Status addicts

Status addicts

28/12/2021
indiedev, psychology

Recently I got in trouble over saying the n-word. Yes, that’s right. More specifically, I said that I had a generally positive view on them, but gamers currently don’t take kindly to folks with these newfangled fancy ideas ‘round these parts, so this kind of pushback isn’t unexpected. What was surprising was that, like in ‘em good ol’ days, I even got called an “n-word lover” by this here boy what calls himself ‘DANDEE L’OREO’:

It’s very sad to see how much the gaming community has regressed lately, it’s almost 2022 for crying out loud! Alas, I can brush off these kinds of comments easily, but I thought it’d be good to use this curious event as an opportunity to talk about the broader idea of status yet again. I have already talked about this extensively in previous posts, but having yet another post talking about it in even more detail is going to be good for future reference.

Status #

We are all made of flesh and bone. We have all evolved the same way. We are all ultimately after the same things: power and status. To explain this concept I will quote Uncle Yarv, who does it much better than I could ever manage:

Of course, since you are a monkey, you want status and importance and attention. You want to be proud and strong and independent. You do not want to be weak and humiliated and controlled.

Everyone has an inner monkey. But some people have a MONKEY. It is no surprise that these big-monkey men and women are a disproportionate proportion of the people you read about in books. “And some of them, I assume, are good people.”

Your monkey is part of you. Your monkey is your friend. Your monkey is you. Your monkey can even be useful. But—you really don’t want your monkey to go running around your jobs and relationships, throwing shit and smashing things. (If you are a woman, your monkey is also known as a “hamster.”)

Generally, anyone who desires power feels very strongly that he does not have enough. This could be because he is indeed powerless. Or it could be because he is powerful, but insecure—creating a feedback loop in which power grows only stronger.

The power drive is a neutral emotion. It can lead you to want to do things that are bad for yourself and/or bad for others. It can lead you to want to do things that are good for yourself and/or good for others. You do not need to reach around the back of your head and try to rip the monkey out with a dremel tool.

You just have to know he’s there—and about how big he is. Then, whenever you consider a course of action, you can ask a simple question:

Does my monkey want this? If I do this, will it make my monkey happy? If I don’t do it, will my monkey be sad?

The answer to this question does not determine your choice. A decision that makes the power-monkey happy may well be a good decision. But since you are not your monkey, you should make your decision after subtracting its opinion.

In other words: am I doing this only because it makes the monkey happy? If it didn’t make the monkey happy, if the monkey didn’t care, would I do it? Would I even think of doing it? Then you remember again that you are not your monkey. Basically, your monkey exists and you can’t get rid of him. But you are the man and he is the monkey. He is your natural slave. And yet, when your monkey is happy, you are happy; when your monkey is sad, you are sad. You cannot break this chain. He is you.

The important thing is just to know your power-monkey exists. If you know you have this little guy in the back of your head, you have some chance of mastering him. If not—he will be your master. And as for remembering this in the heat of some moment—good luck, my friend. But as always, you’ll have better luck if you try.

In the gaming sphere, creators (youtubers, streamers, game developers, etc) in general have overinflated power monkeys. One of the problems creators have to solve is the problem of how to not focus on numbers.

Youtubers and streamers have to pay attention to the number of viewers and subscribers they have, because if they let it fall too much they run the real risk of things just collapsing since there are network effects at play, and then suddenly they can’t do it as their job anymore.

A similar dynamic applies to game developers, although it’s less brutal. Game developers can afford to not care about numbers, since games are not released very often and gamers tend to judge them on their quality over who made it, but most devs still fall into the trap anyways and end up caring way too much about player counts or how many followers they have on twitter.

When people spend years worrying about numbers like this it becomes very hard for them to detach themselves from it, and if they’re not careful what this does is that it makes them slaves to popularity. In this context popularity is the same as power which is the same as status. And so as they become slaves to it, they also become addicted to it, and their actions become warped in a very predictable way: they will do things that makes their status go up, and they will avoid doing things that makes their status go down.

