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Decoding The Status Game: Will Storr’s Revelatory Dive into Power, Influence, and Human Dynamics!

Ready to unravel the mysteries behind the status game? Dive deeper into our comprehensive review to gain profound insights that will reshape your understanding of social dynamics.

Embark on a journey into the intricate dynamics of social status with “The Status Game” by Will Storr. This compelling exploration delves into the nuances of human interactions, exposing the hidden rules of the status game. Uncover the captivating insights that illuminate the impact of status on our lives, as Storr skillfully navigates the labyrinth of societal hierarchies.

Revelatory Review to Decode The Status Game


Psychology, Personal Development, Society, Culture, Sociology, Non-Fiction, Self-Help, Social Science, Anthropology, Cultural Studies, Philosophy, Personal Development, Communication

Introduction: Understand and play the status game

The Status Game (2019) explores the unspoken social hierarchies and competitions for status that drive much of human behavior. Examining the hidden rules of the status game provides insight into the psychological dynamics behind people’s everyday choices and interactions, clearing a path for the ethical player to maintain their locus while thriving in a chaotic world.

What happens if you put an Eritrean stuntwoman, a Slovakian chess genius, and an Inuit shaman in the same room? A social hierarchy develops that places one at the top and the other two jockeying to improve their position.

The urge to rise up the pecking order or gain status is etched in human DNA. It’s the reason why you pursue wealth or a good name, or donate to charity. Funny thing is, it’s the same reason why you don’t. From conspicuous displays of wealth to virtue signaling and world wars, much of what we do can be traced back to unconscious status motives.

In this summary to The Status Game by Will Storr, you’ll gain self-awareness, learn the unspoken rules of the status game, and learn to play it well – without letting it dominate your life.

You were born to play

Ben Gunn had a lover and several campaigners fighting for his release after serving 25 years for killing his childhood friend. Ben was only 14 when the murder happened.

But every time they came close, he sabotaged himself by committing a minor offense. They wondered, Why would anyone do that?

Well, Ben Gunn had won respect by studying, defending his fellow inmates, and writing a popular blog that got nominated for an Orwell Prize. His self-worth turned to misery when he finally became a free man.

Like Ben, everyone has an innate need to belong to a group. People crave the practical benefits they get from social connection – but once they’re part of a group, they then seek to improve their standing within it.

We all play status games, competing for approval and acclaim from our fellow group members. Higher status often brings more access to resources, more mating opportunities, and better prospects for our offspring. But it also meets our emotional needs for meaning, purpose, and self-worth.

Status games shape our identity. The groups we belong to and our rank within them influence how we see ourselves and how we behave. We play status games everywhere – at work, online, in hobbies, clubs, and even when we interact with the invisible audience in our minds.

These games can motivate us to work hard, innovate, and achieve. But the fear of losing status also causes anxiety and harmful behavior as we desperately try to maintain or improve our position. Disconnection from groups can literally make us ill, as social isolation and low status are linked to poorer physical and mental health.

And so we plug in – and, one way or the other, we pick up cues on how to play.

Rules and symbols of the status game

It was supposed to be a trivial thing: single-pen desk sets given to all vice presidents at an American corporation. But one of them then upgraded to a two-pen set, and by the fourth day, every one of them had three-pen desk sets.

Everyone likes to think they’re immune to these petty displays of rank, but our brains unconsciously assess and compare other people’s status relative to ours through symbols like possessions, appearance, and behavior.

Expensive logos, confident posture, and steady vocal tones all communicate high status, pushing us to adjust our own behavior to match those we perceive to be higher than we are. When experts studied Larry King’s interviews, they found he changed his tone to match Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor. The reverse happened when Larry King interviewed a less-popular guest.

Humans are extraordinary in their capacity to create and maintain status symbols. People in the Micronesian island of Pohnpei win accolades by growing and bringing the biggest yam to their yam festivals, and have developed an etiquette around the tradition that shames those who cheat or show overt signs of pride in their achievements. Americans in the 1950s made a statement with their long cars.

We feel kinship with those who share our status symbols, becoming the source of each other’s status. Still, status games create rivalry. We want to stand out from our peers, even as we conform to cultural norms.

Cultures have distinct rules for playing status games. In the West, for example, people usually play individualistic games seeking personal glory. People in East Asia mostly play collective games, conforming in order to stand out. These games become internalized, shaping the players’ identities.

