Effects Stack

I’ve decided I’m going to come back to blogging with a bang.

GamerGate. There, you know where we are. Now we can proceed.

The aspect of the shitstorm that I’m going to focus on here is the one that reflects a mood in general culture, that of shouting matches over privilege. These often come down to someone trying to shut up a member of an oppressed minority by saying that after all, they too are oppressed in some way, so don’t they deserve just as much attention and concern?

Since GamerGate is currently the most visible form of this argument on the Web, with its cries of “But they mocked me in high school! They called me mad at university!” I had been thinking about it with gamer terms in mind. And just as I was going to sleep last night – of course – I understood where their understanding was going wrong in game terms.

They were forgetting that effects stack.

Let us suppose that life is, in fact, one great big role-playing game. First of all, congratulations! You’re a LARPer. Second, let us understand that as with most role-playing games, your choices on things like gender, race, and player class are going to come with various sets of advantages and disadvantages. So do your starting attributes and talents.

Let’s look at the bright side of this first. Say you’re a white, non-disabled, cisgendered, heterosexual male born into the middle class. Let’s call this character Bob. Bob gets a lot of good things right out of the gate. Unless he really botches his rolls on appearance or intelligence, he will usually get neutral responses or better out of NPCs. Unless he’s crazy drunk/high in public or grooms himself like a punk on meth, he will seldom get a second glance from law enforcement or anyone else whose job includes eliminating “likely threats.” He will probably go to decent schools, which will make it easier for him to go on to success later in life, whether through college or trade or the military or even sports. He will be more likely to afford all the pleasant perks of life, which ironically will sometimes also be cheaper for him.

It gets better! Because of all this access to training and tools and friendly help, Bob will level up quickly. That will help him move into positions of greater prestige, security, and/or money. Now, without giving up any of the advantages he had before, Bob will have even more advantages, because effects stack.  He will get even better reactions than he did before, possibly to the point of having crimes he commits actively overlooked or at least under-punished. He will be able to afford luxury items, and some necessities – ironically again – will become even cheaper to him than they were before. He will be able to hire people to do the parts of his daily life that he doesn’t like. He will have access to better health care to make sure he doesn’t lose his “non-disabled” perks.

Now we’re going to build our second character, Dave. He’s still white, non-disabled, cisgendered, heterosexual and male, but he comes from a poor family in the sticks. He didn’t roll anything impressive for looks or intelligence, and in fact, some of his interests are not shared by a lot of his peers. Because of these things, it’s absolutely true that he’s not going to have as easy a road as Bob. Not everyone reacts positively on meeting him, though he still gets more neutral responses than negative ones (except maybe during junior high, which sucks for all but about three people per class year regardless). He’s probably at a worse school, getting less prepared for the future. Even if he manages to get into Bob’s school, he has little social currency to spend there, so the benefit is still limited. He may eat poorly enough at home to have lasting effects on his health, and that’s not going to help his adult life any. He’s going to level up slower than Bob and may hit a limit as to what he can accomplish.

That’s pretty bad, right? That’s worthy of our compassion, isn’t it?

Yeah, but. Hold on to your seat, because we’ve only thrown one of many possible wrenches into Bob’s cheery storyline.

Just for laughs, let’s compare Susan, who is like Bob except cisfemale. She gets back the good school and a lot of social currency, but for her there are strings attached. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, feels they deserve a vote in how much Susan weighs, what clothes she puts on, and what makeup she wears. Oh, and she is all but required to pay for makeup, more expensive clothes and more of them, and will probably spend a fair portion of her life on expensive diet plans as she chases the dream of being the magic shape that will satisfy everyone. That puts her at risk for eating disorders, so every so often we’re going to have to roll against anorexia, bulimia, extreme weight yo-yoing, and so on. If she’s pretty and/or works her presentation well enough, she gets a lot of theoretically positive responses, but for virtually every cisfemale some of those will cross over into people being creepy, making unwanted physical contact, stalking, or even full verbal and/or physical assault. It is guaranteed; it is part of the feature pack for this gender. Despite all her extra expenses, she will actually make less than Bob if she does the same job Bob does. Some jobs will not welcome her at all; others will mysteriously fail to level her up even when she’s earned all the points.  There’s other advantages and disadvantages in there, but this is enough to get where we’re going.

At this point you might be tempted to think, yeah, Dave’s got problems, Susan’s got problems, that’s what I’m saying, isn’t it? We’ve all got problems, so it’s not fair for Susan to point hers out like they’re a priority, is it?

But that’s not what I’m saying.

Now let’s check in on Nancy. Nancy is like Dave except cisfemale. So she has all the strikes against her that Dave has when compared to Bob, and all the disadvantages that Susan has when compared to Bob. All in play at the same time. Effects stack.

What if we made Rick and Anne, cisgendered people of color? Even starting from middle-class or better, they get marked down on stranger response, and especially so in encounters with law enforcement. If they’re middle class and in Bob’s school, they still get looked at funny because they’re not the same as Bob. If they’re middle class and in Dave’s school, Dave’s friends are likely to see them as uppity and hostile unless their charismas are through the roof. Rick has to earn more points than Bob or Dave to level up, and Anne has that problem plus Susan’s problems with leveling, because effects stack. In fact, Anne has all of Rick’s race-connected problems plus all of Susan’s gender-connected problems. (Granted, this isn’t a pure exchange, because in this case Rick has some special baggage connected to the intersection of “color” and “male.” But then again, Anne has some special baggage connected to the intersection of “color” and “female.” But for the most part we’re looking at simple stacking; and you can also see from this that when an intersection of two problematic tags occurs, it is generally a change for the worse and not the better.)

Now what if Rick loses an arm in the war? What if Dave realizes he’s actually gay or trans female? Sad to say, positive effects are easier to get rid of than negative ones. Rick keeps all his “male of color” issues and gets to add all the limits of being disabled; he loses the perks of being able-bodied. Dave keeps his poor roots and quirkiness issues and adds the many, many problems that attend on being gay or transgender. He will lose many, if not all, of the perks he got from being a heterosexual cisman.

What if Dave, now Debbie, loses feeling in her legs? Effects stack.

So my point is not that we all have problems and so we’re free to dismiss each other’s cries for help with “I’m a victim too!” I’m saying that if, as has become a trend, you are a person with one or two strikes against you and a sense that you’re disrespected from both ends, then on one hand you do indeed have a genuine problem. On the other hand, you might benefit from some perspective. Think about the people who have your set of problems plus more problems. Think about how it feels to be told your problems don’t count, and consider whether the people further down the slope than you might not feel the same way when you do it to them. Think about whether it is more constructive for us all to fight amongst each other, or to work as a team to address all our grievances in a way that will balance the game properly.

Effects stack.

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