Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is

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. It’s not that the word “privilege” is incorrect, it’s that it’s not their word. When confronted with “privilege,” they fiddle with the word itself, and haul out the dictionaries and find every possible way to talk about the word but not any of the things the word signifies.

So, the challenge: how to get across the ideas bound up in the word “privilege,” in a way that your average straight white man will get, without freaking out about it?

Being a white guy who likes women, here’s how I would do it:

Dudes. 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, where most quests involve the acquisition of money, cell phones and donuts, although not always at the same time. Let’s call it The Real World. You have installed The Real World on your computer and are about to start playing, but first you go to the settings tab to bind your keys, fiddle with your defaults, and choose the difficulty setting for the game. Got it?

Okay: In the role playing game known as The Real World, “Straight White Male” is the lowest difficulty setting there is.

This means that the default behaviors for almost all the non-player characters in the game are easier on you than they would be otherwise. The default barriers for completions of quests are lower. Your leveling-up thresholds come more quickly. You automatically gain entry to some parts of the map that others have to work for. The game is easier to play, automatically, and when you need help, by default it’s easier to get.

Now, once you’ve selected the “Straight White Male” difficulty setting, you still have to create a character, and how many points you get to start — and how they are apportioned — will make a difference. Initially the computer will tell you how many points you get and how they are divided up. If you start with 25 points, and your dump stat is wealth, well, then you may be kind of screwed. If you start with 250 points and your dump stat is charisma, well, then you’re probably fine. Be aware the computer makes it difficult to start with more than 30 points; people on higher difficulty settings generally start with even fewer than that.

As the game progresses, your goal is to gain points, apportion them wisely, and level up. If you start with fewer points and fewer of them in critical stat categories, or choose poorly regarding the skills you decide to level up on, then the game will still be difficult for you. But because you’re playing on the “Straight White Male” setting, gaining points and leveling up will still by default be easier, all other things being equal, than for another player using a higher difficulty setting.

Likewise, it’s certainly possible someone playing at a higher difficulty setting is progressing more quickly than you are, because they had more points initially given to them by the computer and/or their highest stats are wealth, intelligence and constitution and/or simply because they play the game better than you do. It doesn’t change the fact you are still playing on the lowest difficulty setting.

You can lose playing on the lowest difficulty setting. The lowest difficulty setting is still the easiest setting to win on. The player who plays on the “Gay Minority Female” setting? Hardcore.

And maybe at this point you say, hey, I like a challenge, I want to change my difficulty setting! Well, here’s the thing: In The Real World, you don’t unlock any rewards or receive any benefit for playing on higher difficulty settings. The game is just harder, and potentially a lot less fun. And you say, okay, but what if I want to replay the game later on a higher difficulty setting, just to see what it’s like? Well, here’s the other thing about The Real World: You only get to play it once. So why make it more difficult than it has to be? Your goal is to win the game, not make it difficult.

Oh, and one other thing. Remember when I said that you could choose your difficulty setting in The Real World? Well, I lied. In fact, the computer chooses the difficulty setting for you. You don’t get a choice; you just get what gets given to you at the start of the game, and then you have to deal with it.

So that’s “Straight White Male” for you in The Real World (and also, in the real world): The lowest difficulty setting there is. All things being equal, and even when they are not, if the computer — or life — assigns you the “Straight White Male” difficulty setting, then brother, you’ve caught a break.

(Update, 11:07 pm: The comment thread hit 800 comments by 11pm and I’ve turned it off, because now I’m going to sleep and tomorrow I travel, and this is the sort of comment thread that needs to be watched closely. I may turn it back on at some later point, but inasmuch as 800 comments already made it slow to load up, don’t necessarily count on it. But after 800 comments, most of what could be said has been, I think.)

(Update 2: Here’s a follow-up article addressing some common questions/comments regarding this piece.)

(Update 3: Some final thoughts here.)

801 thoughts on “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is

  1. I should note that I’m planning to Mallet anyone who decides to start a debate on the word “privilege” in this thread. I’ve already established that straight white dudes often cannot deal with the term rationally; there’s no need for a) any of them to prove it, b) anyone else to reiterate the fact.

    This is also one of those threads where I will remind people to be civil to each other because there is a lot of opportunity here to slip into incivility. The usual suspects, I assume, know who they are.

    I should warn people that I’m feeling slightly cranky today so my tolerance for rhetorical nonsense and bullshit is going to be lower than usual. Bring your very polite “A” game today, kids.

    Finally, I will credit the genesis for the “lowest difficulty setting” concept comes from this article at Cracked, by Luke McKinney, in which “straight male” is described as being the lowest difficulty setting for sexuality. I’m expanding on the idea a bit.

  2. Well, you’ve made your point abundantly clear to the straight white male nerds, I’ll give you that. Not 100% sure if the metaphor will work for non-nerds, but any progress is good progress, right?

  3. Well, I’m a nerd, but I’m not a gamer, so the terminology is a bit less familiar to me, but overall, I found the metaphor fairly simple to grasp. I’m actually surprised I haven’t seen privilege explained in this terminology before because the framework does work pretty well.

  4. While I agree, sometimes there’s an element of “oppression Olympics” that ties into the difficulty level you’re assigning. I’m not saying you’re wrong. I’m saying that it’s a useful analogy up until the point where it’s not, and I’m hoping that pointing out where it’s not useful helps future conversations.

    Anyhow, as usual, thanks for posting about it.

  5. Also, if you are assigned straight white male, you have a much higher likelihood of starting out with more points.

  6. Y’know, there’s a reason you ended up being a writer. You’re damned good at it. This is a very readable and cogent explanation of something I’ve been much less effective at explaning.

  7. Josh Jasper:

    It’s certainly true that any analogy only goes so far.

    Brain Mac:

    I think the metaphor works for anyone who plays video games, which is generally includes most straight white males under the age of 40.

  8. This post is spot on, but there are two things I want to add.
    1. There are other variables involved. Stephen Hawking comes readily to mind. He is successful, but I wouldn’t call his life easy.
    2. The quickest way to fail at this or any other game is to spend all your time complaining about how unfair and difficult it is rather than playing.

  9. *attempts to fiddle with game settings on Life*

    Dammit. There’s a reason why I always choose to play video games on Casual when it’s offered, but this is clearly one of those games that won’t let you change the difficulty settings midway through.

    (Though, considering the metaphor, I suppose one can adjust the difficulty settings up by coming out in various ways. Down? Not so much.)

  10. “In fact, the computer chooses the difficulty setting for you. You don’t get a choice; you just get what gets given to you at the start of the game, and then you have to deal with it.”

    Explaining the Rawlsian theory of justice via computer game design, well played, sir.

  11. Well, if one were to pull one’s mind out of the fantasy world of science fiction books and video games and actually look at the stats (you know, reality) they’d find that the only conclusion they could come to is that “Straight White Male Privilege” doesn’t actually exist any longer.

    And that’s a GOOD thing.

  12. Straight white female, probably nerdy, non-gameplayer over 40 and I understood the metaphor just fine. :D

  13. As most people in this country do, you ignore the very real impact of the social class of your parents on your “difficulty level.” So you’re feeding the myth that the USA is a classless society. Certainly people who aren’t white and male are disproportionately affected by the effects of class, but I’d take the odds of an African-American daughter of doctors over a white male son of incarcerated drug addicts any day. None of which is to deny the reality of privilege, but green privilege trumps just about every other kind.

  14. Scorpius, once again proving that he doesn’t get out much.

    Brendan, you have appear to have wholly missed the commentary on the “wealth” stat.

  15. The percentage of children playing video games is usually given at over 90%. Suggesting only nerds will understand this seems a bit dated.

    (Brain Mac typo – Sounds like an unfortunate Kraft dinner.)

  16. Robert Enders, can you see how those complaints might be easiest to dismiss from the lowest difficulty setting? And how it might seem as though the complainers are likely to lose when actually those who are losing because the game is rigged are those who are most likely to have something to complain about?

