Maslow, Peter Maslow

The Sims franchise is known to have had a simple start: imagining a simulation game where one progressed through Maslow’s Hierarchy:


The needs a particular Sim has are based on this model of what we, as human beings, need in ascending order. Now, the Sims franchise has never fully achieved requiring that one needs all the base level before the top level, and this works just fine (and is a healthy criticism that can be leveled in Maslow’s direction).

However, Sims 3 manages to achieve this in a new way. If we consider the first three levels of the pyramid of Maslow to be achieved through the six needs a Sim has (hunger, bladder, energy, social, hygiene, and fun; fun may be the outlier), the top two in this model would be provided by the moodlets: a system of ‘buffs’ or ‘debuffs’ that provide a plus or minus to overall happiness for a time.

As the pyramid moves upward, we enter the realm of more intangible needs and results. Esteem and self-actualization for a Sim are hard to actually present. Sims 2 attempted to provide these levels through wants, fears, and lifetime wishes. While this is certainly one way of approaching the problem, the results were merely lifetime points that you spent on various tangible rewards in a very direct manner. The trade-off was a purely capitalistic model.

Sims 3 has a slightly different method of achieving similar results. Once the basic needs are met, and then exceeded, a Sim receives the moodlets (and there are a variety of methods available to achieve these, from brushing one’s teeth to reaching the top of a career). These moodlets attribute to the overall happiness meter of a Sim; if the basic threshold of happiness is achieved, this results in a siphoning off into the point system in which one buys rewards. Achieving wishes also attributes to this, and gives a boost to the green happiness meter.

What results is that these moodlets and fulfillment of wishes both work together to inform how happy a Sim is. This then leads to lifetime rewards that directly benefit the Sim (in most cases being a new trait for the Sim, in the most expensive cases being a physical object). Sims 2 used only physical objects, such as the water cooler that could make one younger or the contraption that would raise all needs at once. The entrance of rewards that can make that Sim a better gardener, writer, or other such individual trait rewards helps better understand and achieve the esteem and self-actualization tiers in the pyramid above. In theory, they provide the Sim greater skill, autonomy, and understanding of themselves in order to affect their world; rather than providing them with items that allow them to interact with the world through a proxy.

These two top levels also help better understand another game staple that changed with this game: the job system. In the first two installments, to reach the next level in a career a Sim would have to accomplish certain skill requirements, as well as fill out his or her work performance meter (on top of establishing a number of friends). Instead of installing rigid requirements to advance, Sims 3 works on Peter’s Principle: a Sim will continue to advance in his or her chosen career until his or her skills can no longer be considered competent.

The requirements for advancement this time are to have a full work performance meter, which goes up more rapidly if one has the suggested skill levels (and sometimes levels of relationship with coworkers and bosses). However, giving nod to the fact that advancement can be as much a part of nepotism and favoritism, one can increase his or her job performance through special opportunities that will win the graces of one’s boss (or perhaps increase one’s skill levels).

Much like with the hierarchy found in Maslow’s pyramid of needs to self-actualization, the paths to the top of a career level in the game are much more multi-faceted. Instead of adhering to a more rigid set of rules, the gameplay has been loosened so as to both give the player more control and allow many different paths for a Sim to achieve his or her desires and goals. The gameplay is simpler, less demanding, thereby allowing more creativity on behalf of the player, and more options for basic gameplay for a Sim.

This, however, is dependent on the player. The question for many gamers I know when looking at The Sims is: What’s the point? The argument is that one can complete many of these tasks (cooking, sleeping, using the restroom) in real life, and there is no appeal to watching virtual people do the same. This is a matter of taste, and what one seeks.

As someone who plays the game to create narratives with a little aid, the game fulfills the desire to create, rather than just experience. The rules and mechanics fulfill the basic requirements of a game (to borrow Corvus Elrod’s definition: Game is set of rules and/or conditions, established by a community, which serve as a bounded space for play). There is a level of interaction, ease of interface use, and many other kudos to be given to the team; this then paves my own path for creativity from pattern selections and creations to the narratives and stories I wish to see enacted.

While the basis for the series lay among providing an example of Maslow’s hierarchy in a game itself, in many ways, how one approaches the game (and whether or not it appeals) works as a metaphor for how the hierarchy informs what we take from the game.

About Denis Farr

Writer interested in intersectionality, games, comics, nerdy stuff in general, theater, and how it all mixes. Graduate of Wabash College, with studies in Theater, English, German, and Gender Studies.
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