It is natural to think of status as a zero sum game, to assume that anything that raises your status relative to me must lower my status relative to you. What first suggested to me that it wasn't true was my experience as an undergraduate at Harvard. Different people care about status relative to different things, with the result that one can have, in the limit, a society where everyone is at the top of his own ladder. If Eugene is a chess master and Charles a billionaire, the victory that raises Eugene's status does not lower Charles', because Eugene does and Charles does not care about status in the chess world. Similarly, mutatis mutandis, across a wide variety of different reference groups.
I made this point in another post
about eight years ago. What brought my attention back to it was playing the beginning of the new part of World of Warcraft
. It consists of walking the player character through a sequence of events, all easy, in which he is interacting almost entirely with computer generated characters—who tell him, over and over, what a wonderful hero he is. The same pattern shows up in earlier parts of the game, but this was a particularly striking version. Everybody can be above average. Everybody, indeed, can be in the top one percent. Provided that the other ninety-nine percent are NPC's, non-player characters.
Which raises, for those interested in predicting the future or writing science fiction, the possibility of a world where most people spend most of their time in virtual reality, interacting mainly with virtual characters—precisely because those characters, unlike real people, are designed to make them feel superior. To some degree the phenomenon exists already with fraternal organizations where practically everyone is a grand high something or other. But the future may produce an enormously more powerful, hence more corrupting, version.
My son Bill informs me that a particular game, one I have never played,
is very good in part because it successfully subverts the "you are the world's greatest hero" trope. He also told me that naming the game without a spoiler warning would be a Very Bad Thing to do, and I have edited this post accordingly.
Labels: Harvard, Status, virtual reality, World of Warcraft, WoW