Whatever toys you possess and whatever games you engage in, there are three strategies you can apply: the prestige game, the dominance game, and humiliation game. We’ll find out more about them next.

Prestige games

Men of noble rank used to settle their disputes by challenging each other to duels. This lasted for hundreds of years, until those they considered commoners started copying their game. Once it lost its prestige, the nobles dropped it, and dueling never recovered.

Modern society hasn’t really evolved past these prestige cues. We still revere and try to copy successful players in status games, even if their actions cause us pain. We mimic high-status people in the hope their actions will bring us success, too.

Much of this copying is subconscious. We use cues to identify whom we should learn from. Often it’s people who look like us, those we consider highly skilled, players who show overt signs of success like wealth, and those we admire.

The internet has amplified our ability to create celebrities, from whom we eagerly copy. High-status people know that it’s flattering when people mimic them, but over time that dilutes their influence, so they rush to find exclusive symbols of prestige to stay ahead.

To at least some extent, we all follow an unconscious code to copy, flatter, and conform to superiors, hoping to raise our status. Yet influence and admiration, not wealth or power, are the ultimate roots of status. A penniless monk playing virtue games may command more respect and have more influence than a rich banker.

And when prestige games fail, people may resort to dominance games.

Dominance games

In 2018, Caren Turner angrily confronted New Jersey police officers for daring to pull over a car carrying her daughter. She flaunted her status as an ex-federal prosecutor and Port Authority commissioner, demanding the officers address her as “Commissioner.” Her bullying was caught on tape, costing Turner her job and social standing.

Her story is a classic case of dominance behavior. She used aggression to claim status and to try to influence the police officers. Dominance works; those who interrupt people or arrogantly display their knowledge still get ahead – but behavior like that doesn’t earn you goodwill. While prestige comes from freely granted admiration, dominance takes status by force or coercion.

Dominance is written in our genes. We needed to either flee or fight our enemies in the early days of human evolution, but most of those battles are now fought in our minds. Both dominance and prestige confer status, but we generally prefer leaders with prestige. When our collective status seems threatened, however, we tend to vote for dominant, aggressive leaders.

Dominance is responsible for most murders. Professor James Gilligan spent over three decades interviewing men convicted of murder, and most of them said they killed or assaulted their victims because they felt disrespected. While men generally prefer dominance or violence to defend their status, women tend to rely on the destruction of reputation, gossip, and social exclusion to dominate rivals.

Online, men are more likely to attack a fellow man’s ability, while women are more likely to describe another woman as promiscuous. Dominance usually appears when status hierarchies are unclear – but if there’s a clear distinction in status between two people, the higher-status person is more likely to get their way.

Though sometimes effective in the short-term, dominance breeds resentment and resistance. It compels obedience but does not inspire emulation. Prestige brings willing, not grudging, deference.

The fatal game of humiliation

Humiliation is the nuclear bomb of status emotions. It destroys a person’s sense of self-worth. For humiliation to occur, a person must believe they deserve status, then suffer a public loss of status at the hands of someone of higher rank. Worst of all, they are denied the chance to participate in status games and exiled from their group.

Recovering requires finding a new community and rebuilding status. But some choose vengeance against the communities that rejected them. Violence often follows humiliation as people try to regain status through force. Most school shootings in the US are carried out by entitled individuals who see themselves as special, yet have experienced rejection. Their high expectations magnify the impact of humiliation.

Honor killings in some cultural communities also aim to restore lost status when family members believe someone has broken cultural rules and disgraced the family. Killing in these situations  is seen as the only redemption.

Humiliation is especially damaging when we overinvest in external markers of status rather than inner self-worth. People often feel this way when they get canceled. It can drive people to suicide.

Understanding the psychology of humiliation provides insight into many acts of violence. While other factors like mental illness may contribute, humiliation is the underlying status loss that triggers the urge for revenge or the impulse to self-harm.

The status slot machine

Many of Silicon Valley’s tech entrepreneurs learned from the work of Stanford psychologist B.J. Fogg, who taught his students persuasive prompts they could use to create  and monetize apps on Facebook.

The class only lasted ten weeks, but by the end of it his students had 16 million users and had earned $1 million dollars from ads.

His model lists three essential elements that are needed for an action to take place. There has to be a motivation and a trigger, and the action must be easy to carry out.

When LinkedIn launched, users were motivated by the ambitious nature of the status icon. Seeing it triggered urges to acquire more connections. Easy navigation made growth compulsive.