  17. Don’t forget to mention that most of us players only have an NPC level role in this game, and as a whole, by playing our role more civil and respectful, we remove a tiny fractional amount of the difficulty divide. not much, but a little.

  18. But every game character needs a core motivation. A catalyzing event.

    What is John Scalzi’s core motivation, or catalyzing event, for needing to beat a bunch of white nerds over the head with a “You lazy punks have it so easy!” message?

  19. Thank you from someone with a (merely slightly) higher difficulty of white female… brilliant analogy. I would say that there are time elements too, as risks and opportunities change over the duration of the Game. The player ages and acquires baggage, be it mental, physical or metaphorical, even as they add skills and points.

    No analogy is ever perfect; nor will it reach all the potential populations needing the message; but this should be food for thought for many.

  20. My problem with the use of the word ‘privilege’ is the reflexive implication that in a perfect society no one would have ‘privilege’ and everyone would be treated like a ‘gay/minority/handicapped/female’ – i.e. badly. I haven’t thought of a good word to use instead, but that word needs to imply that the default we all want is to be treated with a reality-based version of the dignity, respect, and opportunities with which many straight white males are treated. More fairness equals more good.

  21. I can’t argue with the metaphor — it’s brilliant.


    It’s not that we (straight, white, male) nerds can’t understand the concept of privilege (Latin, essentially, for “private law”) and how we’re benefiting from it, I believe. It’s the fact that yes, we didn’t have any more say in the character we were issued by the computer than anyone else, and we get tired of other players grousing like we did. No matter how good or how bad we do, it’s used as a justification for why we are, somehow, inherently at fault for our stats. And therefore most of the rest of what is wrong in the world. I’ll cop to straight white male privilege and how I’ve exploited it as much as anyone else would in my position, but I didn’t cheat to get that card. And having it doesn’t make me an inherently evil, unjust, selfish or immoral person any more than any other sociographic racial stereotype would.

    Psychologically, that leaves you with two options: acceptance of your status, and developing some method of dealing with the guilt that being socially privileged forces upon you, like philanthropy or serial monogamy, or check out of the cultural matrix that imposes both the privilege and the guilt upon you. A movement known as Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW), advocating Straight White Males abandoning those roles of ever-increasing social and financial expectation/privilege/guilt here in the West and pursue more fulfilling interests off the grid or in exotic foreign lands where you are merely one of many minority populations.

    I mean, when you’re stuck with the lowest default setting and you have no way to correct it, why not abandon the Big Quest and indulge in little side-quests off in the hinterlands? You have just as much fun . . . and no one can call you a loser if you aren’t playing the Big Game. Hey, it beats enduring the ‘privilege’ of socio-racial guilt — what else are we supposed to do?

  22. Nice come-back, Scalzi. Which is just a tacit admission that you ain’t got much to support your assertion. “much” meaning “anything”.

  23. I’m thankful for all the advantages I have over Herman Cain’s daughter. I really dodged a bullet there.

    The trouble with the privilege argument is that at the core, it’s really just the same old divide and conquer tactic. Poor white straight men do have advantages relative to a poor gay woman of colour, but anyone with enough money has insurmountable advantage over both. The former would be far better off working together to even the scales with the latter than fighting each other for the scraps.

  24. There was a story on ESPN last week about a baseball team forfeiting rather than compete against another team that had a girl on the roster.

    Reading the comments (always a daft move, I know…), I was somehow still shocked by the appearance of men (likely white and straight from what evidence I had) outraging against the outrage toward the quitters, generally with a sentiment surrounding “They won’t let boys play on girls teams, so…”

    Sadly, there is no way to let these people know that we are not, actually, engaged in some game or battle where we are defaulted onto the same teams. Nothing is more embarrassing/annoying than when some hateful twit draws that line and uses “we” to mean all white people or all straight people or, science forbid, all men as if we were collectively drawing on our strengths and accomplishments as a unit.

    The flaw in this piece, in my opinion (based on my experience, of course), is that you’re using gamer terms, and I’ve always found the world of nerdy gaming to be filled with people who are all too happy to do everything they can to put themselves into the shoes of someone else, giving them an edge in the empathy category. The terms and descriptions as laid out are likely lost on the target audience.

    Maybe not. I could be wrong. I’m just some straight white dude.

  25. “The quickest way to fail at this or any other game is to spend all your time complaining about how unfair and difficult it is rather than playing.”

    Speaking as someone whose difficulty setting is on the higher end of “moderate,” I think you’d be surprised at how few people—if any—spend their time complaining about privilege, or using it as an excuse for their shortcomings. The fantasy of the marginalized person who constantly “complains” about marginalization is just that, a fantasy. What they will say is that, when trying to understand broad trends or public policy, it’s important to point these things out. Moreover, they might also work to ensure that everyone begins life with the same chance at success. Say what you will about it, it’s not complaining.

  26. The point at which this discussion always gets tangled up is when the logical next question is asked:

    OK, we’ve managed to get everyone on the “Straight White Male” setting recognize that they didn’t hit a double, they were born on second base. Now what? What, exactly, are they supposed to do to address that, beyond a general awareness of their position?

    Because I have yet to hear any person railing on this point (who, let’s agree, are themselves usually playing on the “Educated Middle-to-Upper Class Western World” difficulty setting, which affords the time and energy to level Social Justice criticisms) have an answer to that.

    …and, without an answer to the “what do you want me to DO about it” question, it just often seems like a method of dismissing somebody entirely for something they have no control over.

  27. Robert Enders @ 12:05 pm:

    1. There are other variables involved. Stephen Hawking comes readily to mind. He is successful, but I wouldn’t call his life easy.

    I agree that his life hasn’t been easy, but it’s easier than it would be if he were a gay minority female and still had motor neurone disease. For example, there are people in physics that still harbor sexist attitudes. A woman in physics has to work harder to prove herself to colleagues who are automatically more skeptical of the value of her work because of her sex.

  28. Speaking as a SWM, I agree completely with the metaphor. I just never know what the proper play style should be.

    The game is obviously an MMO—how do you play well with others? Obviously, PK and griefing are not good ideas, particularly towards people playing on tougher difficulty levels than yourself. But even collaborative play is full of hard decisions.

    Should I pair with lower-level players just because they’ve got a harder road ahead of them, even though it means that I’m not going to progress as fast? Should I play less well to avoid outpacing the people around me? People at my level, but playing a harder difficulty level, are often my competition—should I defer to them, even though we’re technically the same level?

    It might be that the metaphor falls apart because it treats life like a zero-sum game, but life often feels like a zero-sum game…

  29. It seems like even removing the “p” word from the discussion doesn’t stop people from making the same “p” word type arguments.

    Saying that a straight white male can have a disability and therefore have a hard life is not up for debate. Having a disability is challenging. The point is that being a straight white male with a disability is, in general, less challenging than being a gay, middle eastern woman with a disability. When all other factors are the same, that is, when you look at two individuals with the same level of wealth, the same disabilities or lack thereof, the same access to resources and education, the person who is a straight white male is statistically likely to have an easier go at things.

    And with all that said, there are cases where straight white men are under represented. There are cases of straight white men being assaulted, abused, discriminated against and treated unfairly. This is not about individual cases, this is about overall trends. Most CEOs of fortune 500 companies are men. Most politicians are men The breakdown gets even worse when you break things out by race or religion. About half the population is female, while the mix of races and religions are far more complex and less easily defined and vary from state to state and city to city.

    But overwhelmingly, the people with the most power in the western world are straight white men and that impacts how people view the qualities of being straight, white and male.

  30. Excellent. I’d only add some nuance to an already pretty complete game: Your highest difficulty setting isn’t quite high enough. I think perhaps you ought to add “unpopular religious affiliation” and perhaps “handicap” to “gay minority female”, as these are also conditions that usually impede people and are often reacted to in knee-jerk, stereotyping ways. That and the fact that the game can end unexpectedly, often right in the middle of the best parts and more often than not it can not be rebooted.

