Nick Johnstone's Blog

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The Random Number Gods

When I tell people that Rogue has inspired me to write a blog post about privilege, I am generally met with a resounding bu-wha?

Rogue is a simple game. You play as an adventurer, descending the 27 floors of a dungeon, collecting gold and loot, fighting monsters and avoiding traps, with the goal of retrieving the Amulet of Yendor and returning to the surface.

Rogue had a few things that made it different from many other games. The first, and the most important, is that when your character dies, you’re dead forever. You’re presented with a tombstone and some information about your life, but there’s no respawn button.

Another crucial part of Rogue is what is known as Procedural Content Generation. In English, that means that the dungeons are new every time you play. Every character you play starts surrounded by different walls, with different risks, rewards, and horrible enemies awaiting.

The third essential part of Rogue is that it is very difficult to win. It takes hundreds of attempts, for most players, before they first reach the bottom of the dungeon, retrieve the amulet, and “ascend” to the surface. There are many ways to die in Rogue, and a typical player will experience most of them when they “ascend”.

In my mind, Rogue draws some striking parallels to real life. Your actions have serious consequences. It only takes a single mistake to cause your death. A seemingly strong character can easily get overwhelmed if you make the wrong call.

Like life, you are at the mercy of your surroundings. To succeed, you have to fight and make do with what is available to you, but it’s not always enough. There comes a moment in (almost) every game where you find your back against the wall and meet your maker.

It was thinking about life in terms of Rogue when I had an ‘aha’ moment as to how I could really phrase my feelings around privilege.

My life has been going pretty well recently. At the same time, I see people near and far facing hardship and sorrow. It makes me wonder what has led to our difference in circumstances.

I know that some people like to think that those successful in life fought harder, that hard work and perseverance can overcome any obstacle. While that might play a part, it seems impossible to deny that your start in life makes all the difference.

As an adventurer in Rogue, what you find on the first few floors of the dungeon will have a huge impact on your fate. If you’re lucky enough to find a good set of armor or the right potions on the first floor, you’ll probably breeze through the early dungeon. You will survive some situations simply because you got lucky and had what others didn’t.

In my mind, it’s the same – to have parents that teach you to read before you start school. I was lucky enough to have parents that both taught me to learn and nourished the spark of curiosity inside of me. That seemingly small gift early on has had huge impacts throughout my life. If not for that, probably, you wouldn’t be reading my blog.

I was extremely privileged to be born where and when I was, and to whom. I think it’s important to consider that not everyone is so fortunate.