Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is

Illustration for article titled Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is

I've been thinking of a way to explain to straight white men how life works for them, without invoking the dreaded word "privilege," to which they react like vampires being fed a garlic tart at high noon. It's not that the word "privilege" is incorrect, it's that it's not their word. When confronted with "privilege," they fiddle with the word itself, and haul out the dictionaries and find every possible way to talk about the word but not any of the things the word signifies.


So, the challenge: how to get across the ideas bound up in the word "privilege," in a way that your average straight white man will get, without freaking out about it?

Being a white guy who likes women, here's how I would do it:

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.

Now, once you've selected the "Straight White Male" difficulty setting, you still have to create a character, and how many points you get to start - and how they are apportioned - will make a difference. Initially the computer will tell you how many points you get and how they are divided up. If you start with 25 points, and your dump stat is wealth, well, then you may be kind of screwed. If you start with 250 points and your dump stat is charisma, well, then you're probably fine. Be aware the computer makes it difficult to start with more than 30 points; people on higher difficulty settings generally start with even fewer than that.

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As the game progresses, your goal is to gain points, apportion them wisely, and level up. If you start with fewer points and fewer of them in critical stat categories, or choose poorly regarding the skills you decide to level up on, then the game will still be difficult for you. But because you're playing on the "Straight White Male" setting, gaining points and leveling up will still by default be easier, all other things being equal, than for another player using a higher difficulty setting.

Likewise, it's certainly possible someone playing at a higher difficulty setting is progressing more quickly than you are, because they had more points initially given to them by the computer and/or their highest stats are wealth, intelligence and constitution and/or simply because they play the game better than you do. It doesn't change the fact you are still playing on the lowest difficulty setting.


You can lose playing on the lowest difficulty setting. The lowest difficulty setting is still the easiest setting to win on. The player who plays on the "Gay Minority Female" setting? Hardcore.

And maybe at this point you say, hey, I like a challenge, I want to change my difficulty setting! Well, here's the thing: In The Real World, you don't unlock any rewards or receive any benefit for playing on higher difficulty settings. The game is just harder, and potentially a lot less fun. And you say, okay, but what if I want to replay the game later on a higher difficulty setting, just to see what it's like? Well, here's the other thing about The Real World: You only get to play it once. So why make it more difficult than it has to be? Your goal is to win the game, not make it difficult.


Oh, and one other thing. Remember when I said that you could choose your difficulty setting in The Real World? Well, I lied. In fact, the computer chooses the difficulty setting for you. You don't get a choice; you just get what gets given to you at the start of the game, and then you have to deal with it.

So that's "Straight White Male" for you in The Real World (and also, in the real world): The lowest difficulty setting there is. All things being equal, and even when they are not, if the computer—or life—assigns you the "Straight White Male" difficulty setting, then brother, you've caught a break.


John Scalzi writes science fiction and is currently working on a video game with developer Industrial Toys. His new novel Redshirts will be out from Tor Books on June 5. He blogs at Whatever.

Republished with permission






Today, I crawled out of bed at noon, moaning in agony. I suffer from an illness that results in, among other things, chronic pain and fatigue. My entire life, for the past half-decade or so, has been defined by my illness. I have had doctors tell me that it's a miracle I made it out of bed to get in to see them for an appointment. One told me that I was the sickest patient she's ever seen. My family has gone into significant debt trying to deal with my illness. Every waking moment of my life is agony.

Next week, I will go into work. My boss (a woman, before you ask, just like every boss I've ever had), is going to ask me to do things I've told her I can't do—mostly, the kind of things that she's prefaced before with "this is pretty heavy, so can you..." Then she'll get down on me, and, like nearly everyone I've met (including, for the first several years of my illness, my parents) throughout my life, she'll start telling me how I'm a big strong guy and how I should be able to blah blah blah and how I'm just lazy and so on and so forth.

I should mention that I'm the only worker she does this to. In part, it's because I'm the only white male in the office. She feels... for lack of a better word, safe. She can't do that to the black guy. Other co-workers have expressed confusion at the way she acts to me. I am, for all intents and purposes, her punching bag. She does not believe my physical limitations exist.

Throughout my entire life, I've had people say things along the lines of "yeah, I know it's more than what's expected of most people, but you're a white dude. You'll be fine!"

A few years ago, I was denied financial aid, despite desperately needing it, because, "well, you're obviously not female, and you've marked on your sheet that you're caucasian... so there's really nothing I can do for you. We give this aid to people who really need it, and, to be honest, white guys get by just fine without it."

