It’s easy to misread Abraham Maslow, in part because of how easy it is to read the brightly colored food-pyramid style charts of needs people draw up. But he’s not just talking about the people who hit the top, and start searching for their Soul’s Purpose, though I’m sure he doesn’t mind the folks who do (he’s most assuredly one of them). It’s just, not everyone who satisfies every basic need feels the overwhelming urge to go out and change the world. They could be completely boring, unspectacular people. They could be swarthy assholes. Not everyone wants to be a prizewinning physicist or an accomplished writer.
Rather, satisfying all the needs on the pyramid gives a human permission to, according to Maslow, “just be.”
Called B-people in his notes, he was mainly contrasting them to folks who suffered some kind of deprivation on one of the five levels. Someone who goes hungry too long, especially in their childhood, might freak out if the cupboard is looking a little bare. The five levels of the pyramid get more severe, and overriding, the closer to the foundation we get. Take that same person, who’d been deprived of food as a child, and starve them in a locked room for a week. Do that to practically anyone, and they will officially have food on the mind. Then deprive them of air for a minute straight, and the food gets to be a less pressing concern. The more base need: breathing, it takes over. It overwhelms.
One of my favorite metaphors for problems in gaming comes from Dr. Jerald Block, a psychiatrist who consulted with the FBI’s task force on the Columbine shooting. He recalled a specific day in his medschool residency, where two patients came into the ER having lost roughly the same amount of blood. One had multiple gunshot wounds; he came in strapped to a gurney and screaming. The other walked in off the street. The second man had suffered some kind of internal injury that had, over a period of months, very gradually taken him to the point where he could barely function. He had no idea why.
Block called problematic computer use a “Slow Bleed.” A subtle de-skilling that, left long enough, could be just as serious and severe as major depression, anxiety, eating disorders, really any major mental health issue.
Some game realities turn our attention towards a separate set of needs, built out to consume tremendous amounts of our time in compulsive grinds. They invite us to abandon similar needs in another reality, sometimes to the point of deprivation. The quality or thoughtfulness we give our job, the attention we give to our family, the non-toxicity of our food, even our ability to play better games, suffers. Especially given that games can make certain rewards into great achievements, they really can fulfill our dreams. They really can, in that reality, satisfy. It can be possible to, in that reality, “just be.” Which can make it all the harder to find balance in all of our worlds.
It might also give us the confidence to try, where before, all we ever saw on Earth were impossible obstacles. Either way, it helps to eat.
It may also help to not live with your parents. I say from much personal experience.