Dealing with status addicts #

There’s nothing to be done about people who are too far gone down this path. The way you should think of them is exactly the same as you would think of a tweaked out drug addict on the streets: a general mix of sadness, disgust and avoidance for personal safety. Status addicts will do anything for more status, just like drug addicts will do anything for their next fix.

Streamers, youtubers and game developers will act out their status addiction in many ways, but one of the most popular forms is that of status destruction. The best way of defending yourself against these attacks is one of general avoidance. Quoting Uncle Yarv again:

If power is not an enemy but a predatory animal, like a bear, we see the asymmetry of the relationship. Theoretically, a moose can kill a bear. This is just one way of getting the bear off its case—usually not the easiest. And a moose would never eat a bear. Of course, you are a lot more defenseless than a moose—but nor are you hungry for bear.

If you are securing yourself against an enemy, you need to prevent your enemy from being able to harm you—as you do your best to harm him back. If you are securing yourself against a predator, you only need to prevent the predator from choosing to try to harm you. The bear doesn’t want to eat you. He just wants to eat.

This may be as easy as persuading him to select another moose. We all know the parable of the bear and the running shoes—any physical-security specialist will explain it to you. Even a consistently policed commitment to nonconfrontation gets you quite some distance beyond your “fedposting” friends.

Power is every bit as dangerous as you think. It is nowhere near as intelligent and malicious as you. It is a hungry animal, not an evil genius. Ultimately there is never a formula for dealing with evil geniuses—but hungry animals can be quite consistent.

Human predators are sadists. It makes them feel good to hurt you. They sublimate this evil emotion into an ideology which convinces them that, by hurting you, they are making the world a better place. This is only part of the political formula which tells them that, by supporting the regime, they are making the world a better place.

For by hurting you, they are supporting the regime. And by hurting you, they gain honor, status and power. Who doesn’t want that? Don’t you want it too? While this seems awful when we look at it this simply, they cannot look at it this simply.

These sad people are just slaves—slaves to Moloch. You cannot fight back against them. And ultimately, you have to realize—they want exactly the same thing as you. They want to make the world a better place. The only problem is that they grievously understand the nature of the task—and their understanding of it includes hurting you. So: don’t hate them, don’t fear them, just work hard to stay out of their way.

Admittedly, me talking about NFTs so positively perhaps does not fall under “nonconfrontation”, which has made me a target. In my case, I get the pleasure of being very lightly bullied by a few developers and streamers who come to my posts on NFTs saying things like:

And you can clearly see here that this is a man who wants to make the world a better place. He has identified me as a target because he is possessed by the idea that by making people like me disappear, he will make the world a better place.

It’s extremely common to see this kind of behavior online, you see it on twitter all the time with things like “delete your account” or one of my favorites “Hatsune Miku created Minecraft”. For instance, here’s another example that happened with the recent Fight Knight drama:

This is just the purest form of status destruction, the wish that you, the person who is making the world a worse place, just stopped existing. Very consistent and very predictable once you understand that these people are coming from a reasonable place (making the world a better place) using misguided tactics (trying to destroy you and everything you’re doing).

If I got comments like this 5 years ago I would try to engage them. I would go “Wow, this person really didn’t like what I said. I should try and talk to them to see if we can clear the air, surely they just misinterpreted something I said”. But I’ve seen enough of these play out to understand that dialogue rarely goes well.

And it rarely goes well because you’re not dealing with reasonable people who can be argued with. You’re dealing with status addicts. Status addicts are beyond reason, they are literally out of their minds and cannot be brought back to reality. Nothing you say other than giving them their drug will help. So the best way to deal with them is just to avoid them at all costs.

In general, if you look at any situation like this, be it Fight Knight’s drama, Tripwire’s CEO’s firing, or Factorio’s anti-cancel culture comments, you always have the same exact thing happening: status hungry people are looking to destroy someone because they have a misguided notion of what it means to make the world a better place.

