The Five Needs of Gaming
First of Five articles on Gaming Philosophy and Culture.
It’s the same as to why people want to do anything actually – to meet specific needs that they have. We all know about the physical needs that people have. You drink water because you are thirsty, you eat food because you are hungry, and you spend exorbitant amounts of money chasing after people you find attractive because you are thirsty on another level. These are all based in biological drives and pretty commonplace between everyone no matter what they are. It’s pretty easy to understand why people do these things because we all experience the same needs. Physical needs tend to be the same among all of us but can vary in consistency. For example we all know that different people require different amounts of food, sleep and other things. After physical needs are the five needs of the mind and soul and like physical needs they tend to be the same but vary in the amount that people need.
The Five Needs of Gaming
Need 1 - Consistency (The Need for Rules)
People have a need where things have to be consistent and dependable. We could also say that this is a need for things to be predictable. A need for things to have structure. This basic need is the reason why every game that is played has some set of standard rules to be followed. People like to be confident in knowing what they are getting into. People like to be confident in knowing what they are getting out of it. All of us started gaming in the same way – by playing make believe with friends. At a certain point though, the unstructured game of make believe wasn’t doing it anymore. During a game of cops and robbers against your friend Johnny you made your finger-gun, pointed it at him and shouted “Pow!” but Johnny didn’t pretend to be shot at all and instead the two of you got into an argument of “Yuh huhs” and “Nuh-uhs” because Johnny was supposed to be shot and the little bastard wouldn’t fess up to it. After that experience you realized that your needs were not being met just by a regular game of cops and robbers anymore – you needed to set some rules in place, rules that applied not just to Johnny but also to yourself.
Need 2 - Novelty (The Need for Variance)
People have a need where things have to be new and exciting. We could also say that this is a need for things to be unpredictable. A need for things to have differences. This is completely contradictory to the need for consistency because while consistency is nice and safe it’s also utterly boring. A definition for hell for a gamer would be an eternity of playing the same game over and over again with no difference in each time you play it. After a while of playing cops and robbers against Johnny after setting up the rules for the game, you guys got pretty sick of it. It just wasn’t fun anymore. Johnny doesn’t want to be a cop or a robber anymore, he wanted to be Iron Man and shoot lasers from his hands. You didn’t really care for the finger guns anymore either, why do that when you could be Goku and kamehameha him in the face. You could even keep the same basic rules but you guys were done being cops and robbers while there was the option of newer and cooler stuff.
Need 3 - Significance (The Need for Competition)
People have the need to be somebody, to have their own mark on whatever they are doing to make things their own. You have to be important. The large majority of the time – this means that in some way you have to stand out from the other people around you. It doesn’t mean that you have to be better than them in some way, but there is the need to be unforgettable. As gamers it doesn’t matter if you are hardcore or casual, we all understand this part pretty well. For some people this need for significance shows up as a drive for competition, a need to be the best and to show that you are the best you have to win. For other people this need for significance shows up as a drive for uniqueness, a need to be different and for others to notice and appreciate that difference. You may not be competing to win in the game but you are definitely competing to win on another metric by having the coolest stuff or being the most popular.
Need 4 - Connection (The Need for Society)
People have the need to form a connection with other people or other things, to stretch beyond just themselves. This is a pretty easy need to understand because it’s just the basic need for friends and people who you can share your life with. For people who are socially introverted the need for connection is just as important for those who are extroverted. Instead of connecting with a large group introverts seek to connect with smaller group of people, often on a deeper level. This doesn’t even have to be with people at all for I think we all have played that one game, seen that one movie or read that one book where we connect to a character on a deep level. Weather it’s with your friends, a character, or whatever – there is a moment where in your mind you think “we’re in this together.”
Need 5 - Improvement (The Need for Advancement)
People need to be able to see that they are getting better, the need to get to the next level. While not obviously visible as a need like the prior four needs I think we all know the feeling when this need is not being met – the feeling of being stuck. The feeling of being stuck can be one of the worst feelings in the world and if it persists for a long time can sap the joy out of your life completely. There has to be movement in an upwards direction or else you’re not going to be able to find the motivation to keep going. On the other hand, when you can feel yourself improving every day, when you can see the difference in where you were and where you are it can be an amazing feeling that fuels all of the other four needs. This is the hardest need to capture and meet because improvement is not consistent nor is it always noticeable. The easier a system makes it for you to notice and feel your improvement on a regular basis, the more rewarding it is going to be.
People game to meet their needs and the needs can vary quite a bit from person to person. For example, a person’s need for consistency and significance can be pretty high so what they are looking for a structured competitive environment where they have a consistent set of rules that allows them to show that they are the best. A person who has high needs in novelty and connection is looking for a constantly new and changing gaming experience that can be shared among their social group. These two people can play the same game among the same gaming community, but the reason they play and what they are looking to get out of the game is very different. The goal among gaming as a whole is to create an environment which supports all needs that people have and to promote each in their own way.