23 June, 2018

Factors of Inequality

So, thinking about the ideas of social justice in a game, trying to develop a meaningful mechanism that generally works from a sociological perspective yet fits in with the existing systems of play...

In _The Law_ there are three general types of dice. Attribute dice give the raw potential for characters to succeed, the Rank die is an overview of how competent a character is in general and much agency they have in the world, and situation dice are provided by any equipment or other circumstances that might be brought to bear on a task.

I think that the situation die is the most obvious moving part that can be adjusted for the purposes I need. I could have simply added advantages to die rolls, but I think we need something that is both more nuanced and more variable in it's application... sometimes social privilege is obvious, sometimes not so much.

This touches on a concept that I've been finding problematic. Is this sort of systemic privilege a purely social thing, or can it apply to physical and mental activities? I welcome any thoughts on this.

My first thoughts were to create a "privilege die" which was a subtype of the situation die. Since there are five levels to the step die progression (d4, d6, d8, d10, d12), it would make sense to have five degrees of privilege... extremely advantaged, advantaged, neutral, disadvantaged, extremely disadvantaged. Under this system, whenever social privilege plays a role in the situation, both sides add their privilege die into the pool. The problem here is the implication that privilege is a static thing. You've got it or you don't, it applies or it doesn't. This doesn't address the idea that in some situations racial privilege might obviously apply, in others gender might be more of a factor, and then their are different situations where socio-economic factors are the dominant method of defining who has the advantage.

It's pretty obvious that a wealthy, white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, Christian male has more advantage in most Western society situations... millennia of social structure have been built to ensure this. A poor, Hispanic, transgendered, lesbian, Pagan female (yes, I know I've tautologically doubled down on a few of those descriptors) would be so disadvantaged in most situations that they'd barely have a voice at all.

If we swap these two character's into an inner city alt-goth nightclub/rave situation, certain elements of the male's advantage become negated, and certain elements of the female's disadvantage are overcome. Any advantage or disadvantage associated with gender or sexual identity might be ignored, while being Christian might suddenly be seen as a disadvantage in this situation, while being pagan becomes advantageous. Situations are fluid, people's identities are fluid.

Consider a wider context of society. The voices of the wealthy, white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, Christian males dominate the discourse (because millennia of social structure have reinforced this pattern), to see the next most common voices in society, swap out a single element of those descriptors. I'll try to give a stereotype of each, and an example of someone who has "overcome the odds" in each case.

Poor, white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, (nominally) Christian males... the working class, even rednecks and "white trailer trash", we see someone like Eminem who has "overcome every disadvantage" while actually only being afflicted by one.

Wealthy, black/non-white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, Christian males... pretty much any non-white politician or businessman, the most obvious example here would be Barack Obama, who had pretty much every advantage except for his skin tone.

Wealthy, white, transgendered, heterosexual, (nominally) Christian males... here's where things start getting tricky with regard to sexual identity and gender, but we see examples such as the Wachowski siblings, or Caitlin Jenner in the public eye.  

Wealthy, white, cis-gendered, homosexual, (nominally) Christian males... the character in any TV show whose quirky feature is that they're gay, that Milo guy who was so prominent during Trump's presidential campaign, etc.

Wealthy, white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, non-Christian males... pretty much any spokesperson you see for Mormonism, Judaism, The Church of Satan, or any other religious group on the news.  

Wealthy, white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, Christian females... half of the cast on any reality TV show, if we go blonde haired, then that basically covers half of all news presenters too. 

Now I've often said "(nominally)" to go with Christian, because if a person can play down their religious views to gain advantage, it seems that they often do.

There are also numerous other forms of disadvantage and discrimination which I haven't even touched on here. Disadvantage due to weight or body shape, neuro-atypical disadvantage (covering the prejudice suffered by those with autism, aspergers, ADHD, etc.), cultural disadvantage (where simply speaking a different language, or with an accent, or dressing in a different way causes issues), or even the modes of privilege applied to having a college education (or not) depending on where you are or what social situation you're in.

I've generally come to the conclusion that having one element different makes you quirky, having two makes you "different" and less likely to be heard, having three or more starts placing you in the wider community of totally unheard voices. This basically reflects the sociological concept of intersectionalism, it's not a perfect fit, and I don't think it ever could be a perfect fit to everyone because everyone feels this levels of advantage and disadvantage differently.

There will probably be a few more posts on this, as I work out the best way to incorporate these thoughts into a coherent system... but it feels like it's heading in the direction I want.

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