the game is rich. In a society where some are rich, the rest of us are like Ginger Rogers in a Fred Astaire movie: we've got to do everything the rich do, only backwards and in high heels.

There's a meme in the social justice community: "Don't play oppression olympics." I think it's because they know that if they played, they would lose, because the privilege of wealth is huge. Condi Rice had hard odds against her, but she still had much better odds than a poor white guy born in Appalachia or Montana.

Now, because, as Adolph Reed Jr. and others have noted, bringing up class makes antiracists claim you think racism is over, I'll agree that there are still plenty of racists out there. The only person I've been able to find who has said racism is over was Bill Bennett on the eve of Obama's election, and he may've just gotten carried away in the moment.

A note for TNH: If there's any evidence that Noam Chomsky would've been treated better by the cops if he'd been shouting on his front porch about the treatment of leftists in America, I would happily believe Gates was a victim of institutional racism. But to the best of my knowledge, no one who smarts off to cops walks away without paying any price at all. At least, if that's part of the white privilege package, someone shorted me on it, and shorted an awful lot of white protesters through the years as well.
Eugene R.
41. Derick Varn, aka skepoet
"Because it points to a truth: the easiest setting in the game is rich. In a society where some are rich, the rest of us are like Ginger Rogers in a Fred Astaire movie: we've got to do everything the rich do, only backwards and in high heels."

Yes, it is, but that doesn't undo Scalzi point. The problem is that everyone is pretending that the game only has one set of rules, but identity can be switched out as long as position is maintained. It doesn't matter if Mario crushes Gombas or turtles, as long as there is a pixalated monster for Mario to crush. Today the gomba, tomorrow the radish ninja.

Obviously, the position postion to be in is the Mario position, even if there is some risk, that purpose is not be crushed to further the plot. To be rich is to be Mario. To be any minority or luminality is to be a gomba, but the identity construction of Mario or gomba can change as long as we still have rules, we still have identity.

Adorno said the Ur-form of identity is ideology: he was right, and Mario proves that.
Eugene R.
42. SKM
An exception makes a statement false. I learned this in first grade.

That's true in logical induction, not in statistics. Anecdotes and outliers don't disprove trends -- and trends are what Scalzi is discussing.

White males on average have it easier than females or people of color on average. This has been repeatedly, conclusively shown by various studies and on various metrics. Gender and race are not the only determining factors in the outcome of a person's life, but they are major ones. That's the point Scalzi is making.

I get that people want to believe that their accomplishments were purely their own, conscious doing (unless they haven't achieved anything, in which case they look for anyone or anything else to blame that on). However, that clearly isn't true. A person with severe cognitive disabilities (or even simply average intelligence) can work as hard as he can, but he'll never win the Nobel Prize for physics. A woman can train as hard as she can, but she'll never be physically capable of winning a men's track-and-field Olympic gold. People can choose to live up to their potential or not, but their potential is constrained/defined by inherent traits they have no choice in.

Here's an example from my own life of how privilege works. My husband and I each have a bachelor's degree from the same college. My parents have advanced degrees and put aside a significant chunk of money for my education in addition to pointing me toward good scholarship opportunities. I was also blessed with a very bright mind and a stable home life. I spent most of my college time playing video games, but graduated cum laude with no student loans.

My husband, on the other hand, was the first in his family to attend college at all, let alone graduate. His parents were abusive and cut him off financially and otherwise at age 18. He is smart, but not gifted. He work-studied his way through college, earned a B-average GPA, and had to take out around $40,000 in loans.

On paper, mine is the greater accomplishment, as my GPA was significantly higher. In reality, his was by far the greater accomplishment, because he worked a heck of a lot harder to get that degree. Does that mean I didn't deserve my degree? Of course not. But it does mean that my accomplishments were made much easier by factors beyond my control. It would be dickish not to acknowledge that. Likewise, it is dickish to refuse to acknowledge that yes, you have privilege, regardless of whether or not you have lived up to your privilege-expanded potential.

(And before anyone jumps on my example to say, "See? You, the female, had it easier! Male privilege disproven," please refer back to my earlier point about disproving trends. Also, I would point out now that he and I are "equalized" by our degrees and our shared finances, he very much has it easier than I do -- which, again, was Scalzi's point.)
Douglas Lain
43. douglain
TNH:
You asked me to unpack this line from the post and I'm glad to give it a shot.

Class is the way we link appearance to function. It’s the way we populate and play the game.

