Psychology of Games – Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs


Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs

As humans, we have developed many needs over time that are closely related to our survival, existence and evolution. In a way, everything we do in our daily lives is in either a direct or an indirect way related to these needs. Abraham Mallow was the first to summarize the research related to human behavior by creating a list of human needs and sorting them in hierarchic order. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs was based in two groups: deficiency needs and growth needs. Within the deficiency needs, each lower need must be met before moving on to the higher needs. If at a later time a lower need is detected, the individual will act to fulfil that need before resuming focus on higher needs. When the deficiency needs are fulfilled, the individual’s attention will turn towards the growth needs.




Deficient needs:

  1. Physiological needs: To breathe, drink, eat, sleep, bodily comforts, etc.
  2. Safety and security needs: To feel safe, out of harms way, protected, to live in a safe neighborhood, to know ahead what the plans are.
  3. Belongingness and love needs: To affiliate with others, be accepted, be part of a group, to love and be loved, to have a family, to be social.

4a. Lower esteem needs: To be respected, to get attention, to have status, power, reputation, dignity, to express oneself through words, clothes, or self-creations.

4b. Higher esteem needs: To have self-respect, to be competent, to achieve independence and freedom. 


Growth needs:

  1. Cognitive needs: To know, to understand, to explore, to seek adventure, to experience new things, to travel, to feel excitement.
  2. Self-actualization needs: To realize one’s potential, to be all that you can be.

7. Transcendence: To help others to self-fulfilment and realize their potential.


Rewarding good behavior

In order to make sure that we listen to our needs, evolution has developed our brain with designated reward areas that serve to reinforce healthy behavior, such as drinking when we are thirsty. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasant feelings, is released by these reward areas to encourage the body to repeat these behaviors. This is the reason why fulfilling needs is often associated with feelings of pleasure. It could be said that our body helps us to distinguish positive behavior by rewarding it with an induction of pleasurable brain chemicals.

When we look at lower needs, things seem to be quite simple: we are hungry, we eat, and we get rewarded. But when it comes to rewarding higher needs – like gaining the respect of others for example – things tend to get a lot more complex. The higher needs are not based around our physical needs, but rather around the psychological needs. So how can there be a specific behavior or activity to reward, if everyone has a different view of what the needs are?

The interesting fact of the matter is that it is completely up to our own view of what respect is to decide whether we have accomplished what we should and deserve a reward. Quite simply, from an objective standpoint it does not really matter what we do, how we do it, or why – as long as we feel that we are doing the right thing, for the right reasons, and getting good results, we will get our fix of dopamine. For example, there is no difference between winning the lottery and thinking you have won the lottery – they are both just as fun up until you start trying to spend the money.


Measuring results

It can be said that on a personal level – as we perceive it – the ultimate goal for all our activities is to get pleasure and/or avoid pain. If we have an activity where we can conclude that the possible gain in pleasure outweighs the possibility of failure and pain, we will most likely want to do it. The amount of pleasure or pain that is then derived from the activity relies on how much we’ve learned (was it interesting to me?), our subjective view of the activity itself (was this okay for me to do?) and the measurement of its success (did I do well?).

The problems we face in our modern society is that our options are so plentiful, the boundaries between right and wrong are not always clear, and we can seldom get a good measurement of the results of our actions. This means that it can many times be difficult for us to decide what we should be doing, and perhaps even more difficult to get the pleasure from knowing that we have done something well. We tend to measure ourselves against other people, and there is always someone out there that appears to be smarter, happier, more talented or just plain better looking. So what can we do to ensure that our activities give us pleasure?



For People with Disabilities : They already face difficulty with most of the deficiency needs. The design direction is to eliminate the social barriers and isolation to allow us(people without disabilities) to help them to satisfy their deficiency needs.

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