  31. your point about
    “But because you’re playing on the “Straight White Male” setting, gaining points and leveling up will still by default be easier, all other things being equal, than for another player using a higher difficulty setting.”

    feels like a dig at “Straight Whit Males” being more intelligent or being able to gain skills and or concepts better then others is kind of ridiculous

  32. John… as a straight white male–in his mid 40’s–I can honestly say that you have hit the nail squarely on the head. I learned at a very young age that my status in life was a bit better than others. I live in a town–that while small–has a very high percentage of ‘minorities’. In this town you can drive from affluence to poverty in less than 5 minutes and anyone–even from outside–can guess who holds which poker hand.

    As I grew a bit older and entered into the working world, I gained even more exposure to the facts of the game of Real Life. I have worked with Vietnamese, Laotions, Cambodians, Albanians, Kenyans, Mexicans, Hondurans, Guatamalans, Venezualans, Costa Ricans, Jamaicans, and some other ‘ans that I’m sure–shamefully–I’m forgetting about.

    The majority of friends I’ve had in my life turn out not to be Straight White Male, but anything else… including gays, lesbians, and a crap ton of people who didn’t even speak English as a native language and barely as a second language. I wouldn’t trade a single on of them either. Their stories about the shit they have lived through have made me realize that no matter what I am personally going through at anytime, I CAN and WILL survive.

    From a guy walking 60 miles to attend his father’s funeral–after taking the last bus to the nearest town (and having to redo the walk after it was all done–to knowing talking to someone from a place where trading cattle to a girl’s father for her hand in marriage is not only good since, it is very polite, onto someone who was drafted into an army at age 10 and sent to war (and managed to escape it all by age 12!) to just and average everday guy trying to earn enough money to send back home to support his wife and sons…

    Yes… even being without a job, Straight White Male is the easiest setting to have the program dump you into by default!

  33. Crap, you mean we had a choice?? Someone tell me what I was thinking when I chose: “slightly bent white girl with daddy issues, a traumatic childhood and a badly edited genetic code that makes life without health insurance complicated?”
    LOL…oh well I guess I have gotten used to her by now.

  34. Scorpius:

    “Nice come-back, Scalzi. Which is just a tacit admission that you ain’t got much to support your assertion. ‘much’ meaning ‘anything’.”

    Actually, it’s me noting that you’re entirely oblivious on the subject and satisfied to be so, that I have no interest in engaging in consciousness-raising 101 with you as you have no interest in having your consciousness raised, and there’s no use giving you much attention when there are other, less troll-like commenters here. A dismissive comment is what, historically, you’ve shown you deserve. Which is why you got one.

    Now, shoo, Scorpius, people who actually have something useful to contribute are discussing things.

  35. This is a great concise metaphor. I constantly seek methods of explaining things like privilege, othering, and similar concepts.

    The one major aspect that thi metaphor lacks, which is the next things that often “breaks” the concept of privilege in the heads of “nerds” is that privilege is directed graph, with cycles! The nodes in the graph are properties rather than holistic combinations, so in some contexts a gay white male is privileged over a richer straight black woman and in others the reverse is the case.

    Perhaps RPG concepts such as efectvreaistance can be utilized, but that reduces the elegant simplicity of this particular metaphor. Still a great initial introduction.

  36. What about straight white males who play the game with more difficult optional conducts, like vegan, never wielding a weapon, or voluntary poverty (e.g. starving artist)? In this metaphor, are we obligated to respect them as better players, or is it more appropriate to dismiss them for failing to play the character they were assigned as munchkin as possible?

  37. Class is definitely enormous, though (which obviously you know) so I’m not sure it’s on the stat level. Ditto nationality and stuff. (Constitution might be like axes of disability?) I guess maybe in my head I’d reframe all the things about your social situation as the difficulty setting, and the traits that are inherent to you as stats, although of course sorting those out in The Real World is by no means trivial since nature/nurture is an interconnected little beastie. So maybe, in my framework, wealth–difficulty level (like Oregon Trail!) and creativity–stat.

    I’m overthinking the metaphor, which I think is apt, and obviously the point is best made by choosing a few qualities to emphasize, instead of writing a difficulty level that’s about 20 items long. ;-)

  38. John, as a hetero white male, this article comes as no surprise. That you have to discuss it at all is rather depressing (although having seen many other of my counterparts not understanding the concept, I know why you wrote it). Honestly, I think it is as much a societal issue as anything else (not being willing to consider another person’s point of view or issues), but I could be wrong.

  39. I would only add that the hardest difficulty setting would actually be trans minority woman with disabilities, not cis gay abled woman of color.

  40. Nice analogy, though in my personal opinion (as one of the “easy setting” players who has encountered many a challenge) any baseline privilege likely fades significantly (note: I didn’t say “entirely”) into the background when the enormous complexity and multiplicity of individual and family factors is brought to bear. Nonetheless, I think most people will probably read this piece the same way they’ve read the thousand other explanations over the past forty years: “straight white men have it easy — the overprivileged, oppressive bastards.” Assuming for a minute that’s correct… please, help me understand what I, as one of the privileged, can do? How can I make the world better? I really want to know. I don’t want to play with loaded dice — but if what you’re saying is true, I don’t have any choice, do I? Nobody with a moral bone in his body wants to win because of an unfair advantage.

  41. Straight white male privilege still exists. In a country where more women graduate college than men (hard work even with a full ride), men still make significantly more than women after adjusting for career path, time on job, and age.

  42. If you’re going to really stick the metaphor I think you need to add that folks with a different setting are going to find it impossible to go into the same specializations as you do. It won’t tell them that’s why, but a lot of them will just find the selection disabled. Their charisma score might be the same as yours, but in certain places it won’t seem to work as well as yours does. They won’t be able to party up with everyone they want to. Sometimes they’ll get randomly attacked in areas that are perfectly safe for you. Stuff in the same store will for some reason cost more for them, or they’ll get sold inferior stuff without warning.

    I’m unsure that folks who need it spoon-fed to them this carefully can get it – if “your path is always going to be easier than theirs” isn’t clear enough then I’m not sure more words will be.

  43. Robert, Stephen Hawking had his difficulty level turned up by missing out on the able-bodied setting, another, um, easiness factor. (avoiding the word privilege is hard)

  44. “OK, we’ve managed to get everyone on the “Straight White Male” setting recognize that they didn’t hit a double, they were born on second base. Now what? What, exactly, are they supposed to do to address that, beyond a general awareness of their position?”

    Well, acknowledging that it exists and that the playing field is skewed from the get-go would be a nice start. The fact that this is not the first time John has had to make this post is due to the fact that just getting people to understand what privilege is and that it exists can be a frustratingly monumental task.

    Outside of that, the most general way of addressing the problem is to recognize the inequities in the game and extend your hand to help those who do not have your privileges in whatever way you can. It doesn’t have to be a huge gesture, but every little bit helps to even out the field so that it’s more fair to more people. This should be a simple concept to grasp, but clearly it isn’t, so educating others to be more aware is also a way to help – which again, doesn’t have to be anything like a giant lecture, it could be as simple as calling someone out on making a privilege-blind statement and saying “Hey, you know it’s not as simple as “hard work will bring you success, and if you’re not successful, it’s because you’re being lazy, right?”

    Basically, once you’re aware of your privilege, try to use it to help others who don’t have it, LISTEN to the experiences of those who don’t have your various privileges to try to understand how it affects them, keep learning and understand that you will probably make mistakes and be called out for being blind to your own privilege at various points no matter how good your intentions are (and when that happens, again, remember to LISTEN), because privilege is deeply embedded in the way we live and no one is going to completely understand or grasp all of it without a lot of self-examination and work – in other words, don’t be an asshole.