Another incident saw me being rear-ended by a woman in a predominantly black neighborhood. The black female cop decided to give me the ticket (those of you who know about driving know that in a rear-ending case, it's always the fault of the person who did the rear-ending), refused to speak with me beyond "here, fill out this form," and spent her entire time talking with/joking with the other driver about me. When my dad, who was rather incredulous about the story, called the police department, the officer refused to speak with him and hung up.

I have been in so many situations where I'm expected to go above and beyond what is expected of me because I'm a white guy. I'll be asked to move heavy loads to someone's car or other menial work, even though it's not in my purview, because, hey, I'm the white guy, so somehow I'm supposed to be able to do it, even though I've expressly stated my physical limitations before.

I have been denied jobs because "well, we have enough guys right now; we really need to hire more minorities."

There's a sensitivity that protects women and minorities. There's a worry about being offensive, or about seeming improper. People aren't afraid to tread on the toes of white guys, because of this fucking myth that somehow, white guys have life easier, so giving them more work will somehow make their lives harder.

What, do you think minorities are the only people who feel unsafe walking outside at night? I've had a police chopper follow me with a searchlight before. I've had... other things happen that I don't care to talk about.

I hear white dudes get more money—well, that's bullshit. Many of my white friends were, and are, dirt poor. Always have been. One of my friends happens to be quite good at robbing people, because when he was a kid, that was what he had to do to survive in his abusive household.

Again and again, we get back to this oft-repeated refrain: "well, you're white, so life's easier for you, so it's okay for us to be harder."

One of the most inspiring teachers I ever had, a former cop, later lawyer, once told me how, at a family barbecue, he was approached by several family members and asked why he worked for such a racist university.

(at this point, I should mention he was black)

His reply to them was simple: "because I was the only one of you who tried to go to college. Ya'll just sit around and expect life to give you something, but me, and all those white teachers I work with? We went to school and we got our doctorates in our respective programs; they're not going to hire people with your GEDs or high school diplomas—they want the best. Don't you dare ever call them racist—the simple fact is that none of you gave a damn and tried.

"We did."

My father grew up on a farm and had severe learning difficulties. His parents both had to work, his dad working for the power company and his mom at the local feed store. He grew up in a three bedroom house with four other siblings. He worked his ass off through fourteen years of schooling, and finally got his doctorate. As a result, he's made a decent amount of money—though not enough to take care of my family. He grew up in a town where most of the kids ended up dying or went to jail. He became a far greater man than anyone expected, despite the derision for his learning difficulties and opposition from his teachers (one planned to flunk my father just before he presented his doctoral thesis, but another teacher, who had discovered the plan, told my dad one day with the other professor standing there).

Many of us have hard lives. The amount of melanin in our skin doesn't determine how easy or hard life is for us—in fact, as I've said, repeatedly, many people put excess expectations on white guys simply because of this foolish, preconceived notion that being white makes life easier.

I know no one right now with a life harder than mine. I'm in more pain than most of you can imagine. I'm incredibly exhausted all the time. I take around thirty pills a day to stay alive, and chances are that I'll still only live out a portion of a normal life. In a few weeks, I will be homeless, because my dad's boss doesn't want my dad's lab to compete with his, despite the money it makes for the company. My current job, the only one I've been able to find after more than a year of searching (and being turned down 'cause lol they needed to hire more women/minorities), doesn't pay enough to make rent, and I've got to deal with a boss who jumps from hating me to being my best friend every few weeks. The last time she blew up, she nearly fired me mid-conversation.

I fight for everything I get. I watch others just coast by, getting jobs or financial aid or promotions or not being yelled at or getting lucky breaks whatever just because... well, they're not white. Somehow, their life is harder.

I'm the white guy, so life's good! No obstacles here! It's all smooth sailing.

Yeah, right. Where's my lucky break? Where's all this money I'm supposed to have for being a white guy? When do people act nicer to me just because of the color of my skin? How am I going to be able to afford a house, much less a decent school? When do things go right for me?

They fucking don't. I can't even remember the last good day I had.

You stupid fucks. Learn to see people based on who they are and the unique situations surrounding them. As soon as you start generalizing people based on the color of the skin, who they want to fuck, or just what is between their legs, you become a racist, sexist, and whateverelse cunt. Learn to be a good human. Treat the people you come across as individuals, not as members of some homogenized group with expectations. Humanity is beautiful, and it will surprise you.

Whoever approved this article should be ashamed. I needn't say how Scalzi should feel.