One of the reasons why I’ve decided to largely not interact with influencers has a lot to do with this. You never know when a CohhCarnage type of character is going to decide to come for you with his entire audience because you said something he doesn’t like.

And it’s important to notice that these influencers will only comer after you if you’re a good target. Good targets are generally ones which have a big delta from perceived status to actual status. For instance, if I’m generally a good boy with no heretical opinions whatsoever and get along with a bunch of influencers, but then I express a very heretical opinion, the delta from perceived status to actual status suddenly becomes very large, because I went very quickly from “good boy” to “bad boy”, and this would instantly make me a very juicy piece of meat for these predator-influencers.

One of the ways of preventing this from happening is just sort of keeping your status relatively low at all times. Mostly keeping to yourself, sometimes writing posts like this one full of somewhat heretical opinions, and not interacting too much with influencers. Essentially you want to make sure status addicts understand the kind of person you are and that that understanding very clearly leads them to believe that you are both low status and also hard to attack.

For instance, I generally write very long posts because I know that most people won’t read through them entirely. This still lets me get my ideas out, but it also makes potential attackers have to work harder to successfully target me. And since these attackers are just dumb predators looking for their next meal, chances are they’ll get bored and will look for someone else to stalk.

Either way, the point being, the people are hungry and they want to eat. These are the practical reasons to be nonconfrontational and to make yourself a hard target, but there are also more fundamentally, uh, philosophical ones:

Non-naive compliance #

My favorite anime of all time (which I really recommend watching, although it tends to be really hit or miss with people so I’d say watch the first 3 episodes and if you’re not hooked by then you probably won’t like it) touches on many topics, but one of them is the question of how to act in the face of overpowering and overwhelming force.

This is a question that is also posed to anyone who lives in our age and does not agree with the regime, which is an increasing number of people, but it’s also a very old question that people have been dealing with for millennia. Perhaps it is one of the oldest questions of human existence.

The relationship humans of the Old Testament have to God is one where apparently they can die at any time for any slight infraction of God’s rules. And if you don’t want to think of God as a literal being, you can think of it as “everything which is unknown”. And so, when people in Old Testament are confronted with the unknown and they don’t respond properly, tragedy happens, because that’s what happens.

And in a way that book can be seen as a very painful journey where humans of the time are slowly learning, civilization destroyed after civilization destroyed, what God’s rules are, or, what the rules are for behaving in the face of the fact that there are things outside of your knowledge structures that have tremendous power over you and that you cannot control.

That gets further explored with Jesus in this story:

I call this mode of being “non-naive compliance”. To add to it:

Jünger distinguishes between the “anarch,” who remains aloof from power and strives to retain his mental independence from it, and the “anarchist,” who acts out his resistance to power, usually because of uncontrolled desire for power. It is always the anarchist who goes to the gulag — the anarch, in fact, is often safer than even the true believer.

For example, in our shitshow of a pandemic, the anarchist is lectured to wear a mask; because of this, he refuses to wear a mask. On a plane, he is ordered to wear a mask; either he submits to this order, grumbling about his rights, or he gets unruly.

The anarch is lectured to wear a mask; he does not care much about the lecture, except as evidence of what certain people believe; he makes up his own mind about how well masks work, underweighting sources who seem to be in a political frenzy. Perhaps he was wearing a mask when masks were racist, and is still wearing one now that it’s righteous.

When ordered (enforceably) to wear a mask, he wears one; if ordered to wear a Burger King crown, or a Manchu queue, or even a Sikh turban, he wears one as well. Power has its rights. The anarch knows this; he even knows he has no rights. The anarch is big into compliance.

But while the anarch always complies, he never submits. Being ordered to wear a turban cannot in any way make him a Sikh; not only that, it cannot even make him an anti-Sikh. Power owns his body, but has no purchase at all on his soul.