  45. Robert Enders, while it’s true that Stephen Hawking’s life hasn’t been easy, and he has done incredible things considering the adversity he has faced, I find it difficult to imagine that a person born into different socio-economic conditions would have had similar opportunities to reach their potential. To use Jennifer’s analogy, he went on a trip to Mars (not an easy task) with a fully stocked spaceship, whereas many other non-SWM are doing well to have enough to to survive a trans-Atlantic flight.

  46. i agreed with ian ironwoods point about “straight white males” getting the same random start in life and it just turning up in the better end of the scale, i dont see why we should be victimized for taking advantage of a good deal, lets face it most people regardless of their “difficulty setting” would jump at a fast track or free bonuses, the game is the way its is and we all just play the best we can, some with better odds

  47. Ways to counter privilege include but are not limited to: voting in support of equal pay measures, rational health and family policy, and pro-choice legislation; supporting services for women, children, impoverished persons, and others from whom privileges often withheld; recognizing when you are benefiting from privilege and ACTING on the knowledge; speaking out when you hear someone being racist, misogynist, or homophobic–TELL your raconteur friend that the rape joke is not funny.

  48. Marie Viv, et al:

    I’m not actually aware of saying “gay minority female” is the hardest setting, just that it’s a hardcore setting.

    Prof Pedant, et al:

    “My problem with the use of the word ‘privilege’”

    Why are we discussing the word ‘privilege’ at all when I’ve made it abundantly clear that it as a word is something I don’t want discussed in the thread? Lots of people will take the opportunity to talk about the word and avoid everything else. So stop talking about that specific word, please, so we can avoid the whole Pavlovian Avoidance Issue regarding it.

  49. I just want to comment on how well you packaged your point. And it seemed so effortless. I recently worked on a blog entry using a metaphor and it took me longer than usual. But you’re right on schedule!

  50. Don Whiteside:

    I like your points. Although I note that I am now trying to figure out how to write The Real World as a game which is not helpful.

    Unrelatedly, isn’t this kind of similar to the premise of one of Stross’ novels?

  51. I’m impressed. That’s an excellent analogy. It explains it handily, and in a way most of your readers should be able to grasp.

    I’m also impressed by the comments harping on the p-word following your disclaimer, but that’s a different kind of impressed.

  52. If the dreaded P-word doesn’t scare you away there’s the “Parable of privilege” that tries to illustrate how that all works (and it, too, isn’t perfect. Turns out that “real life” isn’t so accommodating that it can be completely captured in a simple story):

  53. Ian Ironwood, it’s not that having privilege makes you an evil person, any more than being white makes you a better one. Both are stereotypes.

    Privilege says not one damn thing about YOU as an individual. It says a lot about your EXPERIENCE.

    You have a third choice besides guilt or rejection. That third choice is “acknowledge your privilege, respect that it’s informed your perspective, practice listening more than you talk in discussions of equality and rights, and use your privilege to end itself.”

    If you’re already doing those things, then go you and thank you for being an ally. If you’re not, then that’s a path that’s available to you. Privilege cannot be ended solely by those who do not have it; women demanded the vote, but men who already had it extended it to us, because they saw an inequality, they saw an advantage they had, and they felt everyone ought to have that advantage. So they *shared* their privilege, elevating everyone, instead of *giving up* their rights.

    We’d all be equal if those born to privilege placed artificial barriers to ‘level the playing field’ so we all play at the highest difficulty level, but we’ll be equal AND happier if those with privilege work to unlock that easier difficulty for everyone instead.

  54. Excellent metaphor, frames the issue quite nicely. I’d suggest a further parameter, one that offers a means of addressing Ian Ironwood’s query: so what do we do about it?

    By playing the game, and advancing through levels, one gains skills and abilities that can be used to change the game. You cannot change any player’s initial character assignment or difficulty setting, but you can tinker with the code that controls how the differences among the settings are manifested. You can choose to make them larger, or can choose to reduce them. As with everything else in the game, the SWM characters have an easier time gaining access to the game code, and greater influence on it once they do, but understanding that fact is the first step for such characters to realize that they have a disproportionate responsibility to do what they can to debug the code, and work toward removing any meaningful distinctions among the difficulty settings.

    It’s a lot of code to go through. It’s taking a long time. The difficulty settings don’t have the same effects in all regions of the game, because some regions have made more progress than others. But overall, we’re making progress. You can’t change your own difficulty setting, nor those of others, but by playing the game, you gain the ability to change the game so that the difficulty settings matter less and less.

  55. Well the white bisexual female class skills much faster but her elemental damage sucks against most boss monsters.

  56. This is all true. However the relative difficulty of playing different roles varies widely by geography.

    E.g. I’d rather play as a gay Asian male in the San Francisco area than in many other parts of the country.

    You also have to admit that, albeit slowly, attitudes are changing. Forty years ago, a successful black baseball player tried to rent a house in the next town over. There was an outrage and he had to have police protection. These days, there is no controversy. Interracial couples are common here.

  57. I myself take offense to the term “privilege,” and it drives me exactly as insane as Scalzi’s opening paragraph indicates. As Ian indicated, I didn’t choose to be straight, white, or male–and it also hasn’t meant that my life has been necessarily easier than others. It’s been anything but easy. That term is people assuming I’ve been given a break somehow–and I absolutely haven’t. Many millions of other SWMs haven’t either.

    Would life be even harder if I were a minority? Or a double or triple minority? Of course. But it hasn’t exactly been a picnic for me either, and that term assumes that it has. And that makes me crazy.

    /end 2 cents

  58. Joshua – no one is saying you should be victimized. It’s not victimization when you don’t get extra privileges.

  59. Joshua Mcdermott @ 12:43 pm: I don’t think anyone should feel guilty about their difficulty setting. I know that there are things I have achieved that would be harder if I were a woman, if I were gay, or if I weren’t regarded by society as white. (I’m not completely white, but I am generally regarded by society as white.) I don’t go around feeling guilty about this, because that’s not constructive.

    However, you should feel guilty if you use your difficulty setting to reinforce the system of difficulty settings. For example, you should feel guilty if you laugh at, or tell, sexist, racist, or homophobic jokes. You should feel guilty if don’t take these issues into account when you vote. You should feel guilty if you tell your daughter that girls can’t grow up to be scientists. And so on.

  60. Being a liberal, I read posts like this pretty much every single day. Being a SWM, I acknowledge my advantages, even though my life is in the toilet.

    But I have to agree with a couple other commenters. There’s a question here no one ever answers: OK, privilege acknowledged. Now what? What do they want us to do about it?

    Because other than voting, there seems to be little a nobody like me can do. I can’t help but feel all of these posts are directed at SWM who go online and bitch about affirmative action or whatever, and that you just want them to shut up.

    Understandable. But you’re addressing all of us, which feels a little weird, in order to get a message across to people who won’t listen to you any way.

    So forgive the 4chan’ism and affront to grammer, but: wat do?

  61. An excellent essay and a good start.

    But as Gareth Skarka says, this is only the first step. However, if this is Skarka the rpg designer, I’m surprised he doesn’t understand what the next step is: making new rules in order to balance play. Kathy (above) somewhat jerkily refers to racial quotas as “cheat codes,” implying (I think) that they are wrong and ruin the game for other people; rather, we could (still sticking with the analogy) refer to them as a patch–a fix to the game that helps to balance out the experience. I mean, if you were playing Scrabble with a million-point Z, we might say, let’s tone that down, bring it more in line with the values of the other letters. That doesn’t completely change the game–you’re not playing Battleship because we changed the value of a letter–it merely makes more equitable.

    As a straight white dude, I was deeply affected by a mock game of “Jeopardy!” we once played in elementary school where each team had to pay to choose a question and your team got the first chance to answer–and one side got a lot more money to start out with. Of course, the side with deeper pockets was able to take more risks, bounce back from missed questions, and dominate the choosing.

