“They owe me this.”
“I don’t know why they gave it to her rather than me. She can’t even write.”
“This free content is BS. Why would they even release it?”
“Why did they let that group have that?”
“They just want my money. That’s the only reason they create new things.”
Everyone, at some point in time, either prioritized their desires at the cost of someone else or questioned why they didn’t get something when someone else did. The thought that we are owed something in return for our time, resources, or money, drives us to negative emotions, outbursts, and abusive behavior both in person and on the internet.
Entitlement is defined as the sense that a person is deserving or entitled to special benefits. Psychology Today states a sense of entitlement is the unrealistic, unmerited, or inappropriate expectation of favorable living conditions and favorable treatment at the hands of others. It also states that this sense of being owed is an enduring personality trait, characterized by the belief that one deserves preferences and resources that others do not.
Basically, a sense of entitlement is about narcissism and personal beliefs that you, above any one else, deserve something.
In geek culture, this comes up frequently. We deserve another season of a show. We deserve to know why someone made a business decision. We deserve a discount. We deserve the best free content. We deserve more. For every product released into the wild, there is at least one comment complaining about it and asking the company to personally cater to their desires.
Entitlement is often tied to ” the customer is always right.” Most people see themselves as the customer– the one deserving of something. They pay for something by contributing their time or resources. They spent 2 hours at the table role playing, so they deserve a customized experience. They paid $60 for a game, and it’s missing features they want. They contributed to a Kickstarter or acted as a cheerleader for an artist they loved, but they weren’t personally acknowledged. They spent money to join a club, and it owes them an experience. By seeing ourselves as a customer and someone who is spending, we use the statement to justify why we are entitled to talk trash and act unprofessionally in public settings.
The problem is, the statement of “the customer is always right” is taken out of context. While we used it in early marketing to ensure the customer always got what they wanted, many realized this was an untenable situation. It was first modified to advise that they were right until it was absolutely clear they were wrong. Another later modification stated the customer was right in matters of their own taste– companies couldn’t tell them what to like or purchase. We remember the earliest phrase, without understanding that we learned more about marketing and customer satisfaction in the last 100 years.
For geeks, it remains a motto, even if its hidden deep in our frontal lobe. We use it to downplay others in our games and elevate our desires above all else. We empower ourselves in believing that we are right and we need to take control because it is owed to us.
One example of this is edition wars. Whenever a gaming company decides to update their catalog with a new edition, people go to war over what is better. We believe the company is responsible for not only continuing the product they love but the new one product as well. The fans feel as though they own the work and product, and therefore they are owed work by the people creating it. Furthermore, they complain the company is only out for the money and demonize that authors, editors, and artists deserve to be paid for their work. None of those people are living high in their yacht, yet they get called heinous names for being creators. We abuse the very people who create the things we love because they aren’t doing it to our specifications.
Another example happened in the Mind’s Eye Society, a live action role playing group for World of Darkness products. After a particularly long stint of encouraging everyone to say yes, to the point of ignoring problematic behavior, actions, and outbursts, the group locked down their previous “Year of Yes.” Members were outraged when they realized the standards changed, and while that decision occurred years ago, it disempowered the group’s officials so badly that saying “No” is still a death wish. It not only openly subjects the person to abuse, but often means they are voted out or removed in favor of someone who serves the members’ sense of entitlement.
Studies show that entitlement is tied to a feeling of being disappointed or mistreated. When we’re children, we believe the world owes us after a beat down. We’re supposed to grow out of it, but for some, we remember the feeling of hurt and wanting someone to give us something. As adults, when something doesn’t meet our expectations of what we want from it, we call on those old resources and feelings, using them fuel our sense that someone has wronged us and we deserve more. Those old reserves and coping mechanisms are just that, however. They are things we should have grown out of.
Our skewed sense of reciprocity makes us feel like we are the ones who are still owed. Our sense of entitlement destroys our relationships with others, breaks apart gaming groups, and forces the companies who produce the things we love to spend their time in the mire rather than creating good products based on constructive feedback. It’s a cycle– one where no one really gets what they want.
How do we change it?
Recognition: The first step is recognizing when we transition from disappointment to entitlement. Disappointment in something is a valid feeling, often immediate upon seeing or experiencing something that doesn’t meet our expectations. We are allowed to be disappointed. However, when that disappointment boils down and becomes entitlement, we go from a valid emotion to an unjustified action. The facts of the situation don’t match what we are asking from it.
Examination: Once you identify that moment, you need to examine what it is you want. This takes some time. You’re separating out different emotions of disappointment, sadness, and anger, so it’s not immediate. This generally means stay off the internet and social media until you can sort it out. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that we are truly entitled to nothing. When we pay for something, we pay for an experience, but we’re not paying for our personalized experience. Nothing can be everything.
Breaking Down Reciprocity: The third step is understanding and dissecting how you view reciprocity. In case of entitlement, we view the transaction as one that favors ourselves– we want more in order to reach equilibrium. We believe if we do not receive that, we are free to seek it, no matter our means. However, reciprocity doesn’t work that way. If you go on the attack because your favorite game didn’t get a character out on time or something jumped the shark on your favorite TV show, you show that you are willing to engage only in negative feedback. Studies show that you break the cycle of entitlement by engaging people as you want to be treated. Constructive feedback creates a circle of trust where you still might not get what you want, but you can get off the hamster wheel and actually move forward with either accepting it or letting it go.
Entitlement is a form of narcissism. We think we are the most important thing, and our desires outweigh another’s autonomy or comfort. Our respect is skewed to ourselves. While self respect is a needed trait, it always has to be in balance with the respect we afford others. If respect is too much to ask, it goes back to treating people how you want to be treated. When you break the cycle a sense of entitlement builds upon– deserving, outburst, argument, anger– you have the ability to actually make progress; engage creators, peers, and others in your group in positive feedback; and change the things you love.