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Liberal Professor: Video Games Promote 'Toxic Meritocracy'; Wouldn't It Be Great If They Had More Pure Luck?

Mario Party is not a great game.

BowserScreenshot via Mario Party / NintendoAt a time when President Donald Trump, the National Rifle Association, and others on the right are blaming video games for promoting violence—with nary a shred of credible evidence—a new book has leveled a completely different criticism at the gaming industry: "toxic meritocracy."

According to Christopher Paul, chair of the Department of Communication at Seattle University and author of The Toxic Meritocracy of Video Games: Why Gaming Culture is the Worst, video games promote individuality, reward skill, and encourage players to do their best in order to win. These are supposedly bad things.

"Games are based on leveling up and getting stronger," Paul tells Campus Reform. "We expect the most skilled, hardest working player to win. The typical narrative in a game is a rags to riches story where the player propels the character into a key role and perhaps even attains god-like status."

"All those things shape our expectations and focus players on individuals, rather than the collective," he added. "As actualized meritocracies, video games quickly become really toxic spaces where players are focused on individual glory, rather than creating positive spaces for interaction."

Not all is bad, Paul notes, pointing out that games like Mario Kart and Mario Party are more cooperative and based on "luck, contingency, and serendipity," elements that he hopes game developers will prioritize more in the future.

"Moving away from merit allows communities to be developed on different terms, giving an opportunity to build something else, something new, something that has features other than the endemic toxicity that comes with meritocratic systems," Paul contends.

Speaking as someone who played a whole lot of Mario Kart and Mario Party growing up (and in college...and as an adult...), I will say that the luck-based elements are sometimes a lot of fun, but they're also infuriating. In the Mario Party games in particular—where the "luck" aspect can be overwhelming and game-breaking—my play-group often came away thinking, "Well, that was a terrible game." The mini-game comes to mind where Bowser appears, forces you to pick a random color, and then relieves you of your hard-won coins and stars if you choose wrong.

If that's your thing, more power to you. Play all the Mario Party you want. But I don't think it's "toxic" for more serious gamers to prefer games with clearly defined rules and a skill-based system that rewards good gameplay. Gamer culture has its problems, but promoting meritocracy isn't one of them.

At least Paul doesn't want to regulate away the aspects of gaming he doesn't like. The person who wants to do that is the president of the United States.

Photo Credit: Screenshot via Mario Party / Nintendo

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  • damikesc||

    Is there any more toxic meritocracy than higher education?

  • John C. Randolph||

    While certainly toxic, higher ed is in no way a meritocracy, and hasn't been for a couple of generations.

    -jcr

  • Half-Virtue, Half-Vice||

    Sports. No affirmative action for the players, coaching staffs are just window dressing.

  • ||

    Is there any more toxic meritocracy than higher education?

    Heroin. Just... I mean... you know, objectively.

  • timbo||

    the american university - breeding ground for effeminate douchebags.

    and horrible PR for man-bun pussies pining to emasculate themselves.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    This particular douche is bald.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    His man-bun is spiritual.

  • Half-Virtue, Half-Vice||

    "Is bald" is like saying, "has a penis" the reality as we know, is fluid.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Do you have a spiritual penis?

  • Half-Virtue, Half-Vice||

    Only when I chew the maca root.

  • BYODB||

    Wouldn't it be great if every American, regardless of their job or skill, randomly received someone elses paycheck each pay period? You might get the income of a part-time fast food worker, or a CEO salary for a day!


    I mean, lets completely ignore what the primary and secondary effects of that would have. It would feel good and be fair, like a lottery! Who cares if it destroys any reason to do better or try hard!

  • Sevo||

    "Wouldn't it be great if every American, regardless of their job or skill, randomly received someone elses paycheck each pay period? You might get the income of a part-time fast food worker, or a CEO salary for a day!"

    Perhaps we could, by the luck of the draw, hand this twit a pick-slip and an eviction notice.