Fogg supercharged this with unpredictable, gambling-like rewards. We never know exactly how many likes or followers we’ll get, or what people will say – so there’s suspense, and it becomes exciting. Addiction follows.

Social media intensifies status games like success, virtue, and dominance. Tech companies manage the game rules to make them compulsive.

Surveys show people check their phones nearly 100 times a day. Most go for their phones as soon as they wake up in the morning. Social media is like a slot machine for status. Using it triggers anticipation of more validation.

Potential rewards like fame and wealth from followers keep us hooked. Fogg warned about the dangers of compulsive status-seeking – but it’s going to be hard to roll back the consequences of his genius.

How people use status to trigger wars

Many events led to World War II, but few of them had the effect that Hitler’s message had on a people who felt wounded and angered by the humiliating reparations the country had to pay as punishment for its role as aggressor in World War I.

Hitler didn’t succeed in convincing every German – but every time he made progress, he increased the stakes and tightened the game.

He could do so only by erasing personal freedoms. When status games escalate into all-out war between opposing groups, individuality gets suppressed. Members’ personalities merge with the collective game.

As the game tightens, doubters are pressured to display loyalty by accusing others of disloyalty. Witch-hunts begin as people suppress their own doubts by projecting treason onto others.

Calls arise to change rules and make laws to combat unprecedented threats. This happened during the Spanish Inquisition, when anonymous accusations against suspected infidels were encouraged, despite officially being banned.

Demand grows for purity, conformity, and displays of devotion. People begin to apply double standards, punishing opponents for crimes they wouldn’t prosecute in their own camps.

This dangerous phase has led to political revolutions and genocides throughout history. When status games go extreme, mass humiliation often culminates in wars, massacres, and terrorist attacks.

It can be dark, but  it’s definitely not hopeless – if people recognize their innate need for status and obtain it the right way.

How to play the status game

Sir Paul McCartney achieved every musician’s dream with the Beatles, and went on to have a successful solo career. But he didn’t like John Lennon’s name coming before his in the songwriting credits. So whenever he had the chance, he swapped them to put his name first. See? No one, no matter how successful, can win the status game.

But how do you engage in a manner that gives you success and peace?

To start, you must cultivate warmth, sincerity, and competence. Warmth signals to people you won’t try to dominate them. Sincerity shows you’ll play fair. Competence demonstrates you’ll enrich the game for every player’s benefit. Small acts of kindness will help you accumulate influence over time.

Next, avoid becoming obsessed with one game or one particular group. Defensiveness prevents growth. Play diverse games across a hierarchy, investing most in one or two top games. Multiply projects you can identify with to improve your well-being and resilience.

It also helps if you think carefully before judging others. Don’t grab cheap status from virtue games. Try to focus on self-improvement. Try to view arguments as trade-offs, not battles involving winners and losers. There can be truth on both sides.

Instead of leading a battle against evil, try to stand out through small acts of nonconformity that don’t violate your game’s sacred values. Originality takes courage, but attracts positive attention.

You need to avoid the illusion of endless conflict. Remember when your only worry was to meet your basic needs? Move on to bigger and better games.

Your experience should afford you the wisdom to play games lightly without clinging to transient status. Strive to gain influence through competence, creativity, and compassion.


We have an innate need to belong to groups as sources of connection and status. We play status games everywhere to compete for approval, resources, and mating opportunities. These games shape our identity and motivate achievement, but can also fuel anxiety, harm, and rivalry.

Each group has distinct rules for its status games, but there are three main games that cut across all cultures. Dominance takes status by force – unlike prestige, which inspires admiration. A loss of status can cause humiliation, which drives violence and revenge. Lasting status comes from talent, character, and playing the hierarchy of games.

Understanding status psychology allows us to play wisely – cooperating, judging less, empathizing, and resisting dominance. Learning the right habits will help you detach from endless competition and find meaning beyond fleeting status.

About the Author

Will Storr

Nina Norman is a certified book reviewer and editor with over 10 years of experience in the publishing industry. She has reviewed hundreds of books for reputable magazines and websites, such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Goodreads. Nina has a master’s degree in comparative literature from Harvard University and a PhD in literary criticism from Oxford University. She is also the author of several acclaimed books on literary theory and analysis, such as The Art of Reading and How to Write a Book Review. Nina lives in London, England with her husband and two children. You can contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Website | Twitter | Facebook

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