    Also, I love that recognition of reality and talking about comes to be considered shrill complaining. It reminds me of William Dean Howells’s review of Charles Chesnutt’s excellent book, The Marrow of Tradition which was a fictional account of an actual race riot where a bunch of white people killed a lot of black people. Howells had championed Chesnutt’s early work, but his review of Marrow was “bitter, bitter”–as if a book about a mf’ing race riot doesn’t have a right to be bitter.

  62. I agree with Scorpius, to a point. To use the analogy given (although I think it is one-sided and presumptive):

    Just like in an RPG, we all get experience points when we are born. Race, gender, and socioeconomic status all affect how many points we start out with for certain attributes (for example, as Brendan pointed out, some people are born with more Wealth points that others). But by receiving many points in one area – like Wealth – it means there are less points for other areas – like Compassion and Empathy. Or someone born with very few Physical Attractiveness points might be born with higher Intelligence or Creativity or whatever.

    That’s somewhat important, and it does affect how you play The Real World, but there’s a secret most people don’t realize: you earn *more* points as you experience life and *you get to choose where to allocate them*! So even though you don’t start out with much Wealth, you can choose to work hard and gain more! And if you meet someone weaker than you are, you get to choose to add Friendship/Protection or increase Bullying! And upgrading these stats has more of an impact on your eventual happiness than what you started out with.

    That’s where the analogy falls apart, in my opinion. Because anyone can complain that they were born into unfortunate circumstances (or most people, anyway). But what we choose to do with life, and how we choose to treat other people is the ultimate endgame.

    Let’s face it: by being born in America, we are all lottery winners. Look at a kid in Sudan – a kid who has to search for water and food every day and has no education or career to look forward to, a kid who is likely to contract AIDS or some other life-ending malady if they aren’t killed outright in a war or genocide. Straight White Male might be the easiest setting in America, but every other setting in America is easier than Normal and not even close to Hardcore if you look at the world’s population as a whole.

    By the way: can you guess my age, gender, and race? I bet not……..

  63. Camman – it might help to think of it as a systematic thing not a personal thing. The concept that you’re missing for applying to the personal is intersectionality. It’s the idea that advantages in one area can be either reinforced or mitigated by advantages or disadvantages in other areas.

  64. Gotta disagree with your easiest setting in our current world of diversity requirements and affirmative action. Wealth and intelligence our of the starting gate trumps race by far. And wealthy black female will actually have an easier time with lower requirements than a wealth white male. And I don’t think a straight white male in a trailer park in Mississippi has a bunch better chance than a straight black male in chicago. At least the black male in chicago has the 1 in a few thousand chance of landing basketball scholarship. Best the white trailer park kid can hope for is a stint in the military without injury to pay for college.

  65. Joshua mcdermott: You’re having the same knee-jerk reaction to this that other people have to the P-word, which is why Scalzi tried to frame it in a different way. It’s about awareness, not clobbering Straight White Males about the head and shoulders. Once you are aware that the game is skewed, then you can approach the world’s and the country’s problems more rationally without the mien of someone frothing at the mouth that this is the land of OPPORTUNITY for ALL and you just need to PULL yourself UP by your BOOTSTRAPS, son, and you don’t need to commie fascist socialist “safety net,” you get what you deserve and if you want to deserve better you need to work harder! *upchuck*

    Also: Victimized? Really? If you consider it ‘victimization’ in having your awareness raised that, yes, you got into the game with some extra perks, then you have an extremely skewed idea of the word. It does not mean what you seem to think it does. Not. Even. Remotely. I’d rattle off a list of ‘Being Victimized’ like Scalzi did for ‘Being Poor,’ but it quickly becomes a catalog of atrocity.

  66. @Jdack and others who ask, what we do, I think there are a few things we do: a) watch our own thoughts for bias (because I’m a liberal SWM and sometimes, when I read, say, Alyssa Rosenberg talking about the plight of women on tv, my first impulse is to roll my eyes, before I consider what she’s saying seriously).

    b) Vote and agitate for a more equitable political future; and vote with your money and time for a more equitable cultural situation.

    and c) Let your voice be heard. I don’t like to rock the boat, but maybe the next time I hear someone complaining about some (mythical) “minorities always complaining instead of making their lives better”, I should speak up and try to make this argument clear.

  67. Jdack:

    “I can’t help but feel all of these posts are directed at SWM who go online and bitch about affirmative action or whatever, and that you just want them to shut up.”

    Actually, from my point of view, this article is aimed at the people who want to hazard explaining these things to SWMs and need a metaphor for it that won’t make them immediately freak out. If a SWM who needs a consciousness raising happens by and feels things suddenly elucidated, so much the better.


    I don’t think you read the entry particularly closely before you commented.

  68. Great analogy.
    For all of you players with the easy settings who are wondering why you should be aware of this, it’s because you (and everybody else) can make choices during the game that lower the difficulty rating for everyone. And best of ll, it won’t make your easy rating more difficult. You can play and win the game, AND help others along the way, but only if you are aware of it.

  69. @ Jdack

    “I can’t help but feel all of these posts are directed at SWM who go online and bitch about affirmative action or whatever, and that you just want them to shut up.”

    Well, I might be going out on a limb here, but I’m guessing that if you’re not one of those people, if you get the basic principle of what privilege is and how it works, the OP wasn’t meant to address you.

    I think Rowan Badger had a great answer to the “what can those of us who recognize privilege do now that we know how to see it?” – “acknowledge your privilege, respect that it’s informed your perspective, practice listening more than you talk in discussions of equality and rights, and use your privilege to end itself.” Especially the last part.

  70. Well, there are a *few* ways to change your difficulty setting. Change your gender and/or sexual preference. You have to get all new armor, spells, everything. Just *try* finding a female breastplate when you’re 6’+. Stupid game designer. :|

  71. That’s it. I’m selling an RPG that comes hardcoded with player data. The box you get is the player you are – kind of like buying a package of trading cards. Buy it again if you want a chance at a different player.

  72. There are other variables involved. Stephen Hawking comes readily to mind. He is successful, but I wouldn’t call his life easy.

    That’s a key reason why, when discussing my own priv– er, low difficulty setting, I went full bore: straight, white, upper-middle-class, non-religious, able-bodied, able-minded, average-height right-handed male.

  73. @benjb – See, I totally get the spirit behind this idea. I just don’t really think, beyond the voting thing, there’s much practical application in it. I mean sure it makes you feel better maybe.

    I guess I just think he’s mostly preaching to the choir. Not that I have any insight to the readers of this blog, but my experience online is that A.) most of Scalzi’s fans already agree with him, and B.) those who don’t, will not be swayed.

    As far as SWM who kneejerk to this topic, it’s understandable sometimes. When your life blows, people telling you how grateful you should be and lucky you are can feel… frustrating.

    It’s kinda like telling someone who just got shot in the arm: “hey at least you’re not on fire :)”

  74. Scalzi’s next book: Philosophy for RPGers. (As whump did, I saw what you did there :-) )

  75. Niiiiice metaphor, and it’s also good to see it in terms that are appropriate for geeks (which are just as prone to this sort of foolishness).

    I enjoyed the idea (from the comments) on having additional settings that add Real Bad-Ass Hardcore Action to one’s character, such as ticking or not ticking the “got a disease” checkbox. Makes everything much harder and a lot of things that might help any other player simply have no effect.

    Very nice. Thanks for posting this!

  76. “And wealthy black female will actually have an easier time with lower requirements than a wealth white male.”

    Justify that.

    “And I don’t think a straight white male in a trailer park in Mississippi has a bunch better chance than a straight black male in chicago. At least the black male in chicago has the 1 in a few thousand chance of landing basketball scholarship. Best the white trailer park kid can hope for is a stint in the military without injury to pay for college.”

    So… black people have an advantage because a minority of them are athletic? No poor white people ever end up in the arts or athletics?

