Difficulty Settings

Each of our lives has a set of default difficulty settings.

In the world of video games the difficulty settings define how challenging the game will be for you – the player – by varying the number of enemies you will face, how much damage a particular attack causes, your ability to heal from damage, and how challenging it is to beat “the boss” for any given level. As we raise our children, mentor our students, and try to live our lives in decent way I think it’s valuable to consider that everyday life has difficulty settings as well.

Another word for those difficulty settings – one that is bound to get some folks wound up – is privilege. Discussing privilege is concept that makes some people uncomfortable. So, let’s use the phrase “Difficulty Settings” for now.

Various elements determine your difficulty settings.

In no particular order, some of these elements are:

  • Race
  • Gender
  • Class/Economic Status
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Religion

For all but the most insecure it’s readily apparent that the “normal” settings for the game of life in the US constitute being (in the order provided above): white, cisgendered male, average household income of $75,000 per year, straight, and Christian. Basically your classic Male WASP with a middle class income.1 Note well, the normal settings don’t mean the game will be easy. It means that you will have to play through, learning your way, failing and falling back.

However, just like the is a difference between playing Halo on the normal settings and the Heroic settings there is a difference between being a white, cisgendered male, who is straight, Christian, and has a stable middle class income and belonging to any other group. As each of those elements change the difficulty settings get more difficult. When you start combining more difficult settings the game can get really tough, very quickly.

What’s the point?

Fair question.

The point is we need to understand our difficulty settings and those of others. We need to teach our kids that their difficulty settings are theirs, that their life will have its struggles, however we need to help them calibrate their understanding of their relative settings.

This isn’t a call for guilt about your settings. It’s not a value judgement. Nor is it a suggestion that you shouldn’t be playing your game in a way that enables you to live a flourishing life as both an Agent and a member of a tribe. Rather, it’s a reminder to step outside of your self focused world view and do some critical reflection about the game you are playing.

Here are some references I have found useful in developing my understanding of Difficulty Settings.

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack” by Peggy McIntosh

Liberalism and Racial Justice” by Charles Wade Mills

Thirteenth by Ava Duvernay

The West” by Natalie Wynn

What is Gender” by Natalie Wynn

Further reading:

Contract and Domination by Carol Pateman and Charles W. Mills

Epistemic Injustice by Miranda Fricker

A Decent Life: Morality for the Rest of Us by Todd May

The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon

A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft

If you get through all that I’m happy to offer more.

  1. If you are about to write a scathing comment about how off base I am, please reference the list of readings and videos at the end of this article. Comments that don’t offer substantive feedback including sources to refute at least some of these references will be ignored or delated.

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