Straight White Male: the Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is

Science fiction writer John Scalzi wrote a great little post called Straight White Male: the Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is that has generated a lot of controversy in the wingnuttier neighborhoods of the blogosphere. In the essay, Scalzi addresses white male privilege in a way that young males can perhaps best understand: by using a metaphor from gaming.

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.

This observation seems to me to be just common sense, but then trying to tell white males they enjoy any sort of privilege is like trying to tell rich people that they are rich for any reason other than their own hard work or God’s providence. Scalzi shut down the comments section when it reached 800, and a few day’s later Scalzi wrote a followup post in which he discusses most salient criticisms of the piece. To wit:

8. You did not lay out in exhaustive factual detail, with graphs and charts, your assertion that straight white men operate at the lowest difficulty setting in our culture.

Also generally lobbed at me by aggrieved straight white men. And indeed I did not. Also, when I write about tripping over my shoelaces and falling on my ass, I do not preface the comment with a comprehensive discussion of the theory of gravity. For two reasons: One, it’s not needed because for anyone but committed gravity-deniers, the theory of gravity is obvious and taken as read, and two, that’s not the focus of the entry. In the case of the “lowest difficulty setting” entry, I took what I see as the obvious advantages to being straight, white and male in our culture as read. One may of course argue with that assertion, and some did in the previous comment thread, but I have to say I’ve generally found those arguments to be less than compelling (see point six, above).

One of those taking issue with the post is Dr. Helen Smith over at Pajama’s Media, that electronic rest home for wayward wingnuts. She even coins a new term for John Scalzi and other supposedly self-hating white males, the Uncle Tim. To which: how strange to live in a world where saying out loud an observation that should be starkly self-evident to anyone with eyes somehow qualifies as self hating.

In Dr. Helen Smith’s mind, not only don’t white males enjoy any privilege whatsoever in this society, there is an active War on Men being waged. In fact, judging by her archives she’s made quite a career out of flogging this particular hobby horse. Dr. Helen Smith knows that there’s a War on Men the same way she knows that there’s a War on Christmas and a War on Christians and a War on The Good People Who Occasionally Enjoy a Meal at Applebees and the Cracker Barrel. The one thing that there most definitely is not a war on is women. How do I know that? Because Dr. Helen Smith wrote a piece entitled There is No War on Women.

Hmmm. I wonder if Louis CK has a comedy routine that could pithily wrap this all up in a hilarious little bow?

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3 Responses to Straight White Male: the Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is

  1. pt dismal says:

    of course, the gaming analogy doesn’t help me, but i don’t need help understanding this principle. i recall once when it was clearly demonstrated to me, i was teaching composition at some satellite campus of a junior college in the vast, white, conservative du page county, west of chicago. i had an african american student, a hardworker, former marine, real straight arrow. i gave a quiz at the beginning of every class (a practice i adapted from a favorite medievalist professor i had an undergrad), to encourage promptness and check if students did the reading. this guy missed almost every quiz. i asked him if there was something that made him late all the time, and he very calmly said, “well, i get pulled over every evening on my way to class.” he wasn’t making excuses, and he wasn’t even complaining. it was just a fact of his life as a black man in that place. it never even occurred to me, as a privileged, straight, white male that that would be the reason he was always late.


  2. Joe Public says:

    everybody wants victim-cred nowadays. That’s the only reasons why these posts exist. Life’s much more complicted than, “you have it easy because you’re a heterosexual white male.” To the man above, while its awful that that sort of thing goes on (cops in Staten Island are racist to high hell), in a relative situation, i grew up white in a mostly black neighborhood, and i was constantly discriminated against/picked on/beaten to a goddamn pulp on some occasions because of the color of my skin.

  3. Jeff says:

    Yes I would love to know where these white folks are getting more out of life or playing on that easier level, cause I would LOVE TO MOVE THERE!

    The guy closed his comments for a reason, he knows its bull. Yeah some spots are different but has he been to south Texas? It really doesn’t matter if your white actually in some cases it may hurt you. (yes Joe Public I know exactly how you feel getting jumped for being…wait what white?)

    I married a non white hispanic girl, the author of this story reminds me too much of her family. Almost everyday I get off of work making a lousy 400 bucks a week, I go home and work some more. I work in my yard, save up for home improvements etc….

    However since I am white that hard work does not translate the way it should instead I just have it made according to her family. I’ve heard my wife’s family and extended family slip on that comment many of times before. When just about everyone in her family makes more money than me, abuses the welfare system (which means free food and medical thus saving even more money) (I had to get a vasectomy after 3 kids, what should cost money) and they all have so many more connections also than I have to borrow equipment, devices, vehicles (truck) etc.

    But the weirdest thing their houses and yards aren’t as nice or even close to being as nice as ours? My wife (the only one in her family to go to college) says that they spend their money on stupid things like cars that barely run, rims, horses, partying, clothes latest and greatest etc etc.

    I thought about it and said wow your right they do, here I am with shoes that are about to fall apart, a plain walmart shirt, and jeans from walmart, but a house that makes me look (white)

    To the author, get out of 1950 before you drive yourself crazy. And take a trip to south Texas you may get a kick out of what you will see and the ones that will control this country 50 years from now.

    But will they be considered playing on a easy level too?…. yeah white

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