  77. Keep in mind that the game is not a zero sum competition with only one winner. It’s an ongoing MMO RPG, so it would certainly be cool and newsworthy, if as a community, people got together and did what they could to even the playing field for those who were handed a tough difficulty. But first you have to recognize that different difficulty levels exist.

  78. It’s certainly the case that some of those stats look impressive. However, what counts is not what stats you start out with – it’s your likely score. There are several different ways to keep score, and it’s worth looking at each of them.

    There’s wealth of course. That’s a major indicator, all right, and if you’re a SWM, your final score is likely to be high. However, while that correlates with being a SWM, it also correlates even more with your initial allocation of funds. As a SWM, you’re more likely to have that higher initial allocation, but if you don’t, you don’t get any benefit from the other SWM’s who do. Will they share with you in the multi-player version? A SWM might buy another SWM a drink, but he will ask a SWF to share his house with him. Being a RSWM is obviously good, but the RWSMs are not a huge amount of help to the PSWMs.

    Do a comparison with the SBMs and the GWMs, and the game stats are pretty clear. If your ability to play the game is equal, your scores are going to be higher. Don’t even mention GBMs – they start the game way, way behind, and you have to be a very good player to catch up.

    Compare with SWFs, however, and it’s not so obvious. For a start, the SWM is going to see “GAME OVER” a lot sooner. Not as soon as the SBM, but five years or so sooner than the SWF, and sooner even than the SBF. If the game is really easier for M, then shouldn’t they be able to play longer?

    Why is this? Well, lets look at what kind of game it is – The Sims, or Call Of Duty? Well, if you’re a M, then it’s going to be more like Call Of Duty for you than for the F’s. You’ll find a number of other M’s around you playing a shoot ’em up, and even if you just want to play The Sims, you can’t help getting involved. You are more likely to be a victim of violence. You’re more likely to be murdered. You’re more likely to be homeless. You’re more likely to be in prison.

    Is there such a thing as male privilege? Clearly. To some extent, privilege for a SWM is like water for a fish. It seems natural. However, the rest seems normal as well. Having your opinions taken seriously is nice. Being punched in the face by a drunk isn’t. Does it all add up to the EASY setting? YMMV. However, I’m not going to tell my son that life will be good for him and that his sisters are going to have all the problems.

  79. @ Muse – I agree. A discussion of how intersectionality works and how it relates to privilege is very useful when expanding on the concept of privilege, once the basic fact of its existence is established.

  80. “Now what? What, exactly, are they supposed to do to address that, beyond a general awareness of their position?”

    Awareness is a good thing, precisely because it makes it easier to rally people behind mitigating action. I assume the question really being asked is, “what actions should we be encouraged to take?”

    Let’s stick with the game setting analogy here: we have a game that you play once, on a randomly assigned difficulty setting, where you initially spawn in some random location (and may legally be prevented from leaving that location), where your long-term stats depend heavily on both the stats given to you by your parent gamers and by their treatment of you early in life. Every one of these factors is out of your control, and heavily influences how successful you’ll be in the game.

    What can be done, both as an individual player and as a collective of players, to give as many people as possible a satisfying gaming experience?

    There shouldn’t be much onus on those who started out poorly positioned to improve their own positions; that’s the goal of the game in the first place. Nor can we expect those who got a good start to voluntarily worsen their own positions for the benefit of the less fortunate; that runs counter to the rules of the game.

    That leaves us with societal action, which usually means government intervention. Mechanisms include progressive taxes, guaranteed access to the necessities of life, quality education, customs and laws that prevent discrimination and profiling, protections and guarantees for those on other difficulty settings, etc.

    Play balance will always be tricky. There will always be people who try to game the rules. It’s much more difficult than just throwing up your hands and saying, “Life’s unfair. Nothing we can do about it.” But when we do that, we doom a significant portion of our population to a world where they can’t even begin to express their own potential. And that’s bad for everyone.

  81. I’d say that “victimization” is the wrong word to use, obviously — I prefer my choice of “dismissal”, earlier.

    Because pretty much, that’s what it feels like: I *am* aware of my “difficulty setting” (not using the word, as Mr. Scalzi has requested). I do what I can to address it. And yet, I still get Social Justice Warriors throwing it at my head, as if I’m Rush Limbaugh who just told them to suck it up and find a man to take care of them. Any attempt I make to convince somebody that, no, I get it, I really do — is automatically dismissed because of my gender, ethnicity and class.

    Telling me, as “The Pint” does above, that I should LISTEN and “don’t be an asshole” — pretty much assumes that I’m NOT listening and that I AM an asshole. That’s not victimization, but it sure as hell is dismissal.

  82. It would be interesting to create a real video game around this concept. I believe there’s a game out there somewhere that shows people what it’s like to be poor. It would be possible to create a Sims-like game where minority/female/handicapped/gay characters encounter discrimination and cruelty, while the white characters pass through obliviously. It would be easy to make it more difficult to befriend certain characters if you were non-white or gay or something. You could have random instances of mean-ness mirroring real life. Characters could fail to get a job, or be fired from jobs. You would have to play the game a couple of times with white male and non-white male characters to get the full effect, though, and I’m afraid that real life white males would give up in frustration, disbelief, and disgust after only a few rounds as the gay minority female.

  83. I wonder if the people discussing the word “privledge” didn’t read the directions because they are playing on the lowest difficulty setting and therefore get to do what they want.

  84. @camannwordsmith

    “Would life be even harder if I were a minority? Or a double or triple minority? Of course. But it hasn’t exactly been a picnic for me either, and that term assumes that it has. And that makes me crazy.”

    I hope you’re aware that you just proved Scalzi’s point. If you have a hard life, but your life would be harder if you were a minority, then there must be something about your life as it is that mitigates the hardship. Could that thing be…your easier difficulty setting?

  85. “Fortunately, cheat codes abound.”

    Tempted to dismiss this comment totally, but it does get at something the ‘Easy setting’ analogy misses — that higher difficulties are the result of large-scale, often unconscious (and often not) discrimination on the part of folks who are playing on easy. And people playing on easy tend to take umbrage whenever anyone playing on hard gets a tiny break: “Hey, they’re playing on hard! Why should they get access to the University Graduate stat buff? You should only get that if you’re playing on easy. Giving that buff to even a tiny percentage of hard players is cheating.”

  86. Well, if one were to pull one’s mind out of the fantasy world of science fiction books and video games and actually look at the stats (you know, reality) they’d find that the only conclusion they could come to is that “Straight White Male Privilege” doesn’t actually exist any longer.

    And what stats are those? By all means, provide us your plentiful evidence, since unsupported claims don’t amount to a hill of beans.

    Nice come-back, Scalzi. Which is just a tacit admission that you ain’t got much to support your assertion. “much” meaning “anything”.

    This from a guy who, as far as I can tell, has not once backed up his own assertions in the entirety of his posting history on this website.

  87. I’m not even vaguely surprised that I didn’t get here before someone said, “It’s not my fault the game handed me the Straight White Male character! Don’t blame me! It’s not fair to punish me, by making the game harder for me, when I didn’t decide to be the Straight White Male!”

    Heck, the top news story when I woke up this morning was about a California assemblyman complaining, in front of two of the world’s top female athletes who were there to be honored, that Title IX steals money from male athletes who need it. Opressed male athletes who won’t get the athletic scholarships they need because some WOMAN stole their school athletics funding. Won’t somebody think about the poor men? (Let me join the athletes themselves in eyerolling at this guy, and everybody like him.)

    The closest I’ve come to explaining this is, to extend your metaphor Mr. Scalzi, If you use the fact that you’re planing on the easiest difficulty mode to help yourself, you’re playing a bad guy; if you use it to help the people who are struggling with hardcore mode, you’re a good guy. Which one are you going to play?

    (Actually, the Diablo screen at the top of this post is very appropriate. If you’re playing Real World as Non-White, Queer, and/or Female, let alone all three, you really are playing by Diablo’s Hardcore setting: if you fail even once, you die.)

