Benjamin Rosenbaum

Comments on "On the Privilege Game"

Quibble with your quibble: in the last third, you seem to be conflating the choice to ignore or downplay the in-built victory conditions with a genuine change in difficulty level. If I can overcome my anti-Semitism (or whatever), that might give me a more enjoyable playing experience but it doesn't mean I'm not still playing on Easy. I would also suggest that Easy level has more access to rewards 2 and 3, at least, than we usually think; the official reward structure does at least as much to smother them as privilege. (Oh, God, I'm making it about white people. Look, all I'm saying is the distinction between difficulty level and reward structures and access to rewards needs sharpening, okay?)

Posted by David Moles at May 16, 2012 03:42 PM

You are, of course, still playing on Easy, and will be for the rest of your life. On the other hand, we should not steer so far away from the Scylla of "solving oppression will be easy dudez!" that we run into the Charibdys of "there's nothing I can do, oh well." Actually oppression can be dismantled; the project is a big one, but there are generally pretty easily discernable next action items. So I would counter that I'm talking neither about "ignoring or downplaying", nor about "a genuine [total] change" -- I'm talking about whatever the next action is towards modding the game to close the gap between difficulty levels.

I don't know if the example I gave is a good one, and I actually think it's a strength of the metaphor that it allows distinction between structural issues (reward structures built into the game) and individual styles of play (don't be a griefer). But that distinction can be carried too far, to the extent that we might ignore that actually all of the structural issues are purely epiphenomena of our (collective) perceptions and behavior. Each of us individually modifying our behavior does not, in itself alone, change the difficulty level structure. On the other hand, all of us doing so would.

Explain to me a little more what you mean by " the official reward structure does at least as much to smother them as privilege" -- what is the distinction you're making between "the reward structure" on the one hand and "privilege" on the other? I guess whether "Easy level has more access to rewards 2 and 3....than we usually think" depends a lot on what we usually think; it seems to me that the conventional wisdom is more that the benighted subaltern people neglect and beat their children, women and gays are catty with one another, the ghetto is a place of distrust and suspicion, and everything is fine and lovely in the spa and the answer to life is to get yourself as middle-class and white-male-seeming as you can manage and then you will be happy and safe; and indeed that elites are "better informed"; and, thus, that the conventional wisdom would suggest that Easy level has more access to all these (nonmaterial) rewards. I think it has somewhat less access, though obviously not zero. In some cases, of course, it's in the interest of kyriarchy to exaggerate in the other direction -- oh those beautiful noble savages! they're so pure of heart and rich in love, that's why they don't mind us taking their stuff! -- and then the opposite corrective is needed.

How you made it about white people went over my head: I think your brain was moving faster than your fingers. Sharpen away, I'm listening.

Posted by Benjamin Rosenbaum at May 16, 2012 04:05 PM

Too tired to sharpen, all I got is (unrelated, don't look for a narrative through-line in) bullet points:

Reward structure says we're playing for XP and levels and treasure. Difficulty level says players on Easy level up faster and get better loot drops.

Counterculture [white, straight, middle-class] conventional wisdom says the subaltern is the fount of authenticity and artistic expression and middle-class suburban conformity & the pursuit of wealth are the root of alienation, despair, etc.

Christian [white, straight, petit bourgeois / peripheral proletarian] conservatives of the non-televangelical variety share your skepticism re: acquisition, power, material comfort, satiation, zero-sum competitive victory, and fame.

"[Having] to act like these assholes" is neither here nor there re: difficulty levels. It is, however, a very nearly required component of major success in accumulating XP & treasure at *whatever* difficulty level. It may be possible to achieve that success with other, less orthodox play styles, and doing so will certainly be more difficult than playing through the standard quest lines, fighting in the approved player-vs-player arenas, etc. But the choice of play style is orthogonal to the set difficulty level even if both impact difficulty.

(I feel like I'm making it about white people because from where I'm standing I can see the edge of the cliff of complaining, "But *I* don't act like those assholes! *I* have an accurate perspective, real emotional solidarity and mutual support, and a grip on my humanity!")

(Except I don't really have emotional solidarity and mutual support.)

(But I probably could if I moved to the right town and joined the right church. And I'd still be playing on Easy.)

Posted by David Moles at May 17, 2012 05:14 AM

P.S. Also blurry: distinction between playing the game as it stands and arguing for what to be or not be in the next patch.

Posted by David Moles at May 17, 2012 05:23 AM

And now I'm going to bed before I mix any more metaphors.

Posted by David Moles at May 17, 2012 05:23 AM

You can have emotional solidarity and mutual support with me! :-)

Ben, I'm not sure I buy #2 & #3 of your initial points, but I am too sleepy to type it all out, and also, I still have your novel to finish. But maybe we can discuss further at WisCon.

Posted by Mary Anne Mohanraj at May 23, 2012 04:19 AM

I think I'll only have time to tackle this in depth after Wiscon, but as a quick note on #3: Meghan said, "The fact that privilege robs us of empathy and humility is nearly as poisonous as the advantages it brings, because humble, empathetic people would not gleefully skip through difficulty while leaving others to suffer." What I'm saying is: in what kind of world (what kind of scoring system) is being robbed of empathy and humility not accounted as a cost?

If we construct it as if the people placed in oppressor roles are simply being favored -- if being robbed of empathy and humility is simply a way of getting ahead, a bonus -- hey, I'm free of that pesky empathy and humility that was keeping me down, now I can steal and hoard stuff better, whee! -- then the best we can manage, in our oppressor roles, is maybe to feel guilty about it. We will know we ought to change it, but there will inevitably be some ambivalence.

If we, however, note that being robbed of our empathy and humility actually sucks, is dehumanizing and horrible, if we actually face what had to happen to us, how we had to be socialized, to turn us in to such effective oppressors, we will have the proper emotional reaction, which is to be enraged. And we will be fighting for change for our own sakes, with impatient vigor.

Posted by Benjamin Rosenbaum at May 24, 2012 01:29 PM

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