Being a heterosexual white male is like playing a video game on “Easy”.

I so wish I could take credit for that observation but it is, in fact, the work of sci-fi author John Scalzi. He doesn’t just mention it as a one-liner, though, but instead takes the whole notion to its logical conclusion:

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.

It’s brilliant, it’s insightful, and you should read the rest. Great stuff if you need to teach privilege to resisting students.

12 thoughts on “Being a heterosexual white male is like playing a video game on “Easy”.”

  1. I continue to be amazed by the now-complete displacement of social class by sexual orientation in the mainstream/popular sociological imagination. For anybody in graduate school who reads this comment: hand to God, and I still don’t think of myself as that old, but there was once a time in sociology when social class was a really big deal.


    1. I blogged the Scalzi piece too, but in my brief comment about it, I overlooked and omitted the “straight” part. (FWIW, I’m older than you.) I thought of adding “middle class,” but then dropped the idea – a mistake.


      1. In the GSS, more than half the sample identify themselves as not middle class — mostly working, some lower, a very few upper. But you wouldn’t know that to hear politicians talk.


      2. Well, to be fair, the class variable in the GSS has only four categories (with middle being number 3), so it is sort of an odd question. I think the category names screw things up a bit, too. I can see a respondent wondering if the distinction between working class and middle class just the color of a collar, or is it something more?

        Something like Add Health’s SES ladder variable results in a tight, almost perfectly normal distribution centered around the middle of the ladder.


      3. Time was, DiMaggio called social class the “crack troops on the war on variance.” (I may not have the quote exactly right.)

        Time was, social class wasn’t loosely and variously used as linguistic shorthand for everything from subjective class identification, to income/income decile, to education, to parental SES, either. I’d like to blame the punditry and/or economists for introducing this definitional sloppiness, but I think we did it to ourselves.


      4. krippendorf: I don’t understand your comment. Sorry. What did DiMaggio mean?

        And what do you mean? Are you a Marxist focusing on relation to the means of production as the only valid criterion? All the rest is status? If so, I think I’d disagree but at least I’d understand what you meant.

        The reason people talk loosely about income, education and subjective class identity is because they are highly correlated and are often conceived as different indicators of an underlying construct. There is variability across time and space in the sharpness and mutability of class boundaries, and one of the things sociologists have historically studied is the extent to which class differences were sharp and heritable. Right?


      5. DiMaggio’s point was that when sociologists wanted to understand individual-level variation in musical tastes, leisure activities, health, politics, attitudes, personalities, parenting styles, you name it, they’d fit class as a predictor. A generation or two earlier, the same might have been said of efforts to understand macro-level social and political change.

        I was referring generically to (structural) social class analysis, whether Marxian or neo-Marxian, Weberian, Durkheimian, or Goldthorpian. Theoretical debates between “ians” notwithstanding, in class analytic practice, social class membership is typically operationalized by occupation, often with self-employment status and occasionally with supervisory status. But you know this, I’m sure.

        Yes, social class membership is associated with other dimensions of inequality, including occupational education and income (SES), individual education and income, wealth, subjective class identity, and many more — some “highly correlated”, some less so. There’s a long tradition of trying to understand how and why the strength of these associations, both within and between generations, vary over time and place. It’s impossible to gain leverage on these types of questions if we treat social class, income, education, and SES as synonyms.

        As a practical matter, it’s also tough to make disciplinary headway on changing relationships between class and politics, for example, if by “social class” one researcher means income quartile, another means education, another means SES, a fourth means how the respondent categorizes herself in the GSS, and a fifth means structural positions in the productive system.

        Slightly more on topic, “stuff white people like” should really be “stuff upper-middle-income people like.” Too bad it’s not as catchy.


  2. I liked the Scalzi post too and thought about linking to it. But Jeremy is also spot on about class. I just found this study by Reardon and Bishoff indicating that residential segregation by income has increased markedly.

    edit: I linked to the wrong paper. This is the one I had in mind:
    The other one I linked to appears to be an earlier version of the same project.


  3. Scalzi got a ton of comments (I think he closed the comments at 800). In general response (here) he categorizes the criticisms of his original post. This is what he says about class

    3. Your description should have put wealth/class as part of the difficulty setting.

    Nope. Money and class are both hugely important and can definitely compensate for quite a lot, which I have of course noted in the entry itself. But they belong in the stats category because wealth and class are not an inherent part of one’s personal nature — and in the US particularly, part of our cultural sorting behavior — in the manner that race, gender and sexuality are . . .


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