  88. [Deleted because inasmuch as the author of it admits to not reading the entry at all, anything he has to say will be aside the point for the thread — JS]

  89. [Deleted for pointlessness. Did some site with exceptionally stupid readers just link in? — JS]

  90. I’ll admit that my viewpoint is somewhat skewed from my perspective as a lawyer, which is probably a field where diversity and affirmative action make a much larger difference than in other areas. But black female from a wealthy family with a 168 LSAT and 3.8 GPA is going to get admitted to Harvard for law school. White male from a wealthy family with exact same stats and other experience points (clubs, extracurriculara, etc.) is not going to get into Harvard, but will be pushed down probably out of the critical top 14 law schools. Upon graduation in middle of her class at Harvard, black female from wealthy family will get interviews and easily land a position with one of the top big firms that find it very difficult to full the necessary diversity positions and are lucky to find a double minority. She then starts at $160,000 per year and is pretty much guaranteed Partner in 8 years. Straight White male from wealthy family graduates top 1/3 of his lower level law school, gets hired by a Big Firm in a small city making $130,000 per year and has about a 1/20 chance of making partner or being squeezed out in 3 years.

    As far as the straight black male from Chicago ghetto compared to the straight white male from the Mississippi trailer park, you just hear a lot more stories of that occasional success story, usually through athletics at least to get a foot in the door at a university, compared to the white male. Off hand, can’t think of any success stories that start in a trailer park in Mississippi.

  91. lets face it most people regardless of their “difficulty setting” would jump at a fast track or free bonuses, the game is the way its is and we all just play the best we can, some with better odds

    And yet plenty of people with those “better odds” consider their good luck to be proof of their inherent superiority over those who drew a higher difficulty setting. In fact, quite a few politicians will blame those with higher difficulty settings for those same settings, even though the settings are determined by random chance/the computer.

    If the goal of the game is for only SWM to win, then I guess that’s okay. But if we want everyone to win, then castigating people for what is, in the end, random chance, seems not only unfair but counterproductive.

  92. Changing the words around isn’t going to make a difference if the argument is the same.

    If you want to engage people’s empathy, it’s wise to try to help relate a situation to something they may have experienced. For example: All straight white men either are or have been young men at some point. Did you notice how cops, border guards and the like treated you with less respect and deference than your female friends or your grey haired parents? It’s like that for people of colour, but worse.

    If you frame the, er, advantage debate around the idea that straight or white or male or cisgendered people always have to give things up, people who are all of those things aren’t going to be very keen. If you point out that they do are victims of the system (even if less so), then they’ll have more reason to pitch in.

    TL;DR: You attract more flies with honey than vinegar, and empathy is a two way street.

  93. @Rowan Badger
    “You have a third choice besides guilt or rejection. That third choice is “acknowledge your privilege, respect that it’s informed your perspective, practice listening more than you talk in discussions of equality and rights, and use your privilege to end itself.”

    Okay, but . . . why?

    You say that to end the very privilege that I’m accused of having, that I get blamed for having, that I am despised the world over for having, I have to use that privilege –regardless of whether or not it has done me, personally, any good. Yet despite over a hundred years of constant and sometimes very quick erosion of this privilege, has the over-all respect for Straight White Males climbed? No. Has the abandonment of privilege by SWMs led to a better social view of them? A better historical view of them? No. From our sexuality to our employment to our education, SWMs have been stepping back from our “privileged” status like it’s a hot coal, and the level of respect we get gets lower, not higher.

    SWM no longer enjoy exclusive access to finance, the franchise, education, and a hundred other privileges that we used to have. Fair enough. But what argument do you have for asking us to work against our own self-interest? What other race/class combo are you asking to work against their best interests in order to make things “fair”?

    It seems to me that you are invoking concepts of noblesse oblige, chivalry and grace from us in an attempt to get us to sacrifice yet more of our assets for the common good, without giving us any compelling reasons other than “it would be more fair”. Since the impulse towards fairness necessarily discredits the concepts of noblesse oblige, chivalry and grace — see “feminism” — then I can’t help but see your third “choice” as being intellectually dishonest. You want us to acknowledge our privilege — done — respect that it’s informed our perspective — done — practice listening more than you talk in discussions of equality and rights — done, but not with the results you were hoping for — and use our privilege (the one big thing we have going for us) against itself.

    But I still don’t see, outside of some abstract concept of “fairness”, why it is in our interest to do so. Has our lives as SWM gotten better since we began ditching our “privileges”? That’s arguable — and very much informed by our perspective. As SWMs. I think we’re going to need a far more compelling and intellectually honest argument than that before we can proceed any further.

  94. What to do? Well, for starters, don’t complain if the game designers throw in a patch that gives those other players an extra buff or two for the purposes of balance. Boosting other players is not a nerf for you. Don’t act like it is.

    Also: don’t go around kill stealing or loot camping just because it’s easier for you. It’s just as rude as an overleveled character hanging out in the newbie areas and snagging their resources because you’re in no danger from the local fauna. If you don’t have any nearby competition, then sure. Have at it. But if someone else wants to play there, then let them. It’s common courtesy, just like it is to give up one’s seat on the bus to someone aged or with a disability.

    Just because luck gave you an awesome set of stats doesn’t mean you actually deserve to be ahead of everyone else. A simple question to ask yourself: did I do anything to earn the position I’m currently in? If the answer is “no” or “not much” then that position doesn’t actually belong to you. Straight, white guys are not at the top of the leaderboard because they truly earned that. They’re there because enough of them lucked into positions of power (see: monarchies, nepotism) that they were able to subjugate everyone else (often violently.) There’s no such thing as the right of conquest when you’re vastly overleveled v. your opponent.

  95. @ Gareth Skarka

    I think you’re taking my words out of context. In response to several comments asking “well, what can I do once I’m aware of my privilege,” I said that people should to continue to listen to those who don’t have privilege (because you know, learning is a continuous process) and not be an asshole (which usually results from not listening or considering other people’s viewpoints), both of which seem perfectly reasonable pieces of advice and generally not difficult to follow. It’s certainly not dismissal – it’s an acknowledgement of the fact that those who have privilege usually aren’t going to recognize when it’s coloring their viewpoints until it’s pointed out to them because, as someone else said, having privilege is like being a fish in water – a fish doesn’t know water is “wet” but a non-amphibious creature certainly does – and that quite often, pointing out the existence of someone’s privilege can be met with hostility and a refusal to listen (which again, is being an asshole).

    I think it bears repeating that if you don’t react like that, if you are someone who listens, who considers and is generally NOT an asshole when your privilege is pointed out to you, that statement isn’t a condemnation of you.

    It’s funny and yet frustrating how discussions of privilege end up taking a similar tack to those about bigotry, in which much hand-wringing and pearl-clutching is done over how people’s feelings might be hurt by having it pointed out to them that their actions are bigoted (or that one has privilege which has resulted in unfairness toward others, no matter how unintentional), rather than having concern over the actual harm being done by bigotry or by how the playing field is skewed towards those who have privilege.

  96. This is very nicely written.

    I think the solution, if you’re feeling guilty/undeserving at all, it to offset how easy quests are for you by making guilds with sprites from other difficulty levels and help them level up faster so that they get “equal pay”, “respected when they speak” or “unlikely to be attacked” buffs or focus on dispatching discrimination-bosses alone or in a guild.

    I’m pretty sure it’s not supposed to be PvP, this game.

  97. I’m a bit disturbed by the leap from recognizing your difficulty setting to the idea that SWM are being “victimized.” People with lower difficulty settings aren’t under attack, there aren’t punitive damages assessed for rolling high in life, and I don’t think anyone is asking for them. Others have better addressed the issue of “winning” (Newberry, above)- life is not a zero-sum game. Here’s how I see it: it’s not about having to give up the things I have gained so that others can have them, it’s about making sure that I am not impeding, actively or passively, access to those things for others. It’s about defining success as the advancement- in health, wealth, love, whatever- of everyone, not the denigration of some for the advancement of a few. If I’m really playing to “win”, then it’s about ensuring that I not only leave room for players on higher difficulty settings to win with me, I actively work to help them do so.

