If life is a video game, can I trade up?

So John Scalzi made this post.

And he’s closed the comment thread for reasonable reasons, so I figured I’d respond here, on my blog that I hardly ever use and that nobody reads.

Apparently, as a straight white male, I’m playing the RPG that is real life on the lowest difficulty setting. I get it. I understand the analogy, and it’s precisely the analogy I’d expect from a straight white male who has the additional privileges of a reasonably good start in life and a good education in a first world country. Which is to say, I think it’s entirely flawed to the point of being blinkered, hopelessly parochial and borderline racist. For starters, it seems predicated on the assumption that everyone lives in a place where white people are a step ahead of everyone else. Is it really the case that in China I’ll have an easier time of it if I’m white?

Leaving aside the parochialism, which is defensible on the grounds that the intended audience was not global, I still think the model is flawed. I propose an alternative. Not everyone is familiar with the tropes of RPGs. I for one have no idea what a “dump stat” is. Most people have, at some stage, seen or played a video game that involves driving a car in competition with others. Many will have played Mario Kart, or some variant of it. Everyone understand what is meant by “braking”, “acceleration”, “top speed” etc.

Karts come with variable sets of stats. Some accelerate slowly to a high top speed. Some shoot off the line but braking is poor. Some can turn on a sixpence and accelerate well but don’t have the top end speed.

So here’s the thing. Being a straight, white male is, I’ll grant, to be privileged. Straight = lightning acceleration. White = great handling in corners. Male = extremely effective brakes. Even if we all start the race from the same place, I’ll grant those things are objectively advantages, particularly over people who, other things being equal, don’t have them.

But other things are not equal. And for an enormous number of working class (or in this economy, NON-working class) white, straight males, in the F1 Grand Prix that is life 0-60 in two seconds doesn’t feel like much of a privilege if your top speed is 61. The fact you don’t skid in the corners is scant comfort when you can see the reason is that you’re not capable of going fast enough to lose traction. And being lectured about how you should be grateful for the privilege of your effective brakes can make you react poorly as you’re being passed left and right by people who, although their brakes may be technically worse than yours, are still comfortably overtaking you every single lap, even though they started way behind you.

Class and wealth are your kart’s top speed. Playing with a kart that’s got its top speed dialled right back may be objectively easy, but it also means that barring some extraordinary luck, you’re still going to lose, like most people. And this applies even if ALL YOUR OTHER STATS are as good as it gets.


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