Okay, so class divisions are necessary for Capitalist economies to function, and given that we're playing the game called Capitalism this means that we have to position people into at least two classes--workers and owners of production (Capitalists)-- in order to play this social game. So class is how we populate the game, ie it's the set of categories we must fit people into if we're to play. It is also how we play the game because the division of people into to classes is what allows exploitation to happen and thereby it's what produces profits. Without profit based on human labor Capitalism couldn't happen. It is how we link appearance to function because we determine what somebody's function will be by slotting them into a class position in the game of Capitalist production.

Now, all of this is sort of cheating because I'm just regurgitating Marx (or my sketchy understand of Marx), however, I could imagine a different class division, say between serfs and lords, or priests and lay people, and point to a similar scenario in those cases as well.

Anyhow, my aim was to explain the concept of class as I'd picked it up from Marx and his followers without talking about production, exploitation, or any of the rest of that stuff, but instead talking about video games, but maybe this bit of explanation has helped a little? If not let me know and I'll try again. Also, I have written a second blog post on this same subject and unless this second post is rejected it should be appearing here next week.
Eugene R.
44. Brother Abe
Interesting. Why is it bad to have privilege? I mean I get the inherent difficulty in being given nothing because you were not born to class or wealth or know how to obtain and hold either. I do not think our society comes anywhere close to being as unfair as people represent. I mean do the right things in the right manner and fight for your right. Band together and be hyper-vigilant. However complaining is that right and is that tactic of hyper-vigilant We want to be considerate and want to right wrongs today. So complain and conserve and aim at advancing your priveledges. I want responses and critism if available, disabuse me of my ignorance.
Brian R
45. Mayhem
@44
I think you kind of missed the point. Neither author is saying it is bad to be privileged. Privilege takes a wide variety of forms, from wealth to ancestry, from birth location to innate ability. Heck even down to if you are an only child versus having siblings. Good in some ways, bad in others.
What they are saying is that being of the group labelled Straight White Male means on average you are better off than anyone else in your exact same circumstances who isn't a SWM. If you were born female, instead of male. If you were born black, instead of white (and wouldn't that confuse your parents!).

You talk of banding together, being vigilant and siezing your rights. Yet if you are a middle class straight white male, you most likely already *have* those rights. All the authors ask is that you be more aware of this, and know that the woman/indian/chinese guy beside you has had to try harder to reach the same position.
It is not a zero sum game though. Acknowledging that they had to try harder does not make your achievements less.
will shetterly
46. willshetterly
"The problem is that everyone is pretending that the game only has one set of rules, but identity can be switched out as long as position is maintained."

I sympathize with this take, but I must note that not everyone pretends that. More importantly, the people who pretend class is something that's added on are the ones assuming a single position. I realized things in America had changed significantly when OJ Simpson won the kind of case that any rich white man or woman would've won, but poor people of any hue still automatically lose. When you level up in the game of US Capitalism, your color turns green. The election of Obama did not prove that racism was over, but it did prove that any man with neoliberal politics who had learned the ways of the upper class at schools for the rich could become President and keep propping up Wall Street.
will shetterly
47. willshetterly
"All the authors ask is that you be more aware of this, and know that the woman/indian/chinese guy beside you has had to try harder to reach the same position."

Actually, before the crash of the housing market which disproportionately affected Asians who had invested in homes along the West Coast, it was more likely that the "chinese guy beside you" was richer than a "white guy beside you." And today, the "indian guy beside you" is statistically more likely to be richer: Indian-Americans, as a group, are richer than European-Americans.
Douglas Lain
48. douglain
willshetterly:

The point of my essay, or one of them, was that it is a mistake to speak about class in terms of difficulty levels. You miss what class is if you reduce it to a matter of poverty, and you really miss it if you think of class in terms of white poverty. Class isn't a matter of poverty, it isn't a difficulty level, but as I wrote it is the game we're playing. Without a class system nothing else in our society would function and we'd would have to figure out something entirely new to play.

I think it's true that this system tends to make divisions and differences along racial or geographical lines less and less relevant, but it also has to rely on old identities and new ones in order to function.

To remain at the level of trying to correct the difficulty level means that we miss the opportunity to try to change the game.
will shetterly
49. willshetterly
Doug, as often happens in these discussions, we don't disagree, but we put our emphasis in different places.

The first question is whether the game is Class or Life. You're proposing the former. Scalzi, whose understanding of power was shaped by an expensive prep school and an expensive private university, was proposing the latter. I'm suggesting that Scalzi's privilege caused him to overlook the fact that in the US, we're playing Life 2.0, Now with Less Feudalism, More Capitalism!

I don't follow your point about reducing class to a matter of poverty. Class ain't about poverty; it's about wealth. Poor folks are the lowest rung of the class ladder, the original proletariat, the Capite censi who only mattered as heads that were counted because they had no wealth to count. Hmm. Or maybe that metaphor works better if poor folks are the base the damn ladder is propped on, because they provide the cheap labor that everyone else benefits from.