If all you’re doing is acting out against power, in this case, status addicts trying to get you, you’re not really free from the regime. Reflexively reacting against that which is more powerful than you only makes it stronger, while also making you weaker:

We also see yet another tactical disadvantage of confrontation. If you are confronting the regime, you are taking it seriously. Not only are you objectively reinforcing it by giving it an enemy, however petty and pathetic, to fear together—you are subjectively reinforcing it, by building it up as the antagonist in your mind. Normally, you cannot win by antagonizing the old regime—only by (I know this sounds gay) transcending it.

And this is an idea that really, very deeply resonates with me. You want to maintain your intellectual and spiritual sovereignty while acknowledging the fact that you live under a regime that has power over you. This has always been the human condition, and it will always continue to be so.

In Shin Sekai Yori (spoilers ahead, skip if haven’t watched it), the character that best exemplifies this stance is Kiroumaru. His colony is organized, they’re advancing and growing, they even have ships. Kiroumaru clearly understands the rules, breaks them cautiously when necessary, but otherwise does his best to comply with them.

But more importantly, he isn’t naive about the situation he’s in. He knows about that there’s a chance his colony could take over and he had a plan to actually do that in case victory would be assured, so he clearly also fits this idea in that he doesn’t blindly believe in the Gods and worships them, he simply treats them as Jesus treated Caesar:

“We possess neither hatred towards humanity nor ambition for power. We simply want our colony to continue and prosper” is the right mindset to have in the face of overwhelming power.

If you have hatred for it you actively oppose it, and all you’re doing is affirming its need for existence. It is an extremely counter-productive way to act. If you want an overwhelming power to go away while you’re less powerful than it, the best thing to do is to ignore it while complying with it, and to build an alternative that is non-threatening but also of obviously higher quality.

This mindset applies to anything. It applies to how you should approach and deal with your bosses, partners, friends, politicians, anything. Anyone that has any amount of power over you should be dealt with not by mindless rebellion, but by compliance and alternative building until you’re safe enough that you can act on it.

You do want to be proud and strong and independent, and you do not want to be weak and humiliated and controlled. But you also want to be realistic about the broader situation you find yourself in and realize that there are some battles that you shouldn’t take unless you are going to win absolutely.

Flourishing #

Unfortunately, you’re not going to win any important battles against status addicts in our current society, so ultimately you want to focus on flourishing:

If this winter has taught us nothing else, it has at least reminded us of the permanent lesson that power is absolute. Power always wins. Power is always right. And if you think you’re using power, power is using you.

But power never lives forever. Therefore, the task of the dissident—which means anyone who, for whatever reason, does not see eye to eye with power—is not to fight back against power, or even to overthrow it, but merely to outlive it—and outlive not just to live, but so far as possible to flourish.

This is cool for two reasons. One is that flourishing is probably what you wanted to do anyway. Two is that there’s no need at all for flourishing to involve stepping on anyone else’s toes. When the weak step on the toes of the strong, the strong step on their face. Since this is the way of the world—it’s better if you don’t have to try to change it.

To be a dissident is to abandon, voluntarily or involuntarily, any intention of using power in the present regime—being relevant, making a difference, creating change, etc. At first this will feel like missing a body part. Then you’ll realize it was a tumor.

I’ve been a part of the same gamedev community for years and in it we have two often repeated phrases: “just like make game” and “we’re all gonna make it”.

I’ve always looked at the second phrase with some amount of skepticism because it’s obviously not going to be true, it’s just a phrase on 4chan that people like to repeat. But over the years I’ve actually come around as it becomes quite clear that there are a good number of people “making it” out of AGDG. Every year there’s 2 or 3 projects that do exceptionally well, along with quite a lot others that don’t do so well but manage to get successfully released anyway.