  • ||

    Wouldn't it be great if every American, regardless of their job or skill, randomly received someone elses paycheck each pay period?

    If I quietly and efficiently murdered a College Professor in cold blood, is there a chance I could randomly wind up with a bumbling teenager's shoplifting conviction? Asking for a friend.

  • Rat on a train||

    You could get a celebrity's acquittal.

  • Microaggressor||

    Gamer culture has its problems, but promoting meritocracy isn't one of them.

    Robby, that's because you're not thinking like a communist. Any cultural force that entrenches the false consciousness of human self interest is morally indefensible, because it pushes us further away from socialist utopia.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

  • Half-Virtue, Half-Vice||

    If Robby plays 'Sea of Thieves' I'm going to sink him.... because I'm a pirate and I sink everyone Arrrgh!

  • Eidde||

    Time to settle a vital grammar question once and for all.

    Stereotypical pirate exclamation: Is it "arrrh" or "arrrgh"?

  • Half-Virtue, Half-Vice||

    Pirates can't read or write so both versions are applicable.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Whoa, I think we have found the most honest progressive ever.

  • BYODB||

    Margaret Sanger was pretty honest, as were many of the early Progressives. They just wanted to make sure immigrants stayed out and that the lesser races were culled. You know, the real feel good stuff.

  • Brandybuck||

    The difference between the progressives of yore and the progressives of today, is that the progressives of today have replaced "genetically unfit" with "anyone who votes differently than we do".

  • Half-Virtue, Half-Vice||

    "Toxic Meritocracy"

    I have officially seen it all.

    *pokes out eyes*

  • Microaggressor||

    It isn't anything new.
    A bit ago I read an academic paper about World of Warcraft. It was nothing but a Marxist critique of how the game reinforces "neoliberal ideology" - their term for human self interest - and all the bad things that supposedly result from it. It's taken on faith that self interest is a product of culture; not something natural. Therefore, to rid the proles of false consciousness, these cultural enforcers (game developers) have a moral obligation to design it in a way that produces different incentives. This is why they prefer telling developers what to do rather than make their own fucking game - they don't like players having certain choices.

  • Zeb||

    It's taken on faith that self interest is a product of culture; not something natural.

    That's got to be one of the most outlandish and absurd assumptions of people like that. How could anyone possibly come to that conclusion? What animal in nature doesn't put self interest (and that of offspring which works out to more or less the same thing) first? How could society function at all if people didn't act for self-interest?

    They seem to just assume the world is the way they wish it was and ignore all evidence to the contrary.

  • LynchPin1477||

    What animal in nature doesn't put self interest (and that of offspring which works out to more or less the same thing) first?

    Ants and other hive creatures. Humans aren't ants but we are social and individuals do sacrifice for others, even those that aren't genetically related, pretty frequently.

  • ||

    Anything higher or more evolved?

    I know I'm moving the goalposts a bit but I remain unconvinced as to an ant's awareness of self and the hive. I could imagine some fish fit into the definition, but there's still a very large question of a fish's self-awareness. Lemmings maybe? But then you're kinda using a negative to affirm a positive.

  • LynchPin1477||

    Examples of more highly evolved creatures that nearly always put the collective first? I can't think of any off the top of my head. But like I said, humans do it, too, sometimes. I don't think that means that self-interest is purely cultural, though. That's absurd. But there is an argument to be made that selflessness in humans is also not purely cultural.

  • Microaggressor||

    It depends on evolutionary pressures.
    Ants behave the way they do because it's essential for the continuation of their lineage, or at least those closely related to them.
    If we ever figured out how to breed a human with no self interest, he would most likely not reproduce - it's a very selfish act, after all. The next generation will be composed of those with enough self interest to go out of their way to raise healthy offspring (again, putting more resources into your own offspring but not others is selfish). This constant evolutionary pressure will ensure that the New Soviet Man will always revert back to his original state, even if somehow achieved.

  • ||

    Ants behave the way they do because it's essential for the continuation of their lineage, or at least those closely related to them.

