Wolfenstein 3D difficulty settings

John Scalzi published an article today on his blog titled “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is.” I felt the need to pass it along, without much in the way of comment. It’s not exactly related to the usual topics covered here on A Dribble of Ink, but it’s interesting, important and Scalzi’s a prominent figure in our community. Gender is a hot-topic issue in the SFF community these days (see here, and here, and here) and Scalzi, as he traditionally does, tackles the subject of gender- and race-privilege with an even hand. The “fun” really begins in the comments section, as is wont to happen on the Internet.

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?


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.


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.

Please, read it and let me know what you think.

  • Stefan (Civilian-Reader) May 15, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    380 comments on Scalzi’s post – that takes a lot of reading… :s
    It’s a good analogy.

  • Matthew May 15, 2012 at 2:48 pm

    Well it’s an interesting article/analogy. I don’t think it’s a good one though.
    There are so many various starting points for a straight white male, from the state of the homes they come from , be they happy/broken/violent/etc. There are social classes and prejudice, a miriad of infinite variables for every starting point, be it straight white male or gay female..
    In my opinion any walk of life if you ar SWM or gay female is as easy or as hard as we choose to make it. We don’t have the same constrictions as a computer game where even the biggest sandbox is a construct.
    The analogy of the game is flawed. Games are by there very nature about completition. That is in the end the “goal”.
    The analogy falls down because life is not a game, it is not based on completion or levelling up through a hierarchy. It is more than that.
    In computer games no matter the difficulty it is working towards one point, no matter how open-eded the box may claim there are always the credits and a conclusion. Scalzi uses this movement towards one point as a reason to justify the analogy. It doesn’t work. Our lives are so much more than an interactive narrative. It is organic.
    We have the right to do as we please and

  • Matthew May 15, 2012 at 2:54 pm

    make decisions we believe in.
    No path is harder or easier than another.
    No two lives are the same. They can’t be grouped in categories of hard, easy and easiest.
    Each is individual.

  • Paul Weimer (@princejvstin) May 15, 2012 at 3:08 pm

    It is a good analogy. And he definitely stirred a hornet’s nest.

  • Clayton Phillips May 15, 2012 at 4:01 pm

    I disagree with some of the ways which privilege is implemented throughout internet rhetoric.

    This, however, hits the nail on the head. It’s a perfect analogy and a fair one. I’m actually surprised that people have thrown a tizzy over it.

  • Lucia May 15, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    Let’s be honest. This is in many cases untrue. Soceity has made such a big deal of white males having an advantage that the pendulum has, in fact, begun to swing the other way.

    Just try to get financial aid for a white male college student. Just TRY. It won’t happen; thank you, reverse discrimination. :D

  • m May 16, 2012 at 11:07 pm

    Yeah it’s not a very good analogy or very true. If you’re a white working class male unable to find a nonexistent job living in some shitty council tower block on Easterhouse Estate in Glasgow you really can’t say you’ve got a better starting point than if you are the rich privileged daughter of a black lawyer in LA.

  • Chris May 17, 2012 at 3:12 am

    “Straight Asian Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is.”

    Dudes. Imagine life here in the China — or indeed, pretty much anywhere in the Eastern world — is a massive role playing game…


  • Shane May 18, 2012 at 5:30 am

    Yeah I’m sure it did offend some insecure straight white guys. But I’m sure there are plenty of us who know the whole thing is ridiculous but are not so insecure about that as to be offended.
    Heck, we won’t even be offended when we’re called racist, sexist, or homophobic just for disagreeing with Scalzi, because we’ll know that’s not true either.

  • Raphael May 19, 2012 at 3:25 am

    For what it’s worth, not that the analogy — if it works at all — is pretty much restricted to the US. Other countries/societies work differently.