We agree that thinking of poverty in racial terms misses the point: making the class system racially proportionate is as silly as making the Titanic racially proportionate.

My point is that playing someone in the economic middle, whether a richer working-class character or a poorer bourgie character, is much better than playing anyone in the bottom 50% of the US population, who effectively have nothing. But if you really want to clean up, start off as one of the guys in the 1%. That's how Bill Gates did it.
Brian R
50. Mayhem
And I disagree with both of you, because outside the US, class is not about wealth, it is about blood, about ancestry. Land and Wealth is a result, but the aristocracy has spanned the gamut from rich to poor for centuries. Hence all the tales in Europe of the Nouveau Riche rising out of the despised merchant class to pollute the refined nobility who don't deign to dabble in trade.

Or take India, where Caste is the idea of class taken to its extreme, from brahmin and kshatriya all the way down to the untouchables. One might rise from one level to another through some extraordinary act during your life, but never more than one level. It is up to your descendents to rise above their station, and the number that went from bottom to top is vanishingly small.

This is what A1ay was complaining about earlier, and why I'm waiting for your second article - you never properly defined what class means to you which muddied your points. And hence my agreement that class is a stats modifier in Scalzi's game.

You can be a rich low class person, or a poor low class person. Neither has any bearing on your race or creed. But at all levels of the spectrum, race and sex has more of an impact on how your life will turn out than class and wealth, especially when compared across the population. Look at the wealthy scions of the Murdoch media empire - both elder daughters have distinguished themselves in business, yet it was his third child Lachlan who would be deemed heir apparent primarily because he was male and despite noticeable shortcomings.
will shetterly
51. willshetterly
Mayhem, you've got a feudal understanding of class. Yes, there are still countries that have nobility, but the nobles who still have wealth have become capitalists. In India, capitalism is shaking up caste—see Mukesh Ambani.

A poor person from the ruling class is still poor. A rich person from the working class is still rich. Of course gender and race complicate the picture, but really, Hillary Clinton and Oprah Winfrey have far more power than you or me. They don't have to worry about what will happen to them in a month if they lose their job or their welfare benefits. They know their medical needs will be met. They have the power that matters most under capitalism—capital.
Brian R
52. Mayhem
True, to a certain extent I'm arguing a side that no longer exists in many countries. But looking around the UK today, I see two different usages of class - there is Upper Class meaning aristocratic, and Ruling Class meaning the wealthy elite. There is a certain amount of cross pollination, but in most cases the two are parallel.
In Australasia on the other hand, we have a predominant middle class society, with a small group of people at the top, but no particular distinction to them. The ruling types in both Australia and New Zealand in recent years have had predominantly working class roots, we're only now getting the third generation arrogant rich working their way into the system.
The gap between rich and poor is high, but between poor and middle is relatively low by global standards. More of a problem is gender and race - for example NZ still has issues with getting women into senior positions, despite being one of the first countries to emancipate women and having had two female prime ministers, and pay is seldom in parity with their peers even if they head the largest companies.

It means I have a very different outlook to the american one that tends to dominate the debate on this site, so I want to make sure the author makes his point clearly. As I said, I'm quite interested to see his next post which should clarify things.
Brian R
53. Mayhem
Also, if you look closely, Mukesh Ambani is Baniya, he comes from a merchant class who worked as moneylenders and trading. His father refined his skills trading in Aden before moving back to India and riding the petrochemical and industrial textile boom that hit in the 60s & 70s. He's a perfect example of the industrial magnate, the equivalent of the Rockefeller or Vanderbilt, as India modernised following independance. He emphatically did not however come from a poor background.

That being said, the main thing disrupting Caste in India has been the phenomenal growth of the country in the last 60 years, both economic and population. From 1870-1945, India averaged around 300 million, today it is over 1.2 billion. That kind of massive social upheaval has one heck of an impact.
will shetterly
54. willshetterly
Agreed that Mukesh Ambani does not come from a poor background; my point is that he's not from a princely caste. Looking for examples of rich untouchables in India, I found this:

http://articles.latimes.com/2012/apr/18/world/la-fg-india-caste-20120419

This is also worth a look:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/22/world/asia/indias-boom-creates-openings-for-untouchables.html?pagewanted=all

The money quote: “Because of the new market economy, material markers are replacing social markers. Dalits can buy rank in the market economy. India is moving from a caste-based to a class-based society, where if you have all the goodies in life and your bank account is booming, you are acceptable.”

Well, I'm also looking forward to Doug's next post.

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