    And the idea that SWM are playing Call of Duty while SWF are playing the Sims? I see this type of argument a lot, that somehow, by virtue of being male, my life is all guns, violence and hardscrabble fighting for success, whereas if I were female, my life would be somehow softer… I think this viewpoint is interesting, as it seems to accord people only one mode of life- the one where men are policemen, firefighters and soldiers, and women are teachers, nurses, and mothers who always survive childbirth. For most of the world- both in countries where women are able to choose risky physical work and men are able to choose quieter work and in those places where no one, male or female can avoid physical risk every day, this Call of Duty/Sims distinction is rubbish.

  98. I was deleted because opposing views are not tolerated by liberals? One day i hope i can evolve & be liberal.

  99. So Ian – even stipulating your premise (which I won’t agree with but will stipulate for the moment) this is ridiculous.

    “SWM no longer enjoy exclusive access to finance, the franchise, education, and a hundred other privileges that we used to have. Fair enough. But what argument do you have for asking us to work against our own self-interest? What other race/class combo are you asking to work against their best interests in order to make things “fair”?”

    Why is not being a flaming jerk not good enough?

  100. You’ve got yours, so go ahead and crap on everyone else. After all, it’s the American way. When I read a newspaper, I see that those like me are being continually demonized by the press. When I go to church I get told that I am an evil oppressing patriarch (and since I have never married, I wonder about the ministers user of the term patriarch). If I have any troubles in my life, I don’t deserve any help or support. Those are the realities of being a straight white male in today’s society.

    I’ll never have a family because men don’t deserve a choice. If I want to simply reproduce then my best option is to become a convicted criminal, their reproductive rate is far higher than honest, law-abiding, straight white males.

    Have you really been paying attention to the world or are you just living a fantasy life out there in flyover country?

  101. So, if life is a video game, then the equivalent of beating a horde of Brutes and Banshees in Mass Effect 3 is successfully asking Natalie Portman on a date. Since I’ve done the first, the second should be attainable, no?

  102. @Kilroy “one of the top big firms that find it very difficult to full the necessary diversity positions”

    Why do you think the ‘top big firms’ find it difficult to diversify their staff? And what do you mean by ‘necessary’ here? AFAIK, there is no legal requirement for a law firm to maintain a certain level of diversity; they just can’t legally discriminate.

  103. On “SWM” setting, you keep getting prompted to pay for some additional DLC quests that just seem to take up your time and money and put you in uncomfortable situations with low-payout. But it gives you some advantages with a few of the guilds.

    Many of the quests seem to be tied to some kind of convoluted alignment sub-system that doesn’t seem to convey any direct in-game advantage,

    A lot of the rumors on the internet is that the new version coming out in a a few decades will build on those DLC quests and the game will be much better then.

  104. JT:

    “I was deleted because opposing views are not tolerated by liberals?”

    You were deleted because your comment was pointless and idiotic.


    “I’m a bit disturbed by the leap from recognizing your difficulty setting to the idea that SWM are being ‘victimized.'”

    This is indeed a fundamental problem relating to SWM.


    Your post is appallingly stupid. Please rend your garments stupidly somewhere else.

  105. I’m a straight white male, 54 years old, the 4th of 5 children.

    My family of origin was (lower) middle-class. My younger sister has Down’s syndrome. My parents paid for my college education.

    I have an IQ that’s been measured as pretty high. I got really good grades in high school, because it was easy, and got really mediocre grades in college, because it was not easy.

    Because I have a very small, narrow comfort zone, am fearful and socially awkward, and am not particularly ambitious, I didn’t get a “real” job until I graduated from college twice, with two engineering degrees.

    I’m an alcoholic, though I’ve been sober for a really long time, and because of that, I lost that “real” job and it took 7 years before I had an engineering job again.

    Overall, I haven’t had to work particularly hard at becoming a successful mid-level engineer. I’m also a husband and father of 3 boys.

    If there were a major “drag” on my path to success, say if I were non-white, non-male, non-American, etc., there’s no telling where I might have ended up professionally or socially, but I doubt seriously that I’d be as successful as I am.

    I was dealt a really good hand, and since I generally take it for granted, I actually do appreciate having it called to my attention from time to time.

    Life, society, the world in general has treated me really well regardless of whether I’ve earned it, in most instances. I know that this wouldn’t be the case if I weren’t a SWM.

    So thanks for reminding me of that, John.

  106. Beyond a general acknowledgement of my good luck in being straight, white, male, and from an upper middle class background, it’s tricky to know what to do next. I do try to extend a helping hand to anyone in need of same. I do think very carefully (and listen) to people of other backgrounds when considering my position on an issue. I try to be vocal if I hear or see something out of line. But I can’t really give up my history, or even point to any one particular event and say “well, that only happened because of my lucky draw.” Loaded dice seem to be the best illustration. The probabilities were better for me than for most, and I guess I am trying to help reduce or eliminate that effect in future.

  107. I agree that’s a great analogy.

    But by analogy with your incredible “being poor” essay, would it be simpler to simply list things that you experience as a woman, or black person, or non-straight person, etc.

    “Being X is getting on a metro and keeping one eye behind you to see if someone will grope you”
    “Being X is being scared whenever you see a police officer, in case he/she harases you”
    Etc, etc

    I find that (of a very very small sample of people I know) most people (who are not already completely intransigent) have a generally sympathetic reaction to that, saying things like “Oh my god, is that really true? I guess I should have really known, but I didn’t.” It turns out that most people (from all demographics) don’t verbalise this stuff, and people in group X assume it’s obvious that they’re harassed by the police, but people not in group X literally never think of it. And people OUGHT to know it, possibly, but when they don’t, “you’re better off than me” is very abstract and they keep forgetting it, but if they have specifics, they have some chance of sticking.

    And from there it’s a comparatively small step to “most people experience this sort of ingrained societal harassment, and they shouldn’t have to”.

    It seems like the concept of privelege is relative, and most reasonable people could accept “you have a privelege relative to me” because it’s obviously true. (Some people will still object, but not everyone.) But it seems like “you have a privelege” produces a massive defensive reaction, even amongst people who use the terminology, because everyone instinctively seems themselves as “normal” and they’re terrified of being seen as above “normal”, even if a sensible baseline for “normal” would be “what most people experience”. It seems very common to start an explanation by emphasising how someone is priveleged, and I agree that people SHOULD be able to accept that, but since it produces SUCH a negative reaction, if you actually want someone to understand, it seems much, much easier to simply emphasise how everyone else’s experience differs, without insisting people understand that they are exceptional as a prerequisite. (Eg. In your analogy, you could choose levels “easy, normal, hard, very hard” or “normal, hard, very hard, extremely hard” and have the same difference between the easiest and the hardest but I speculate people would raise fewer spurious objections if you used “normal” as the level they’re on rather than “easy”, even if “easy” might better reflect the demographics. But you’re better at this than me, do you think there’s a point here?)

  108. Query: Are we talking about the US/Europe (i.e., Western civilization) or worldwide? I can think of several locations where being a SWM is not the lowest difficulty setting. Maybe “cis-gendered het. male” would be more accurate for world-wide lowest difficulty setting? Or something like “being a member of the majority population”?

  109. I’ve never really knew what a “white” person is, except for the caricature that’s popular today. The problem is, that caricature is…a caricature. It makes for easy, flippant essays, though.

    White males are Greeks living in Athens, where poverty and crime and desperation are rampant. White males are part of gangs in Liverpool because they’ve always been poor and dealing drugs and beating others out of their money is how you get by. White males are Mexican (yes, they are) living in