    Again, I'm not entirely clear that we aren't just anthropomorphizing more basic stimulus/response behavior. You're going to have a hard time convincing me that ants are generally all that aware of their lineage.

  • Careless||

    The naked mole rat is eusocial.

  • Zeb||

    Yeah, I should have narrowed the range of animals before. True colony animals are different in that way.
    And of course humans aren't only self interested. We also have strong impulses toward working for the good of the group we belong to. But that is often if not always related to delayed self interest.
    My main point is that self interest is obviously and clearly not peculiar to the human species or particular human cultures. So it's pretty far fetched to claim that it is entirely cultural.

  • BYODB||

    They're insects, which aren't even in the same kingdom as animals. Perhaps I'm just being a little too specific, but would anyone seriously compare behaviors between, say, reptiles and plants?

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    They're in the same kingdom. Go one level down for the split.

  • LynchPin1477||

    Kingdom phylum class order family genus species!

  • BYODB||

    D'oh, true. Still a salient point though.

    Depressingly, every time I reread the ordering it's changed significantly since the last time I looked at it. I swear biologists are just shuffling the same shit around endlessly to print more textbooks or something.

    *puts on the dunce cone*

  • Brandybuck||

    Most workers in hive colonies are all non-breeding siblings of the breeders. Working for the betterment of all actually promotes their own genes. Unlike Marxism where working for the betterment of all only enriches the genes of those in charge.

  • A Thinking Mind||

    Ants also war against rival ants and enslave nearby ants to increase their work force. So, mother nature promotes slavery. Always fun to run that one past the Gaia-worshippers.

  • Brandybuck||

    So in the Marxist version of WoW, if you complete a raid the loot gets distributed to those who didn't participate?

  • Half-Virtue, Half-Vice||

    Tbf, this is what I always wanted as a guildie scrub.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    There is a common structure where all raid loot goes to the head who distributes it. That's pretty common.

  • Half-Virtue, Half-Vice||

    The communist comparison becomes so stark when I think of 'Mater Loot'; party leader always screws over party and takes the epic loot when it drops.

  • Microaggressor||

    That's called Loot Council, and I've been a part of it. It generally works out better than a points-based system.

    Our goal was to reward the best players, and usually that involved comparing the damage statistics. One of her problems with this method was that it frequently led to dick measuring contests where the individual performance incentive was at odds with the needs of the raid, for example, when the whole raid needs to stop attacking to prevent something bad from happening. Some people wait till the last second or "accidentally" keep going for a few seconds. The council isn't stupid, though, and they take fuckups into weighty account as well. She assumed that looking at damage meters meant not looking at other performance metrics at all, and used that as justification to preach "see, competition and meritocracy BAD! Makes people put their own interests ahead of the guild!"

  • BYODB||

    Even in terms of gaming in general, it seems this 'Professor' completely misses the point. Don't socialist nations still compete in the fucking Olympics?

  • Eidde||

    Yeah, but they have *teams.* And doping.

  • Ron||

    they wouldn't have to compete if it weren't for all the meritoxic capitalistic nations

  • John C. Randolph||

    Christopher Paul is a tragic demonstration of what happens when a sniveling little twat gets too many wedgies in grade school.

    -jcr

  • Mickey Rat||

    There is nothing gamers love more than RNG mechanics...to hate on.

  • Half-Virtue, Half-Vice||

    I rarely have problems with RNGesus, determiner of fate, dropper of Boss Loot.

    Getting teabagged by other players in FPS though...

  • ||

    Getting teabagged by other players in FPS though...

    I can't take credit for the spawncamping, I'm just the vehicle through which the level generator murders you over and over and over again.

  • Half-Virtue, Half-Vice||

    No it's my stupid fucking teams fault. They are so fucking bad. Lol just trash! Kill yourselves!

    *afks in spawn room*

  • Brandybuck||

    ""There is nothing gamers love more than RNG mechanics...to hate on.""

    Unless their favorite game has RNG mechanics. I'm looking at YOU Morrowind fanbois!

