Maslow, Fun and Simulation

Tobold had a great post yesterday about what sorts of eductaion might prepare one for a career as an MMO developer. In it, he mentioned Maslow’s Heerarchy of Needs as something Psychology trained devs could partially ignore, since players aren’t concerned with things like food and shelter in thier games. Which got me thinking about why, and how people in online games don’t act like they do in real life. Maybe the lack of attention to Maslow’s basic idea is why.

As somebody looking for more simulation in games (yet aware that you still need a good game in there,) I wonder what a game based around the idea would look like. You’d have to start with permadeath or a stiff death penalty. You’d need food and drink not for buffs but to stave off debuffs. And ways to avoid exposure to the elements. Beyond that, you’s want making and building to form the crux of play. – exactly the part that makes an MMO world come alive, and the part that most developers treat as an afterthought, or even ignore entirely.

What I’m talking about sounds a great deal like Wurm Online. Wurm is one of those games that offers a lot of what we MMO commentators say we want out of a game, but then pretend doesn’t exist, usually with protestations that such games are “not fun.”
So the question is what would make a game fun despite all that simulation? How would you design a game where the mechanics are ruled by Maslow?


4 responses to “Maslow, Fun and Simulation

  1. I would say Maslow’s hierarchy still applies in MMOs, just in a somewhat changed form.

    The bottom level – basic subsistence, would be non-grey gear and enough gold to cover bills and travel costs. The bare minimum for your character to function, and most game designers take some care to make sure that this is easily available to even the most challenged players.

    At the ‘safety’ level players are LFG and trying to advance their character to the end-game. They have progressed beyond just trying ot stay functioning and are actively improving their avatars.

    ‘Love/belonging’ comes when players are invested and established enough to joing guilds or regular groups.

    ‘Esteem’ can probably be re-labelled ‘E-peen’ for gaming purposes 🙂 Players at this level are seeking recognition for being “pro gamers” or are invested in convincing themselves that they are.
    ‘Self-Actualisation’ is pretty rare in gaming communities, I’ll admit, but it’s not that common in real life either!

  2. If a game were so strictly based on MHON then I would find it unfun and wouldn’t play it. Friend of mine was recently describing some game (I think it was Minecraft, actually) that was as you described — focused on building and you have to eat periodically to stave off debuffs, combat/fighting tends to be more for survival than for the opportunity to enrich yourself and. . . . it sounds utterly boring to me. I’ve actually played a bit of Minecraft in its 1.5 version and it bored me then when you didn’t have to eat. Adding in the requirement of eating, sleeping, going to the bathroom. . . . it’s no longer a game, it’s now a chore. I play to escape the real world, not to re-create it in accelerated time digital form.

  3. I very much agree with pkdude99. I am simply not interested in simulation games. If I am going to expend that amount of creativity and put in that amount of time then I’d far rather do so in a practical way.

    I’ve tried Wurm, for example. I’ve been dabbling with Dawntide for more than a year. It generally takes me no more than a few minutes to come to the conclusion that in the time it would take me to, let’s say, gather the wood to build a boat, raise my skill to be able to make it and then sail it to find an island to build a house on, I could have gone out into my neglected garden, weeded and dug over a bed of soil, gone and bought vegetable seeds and planted them. Before I finished that imaginary boat the seeds might even have germinated. I’d end up with a good-looking garden that would give me healthy, tasty food and save me money. I’d rather have that than an imaginary boat.

    I never feel I’m wasting my time when I do fantastic things in virtual worlds – killing monsters, casting spells and the like. There’s no real-world analog for that kind of activity. As soon as I start on the “build the world from scratch” thing, however, I feel that there must be a thousand more satisfying and useful ways I could be spending my time.

  4. @bhagpuss — funny thing is my friend actually aid he likes the game MORE now that he has to eat to stay alive since it feels more real to him.

    Diff’rent strokes and all that. . . .