Late Capitalism and Video Games – Load Bearing Drywall – Sep 11

This is probably going to be long, and more than a little rambly, but I promise it’ll all tie back to the intersection of capitalism and sexism.

For a long time I have played this game. It’s essentially an multiplayer cross between soccer and Asteroids. Unsurprisingly many of the players are sports fans, so one of the first things the community independently developed was a statistics tracking system so that you too could live out your dreams of statbook stardom.

Of course the stat system was imperfect. One of the reasons I enjoyed reading Moneyball so much despite having zero interest in baseball was how much it mirrored my experiences with this game. Just like MLB scouts, we drastically overvalued stats that were visually impressive and had zero appreciation for how context sensitive statistics really is. One specific example from Moneyball is how teams overpaid for good fielding when good fielding plays were impressive but so rare as to be statistically insignificant. Hitting was a much more useful statistic, but teams emphasized RBIs because driving in a run is sexy, when it was much more productive to focus on slugging percentage and how well batters could draw out hit counts. This sounds boring, but the ability to fatigue pitchers quietly paid off dividends in the long run.

But in the game our experiences were actually worse. Our statistics were so context blind that they would in many cases outright reward bad play. Players would spend the entire game farming irrelevant kills off the ball. Their team would lose, but they’d point to the scoreboard and say it clearly wasn’t their fault since they were the highest rated player on the team. I may be misusing Lacan terribly here, but our Rating-per-Minute stat because the subject-supposed-to-know for in-game skill. I might know (read: irrationally believe) that winning is impossible with the terrible team that I’m on, but at least I can prove definitively that it is not my fault.

I’d argue that in society money works the same way. It is supposed to represent the value of your contributions, so logically more money = better than. And of course if what you’re interested in isn’t being a good person but being perceived as a good person, then accumulating money becomes the imperative regardless of whether the activities you engage in are good in and of themselves. This is why we have the saying “the love of money is the root of all evil.” It’s not the money-object itself that destroys societies, but the all-consuming drive to win the hierarchical contest.

And just like in the game, this objective hierarchical standard completely ignores value-adding activities. Human scientific progress for instance is inherently unpredictable and often seems pointless until we achieve the level of knowledge that allows us to realize the implications of the discovery. We emphasize “hard work,” but science is quite often inspired accidentally by leisurely pursuits. People have this strange desire to construct a strict hierarchical setting, but what we most benefit from as a society is independently distributed problem solving networks that don’t obey hierarchical rules at all. On a sort of related note this was kinda cool.

Anyway, how does this all play into gender relations. Well going back to the Spirit Level, we have a society in America that is progressively getting more economically unequal (and the rest of the world is following in our footsteps). As I mentioned, one of the reactions in children is to develop a protective narcissism. You can often see this in play in team games where blaming someone for the loss serves as a form of ego protection. Often you’ll see the person who is doing the worst immediately tearing into the second worst player, because if it becomes the other person’s fault the ego is protected. The other effect of income inequality I want to bring up is an increasing sense of social isolation.

So what happens is that men are socialized into these hierarchical systems. You grow up under the implication that if you don’t place well in the hierarchy you will be thrown away. You can’t reveal emotional weakness to anyone because it will threaten your hierarchical standing. Women get seen as a fairy tale equivalent of Prince Charming, where getting a girlfriend is your only hope of emotional release, but of course it never works out to be quite that simple. And then there’s the fact that your ability to even get a girlfriend is perceived to be intrinsically tied to your standing in the hierarchy.

So essentially what I’m positing is that a lot (but not all) of the activities that get attributed to “the patriarchy” are really just the result of men terrified of losing whatever standing they have in the hierarchy. The story mentioned earlier in the thread about the primate tribe that had a mass male die off is an example of what happens when a hierarchical system gets destroyed. Anti-social activities aren’t an intrinsically male trait, but it becomes an emergent runaway phenomena once competitive pressures hit a certain point. Remove the pressures and the anti-social instinct abates.

But unfortunately for us, late stage capitalism is a stupendously huge competitive pressure, and if you look really closely you can already see the psychological damage it is inflicting. This is not to say that socialism = immediate gender equality, but fixing our deep and profound inequalities would indisputably improve the psych profiles of a lot of the men you interact with on a daily basis.