  • Aloysious||

    Speaking as someone who played a whole lot of Mario Kart and Mario Party growing up (and in college...and as an adult...),

    Ugh. What? Like, I just can't even. Like, whatever.

  • Half-Virtue, Half-Vice||

    Best Mario Party was 2 -- it had the 'dueling glove', loved the sword fight or high noon quick draw against other player.

  • Mickey Rat||

    Robby, promoting meritocracy at all is the problem. If people are judged on merit then they cannot be said to be victims of venomous fate.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    There would be a lot fewer sociology and political science and other useless professors in a real meritocracy.

  • Rich||

    "As actualized meritocracies, video games quickly become really toxic spaces where players are focused on individual glory, rather than creating positive spaces for interaction."

    Oh, FFS! Get a life!

  • georgeliberte||

    So are professional athlete POCs guilty of toxic meritocracy for being good at their sport. Can I play NBA now?

  • Half-Virtue, Half-Vice||

    They get a pass shitlord!

  • Knutsack||

    Are these the same people that want to penalize people for being lucky to be born of rich parents?

  • esteve7||

    Not a liberal, a leftist. There's a difference

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Mario Kart is practically an anagram of Karl Marx. Think about it.

  • Half-Virtue, Half-Vice||

    Mario is Italian

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    You know who else was Italian?

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    Hitler's Best Bud Benito?

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Roberto Soave?

  • Brandybuck||

    Dante Alighieri?

  • Eidde||

    The characters portrayed by Chico Marx?

  • Ron||

    nothing more meritocratic than telling others how to live

  • M Scott Eiland||

    When you see someone babbling something that sounds like an Ayn Rand villain on crack, you know you've run across an instance of "cutting edge progressive and enlightened thinking."

  • Ron||

    or someone who can't win at video games

  • Brandybuck||

    To be fair, Ayn Rand would have ranted on video games too if she had the chance.

    "Mario was a Red!"

  • Deep Lurker||

    You don't need the "on crack" part. The only thing missing from the standard-issue Ayn Rand villain is a self-awareness of their villainy.

    Thumbnail review of Ayn Rand's works:
    "I find the prose purple and turgid, the plots hacknyed, the heros uninspiring and unlikely, and the author's personal life unworthy of much to emulate. However, the villains in her novels are utterly completely dead on.

    "And my observed experience is that the people who don't like that last observation, are the kind of people that she is talking about."

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    This guy sounds like he's got all the video game background and experience that the sarkeesian bimbo had before sticking her toe into something she knew nothing about.

  • Finrod||

    Ignorance Is Strength, don't you know.

  • Necron 99||

    Gamer culture has its problems...

    To be sure?

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    It does. Everyone in it is a fucking retard, myself included.

  • Mickey Rat||

    Get back to mining salt!

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Mario Party is not a great game.

    I have never agreed with you more Robby. We might differ in taste, but this is a deep cosmic truth.

    Check out Yakuza if you haven't. It's great.

  • esteve7||

    Mario Party is such a fun game. It's just like life.

    I was playing my lil cousin and I won every god dammed mini game, and 10 rounds in I had zero coins and zero stars.

  • Pinky||

    Why can't we all just play Chutes and Ladders?

  • Eeyore||

    Aren't MMOs all about whoever has the most time available to play? Not really about ability in any way.

  • DaveSs||

    Ability plays a huge part in MMOs...at least when it comes to things like WoW and Raid bosses.

    All the great gear in the world won't help if you keep standing in the fire/blackhole/whatever else that kills you.

  • Deep Lurker||

    The obvious antidote to meritocracy is a hereditary aristocracy.
    Scratch a liberal, find a supporter of lords-and-serfs authoritarianism.

  • jmg09||

    What an asshole.

  • Butler T. Reynolds||

    Definitely not liberal.

  • TommyInIdaho||

    I think you meant Progressive Professor, nothing Liberal about the views expressed by Paul. Of course by Progressive one really means Regressive...

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