Why Status is a Game We Can’t Avoid

Will Storr & The Status Game

Mo Issa
5 min readJan 16, 2024
Photo by Mahdi Bafande on Unsplash

From my mid-twenties to my early forties, I strived for success, money and popularity. Status was simply part of the game that I was inadvertently playing. The more money I made and spent, the more respect and status I got.

I was welcomed into the in-crowd just because I had a nice car and a big home and was one of the first on any list for an upcoming party or cocktail.

But then my midlife crisis (or my self-discovery revolution) came, and I started feeling uneasy about my success and that particular game I was playing. I equated status to a sin that should be eliminated if I ever wanted to purify my soul.

I saw status as akin to the gluttonous behaviour of men and women who, blinded by money and whatever it brought, became stuck on a never-ending hedonistic treadmill.

In Will Storr’s bestselling book, The Status Game, he said, “we play games for status incessantly and automatically. We do so because it’s a solution our species has come upon to secure our own survival and reproduction. As a tribal animal, our survival has always depended on our being accepted into a supportive community. But once inside any group, we’re rarely content to flop about on its lower rungs.”

In other words, status is necessary for human evolution, just like food, shelter and reproduction. Status means being valued within the group we choose to belong to. Not only do we require the members’ approval, but we often compete with them to rise to the ranks.

However, our competitive instincts blind us to our goodness within; thus, we ignore our sense of equality, truth and compassion for the rest of the tribe.

What Storr is saying is absolutely true. When I write a blog post, I want it to be valued and liked by my readers. Yet, I find myself checking the likes and comments and then comparing them to similar blogs like mine, but not to the well-known ones like Mark Manson, Tim Ferriss or Zen Habits.

Different status games.

Storr explains that we’ve been playing three status games throughout human history: dominance, virtue and success.

Dominance seized through force, and intimidation is an old primordial game ingrained within us and still seen clearly within our genetic cousins, the primates.

Virtue( being generous, dutiful etc.) and success (a great hunter, Best-selling author and millionaire entrepreneur) are our more modern status games. They evolved with our prefrontal cortex as we adopted gentler and wiser behaviours to help us survive and thrive within our ever-growing population.

Present-day examples of gaining status or prestige can be seen clearly in the corporate culture, where titles, promotions and bonuses signal who’s winning and who’s not.

In social media, one with more followers, likes and comments wins the popularity game and can become verified and decorated. Even within our different religions, we seek status where the higher up you are in the religious hierarchy, the closer to heaven you become.

During those years that I frowned upon the striving culture towards success, I got into self-help, philosophy and living the good life, and thought I was becoming wiser, only to look back at my hypocrisy today.

I got sucked into another status game, believing I was smarter, wiser and more self-aware than others. Just because I read and advocated what Seneca said three thousand years ago didn’t make me better than others.

All I did was change the goalposts and proceed to play another game to gain a reputation and rank within it.

Choose the right game.

The magic of Storr’s book is for us to recognise that we are playing status games whether we know it or not. So, being more intentional and choosing the suitable game at the right time would make us happier and less judgmental.

When we rise in rank, we are working harder, becoming better at whatever we do, and making the world a better place. Steve jobs needed the competitiveness of Microsoft to deliver the iPhone. Federer needed Nadal to reach the heights of his astonishing Tennis career. Hemingway became a better writer because he was privately awed by Fitzgerald’s talent.

I still find myself judging status games which involve money and prestige with little regard for virtue, such as the Kardashians flaunting their superficiality in public. But to each his own. After all, they have aced the game they chose to play.

Perhaps, in the first part of our lives, we are trying to prove and show our competency and earn respect from our peers. But when our game no longer serves our true self and values, we should drop it and search for another.

As we mature and grow in self-awareness, we choose more meaningful and virtuous games where we serve others and feel useful. In being useful, we matter in this world. That alone makes for a good life.

We don’t need to win.

As Storr concludes, “nobody wins the status game. They’re not supposed to. The meaning of life is not to win; it’s to play.”

We must recognise that to be happy, we don’t need to win every game we enter but instead make modest progress and the contentedness of moving in the right direction.

Today, I look at status not as some evil but as a compass to get me to play the suitable game at the right stage of my life.

Perhaps I was dissatisfied all those years because I played the wrong game. Just imagine that I had to play the guitar when all I ever wanted to do was to play the violin.

Storr’s message to play the game and not aim to win is similar to the Bhagavad Gita’s. In that, whatever game we get into, then we must :

“Get into action. Do what we love. Go for our goals. But detach from the results. Detach from the fruits of our actions. We can only control our actions — not their outcomes. But we should never — never — detach from our actions.”

We play to allow the greatness that shines within all of us to come out. It is devotion to the game that we need, rather than numbers and winning.

A simple beauty and a gentle peace emerge when we worry only about our actions, not results.



Mo Issa

I rise daily at 5 am, meditate, read and journal on my Self-awareness journey. Some of my reflections make it to my blog; others don’t. (http://mo-issa.com)