Reviews | Is life a story or a game?
I’m a liberal arts type, so I see life as a story. Each person is born into a family. Throughout life, we find things to love and commit to – a calling, a spouse, a community. Sometimes we flounder and suffer, but do our best to learn from our misfortunes in order to grow in wisdom, kindness, and grace. In the end, hopefully, we can look back and see how we nurtured deep relationships and served a higher good.
Will Storr, a writer whose work I greatly admire, says that this version of life history is an illusion. In his book “The Status Game”, he argues that human beings are deeply motivated by status. Status isn’t about being liked or accepted, he writes, it’s about being better than others, getting more: “When people defer to us, offer us respect, admiration or praise, or allow us to influence them in some way, is status. It feels good.”
High-status people are healthier, talk more, have more relaxed postures, are admired by their social inferiors, and have a sense of purpose, Storr argues. That’s what we’re really looking for. The stories we tell ourselves, that we are heroes on a journey to the true, the good and the beautiful – these are just lies that the mind invents to help us feel good about ourselves.
Life is a series of games, he continues. There is the high school game of competing to be the popular kid. The lawyer game for partnering. The finance game to earn the most money. The academic game for prestige. The sports game to show that our team is the best. Even when we try to do good, Storr argues, we are playing the “virtue game” to show that we are morally superior to others.
The desire for status is a “maternal motivation”, and the thirst for status is never satisfied.
I think Storr was seduced by psyche-evolutionary fundamentalism. He risks becoming one of those guys who neglects the noblest desires of the human heart, the benevolent element of every friendship and every family, and then says in effect, “We must be human enough to face how we are unpleasant. are.
But I have to admit that the gamer mentality he describes permeates our culture right now. Social media, of course, is a quintessential status game, with its likes, viral leaderboards, and periodic undo mobs. Vast armies of partisans wage reconnaissance wars.
American politics, too, has become more a war for status than a means for a society to determine how to allocate its resources. Donald Trump’s career isn’t primarily about politics; it is mainly about: They despise you. I will make them pay.
Foreign policy sometimes feels like a status game with Vladimir Putin and his stories of humiliation: speech does not see us and does not respect us; we must fight back.
In an essay titled “The World as a Game,” published in the valuable journal Liberties, Justin EH Smith points out that social credit systems, like China’s, literally turn citizenship into a game, awarding points or penalties based on people’s behavior.
One of the characteristics of the game mentality is that it turns life into performance. If what you really want is status, why not create a fake character that will earn you that? Some of the people who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 were dressed as if they had stepped out of a blockbuster movie or video game.
People who see themselves playing a game often get lost in the fantasy world of the game and drift away from the mess of reality. In an essay titled “Reality is just a game now,” in the equally invaluable New Atlantis magazine, Jon Askonas notes how being active in the QAnon movement is like playing an alternate reality game. .
QAnon players are “searching” through obscure forums and videos, looking for clues that will back up their conspiracy theories. They show up at Trump rallies carrying signs with phrases only other players will recognize.
Askonas writes, “For dedicated players, status comes down to finding clues and providing compelling interpretations, while others can casually follow the story as the community reveals it. It’s this collaboration – a kind of social meaning-making – that builds the alternate reality in the minds of the players. He concludes that role-playing is to our century what the novel was to the 18th century, a new mode of experience and self-creation.
The status-mad world that Storr describes is so loveless – a world I recognize but not one I want to live in. Ultimately, games are fun, but gaming as a way of life is immature. Maturity means rising above the superficial desire – for status – which does not really nourish us. It’s about cultivating the highest desires: a love of truth and learning and not settling for cheap conspiracy theories. The intrinsic pleasure that the craftsman derives from his work, which is not a question of popularity. The desire for a good and meaningful life that inspires people to commit daily acts of generosity.
How do people gradually learn to cultivate these higher motivations? To answer that, I would have to tell you a story.