I believe one of the reasons why the broader AGDG community has been able to be so successful has largely to do with the fact that it’s a community focused on flourishing above all else. Despite everything it’s a place that’s actually really really focused on making games, and where individuals (due to anonymity) are largely disincentivized from engaging in too much status seeking behavior.

One of the things that follows from this naturally more pure environment, where individuals have by default abandoned any hope of being relevant, making a difference, creating change, etc, and are solely focused on making games, is that this makes them better at finding the truths of amateur game development before anyone else, as they collectively have less noise preventing them from perceiving reality accurately.

One small example of this, for instance, is that in AGDG most people sort of understand by now that twitter is not really that good of a place for game development. Yes, it’s partly because most other gamedevs using it are insane, but that’s besides the point.

The main problem is that it actually doesn’t convert to game sales that well at all. There are many examples over the years of people with tens of thousands of followers releasing games that flopped pretty hard, while there are also plenty of examples of people with like 1000 or 2000 followers with games that did super well.

It just seems like a website that’s largely irrelevant to whether a game does well or not, and that people just use it for status building. But since AGDG is a naturally less status hungry place, they were able to get to this conclusion years before most other indiedevs.

Now multiply this by every possible decision that goes into making a game over many years and it starts compounding pretty heavily. To be clear, I actually don’t know if AGDG has a super above average rate of good game releases compared to other indiedev communities, it just feels that way to me, and at least I attribute my reasons for “making it” to this healthy dynamic that I’ve been exposed to for so long now.

Creative sovereignty #

Abandoning any intention of being relevant, making a difference, creating change, or accruing status is also beneficial for the maintenance of a creator’s creative sovereignty.

To be creative you have to be open to new experiences and you have to be able to generate lots of new and interesting ideas. But to be usefully creative you also have to be somewhat disagreeable, since you want to generate ideas that other people haven’t generated before, and to do that you have to be willing to go to places that most people aren’t going.

There’s a reason why 4chan, at least until some point in the recent past, was considered to be the “meme factory” of the internet. It’s a naturally disagreeable place that’s also full of very open people, and environments like that will generally be very good at reinventing themselves, because the purest form of disagreeableness is just contrarianism, and when you get a place full of contrarians it just constantly shifts to the next most interesting thing that hasn’t been explored yet.

This is why I also think 4chan, AGDG and other highly disagreeable communities (i.e. DoTA’s) will likely never die, because you can never really kill self-propelling and self-reinventing communities like this that easily.

And it’s also why pretty much everyone who’s a part of AGDG says that it’s the best gamedev community they know, as all others just feel too fake and useless. And they feel like that because they simply don’t have enough of this creative energy around them. Perhaps the only other one I’ve seen that gives me this vibe today are the newgrounds people, but I have only looked at them briefly so I actually just don’t know, but that’s the impression I get anyway.

In any case, as an individual, having these traits means that you have to be comfortable with being wrong. Anyone who cares too deeply about not being wrong and about maintaining their high status is not going to be able to be usefully creative in this manner because the things they create will often be too safe. Their creations will be within the bounds of what’s acceptable, since they don’t want the status number to go down, and so their results will be mediocre compared to what they could otherwise be. Quoting Justin Murphy:

And you can clearly see how this applies to crypto, NFTs, and other low status topics.

At the end of the day, if you, as a creator, want intellectual, spiritual and creative sovereignty, you should first get rid of any notions that you’re relevant, that you’re making a difference, that you’re creating change or that your voice matters. This will immunize you against the trap of status addiction.

And then you want to focus on flourishing. Find a community of like-minded people who are also entirely focused on that, and flourish together. The spirit of this place should be one of “We possess neither hatred towards status addicts nor ambition for status ourselves. We simply want our community to continue and prosper”.

I deeply believe that this is the way of acting that will produce the best results, both collectively and individually. Don’t be overly confrontational, don’t start unnecessary arguments. Focus on becoming better game developers and just like make game!

And if you managed to read this far, thanks for your attention and have a happy new year!

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