Welcome to the first in an ongoing series of guest articles! Today, Steve of The Mighty Die YouTube channel has sent us his thoughts on how we can apply Maslow’s hierarchy to Warmachine and Hordes. He does some great video battle reports that you should definitely take the time to check out!
Like a geography textbook on a bonfire, WMH community building and maintenance appears to be a pretty hot subject. With shrinking metas being a concern for some, along with a perceived lack of “new blood” and real accessibility issues for potential new players coming in. This awareness has triggered a movement for some of the pre-existing player base to make a noble and concerted effort towards actively growing the hobby.
I’m Steve and I thought I’d share some of my thoughts about what’s important to the individual and community development of this game we love and apply a little bit of established psychology theory to see if we can understand ourselves and our fellow players a bit better.
I think I’d put myself firmly in the category of an “Average Player”, but I’m always looking to find new ways to look at the game and try to find new insight to try to take myself to the next level. Along with the usual avenues of batreps and mentorship, I have also been looking into established theories of skill acquisition and psychological development and I stumbled across a very interesting theory called “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs”.
I knew I was on to something when I casually mentioned this to my wife (a teacher) and she immediately recognised the name from her studies! Let’s begin!
The basic premise is this: humans have a set of requirements that must be fulfilled in order to achieve satisfaction and happiness. We’re all pretty familiar with the base physiological requirements; air, food, shelter, health, physical safety etc. ; and we all tend to notice pretty quickly when one of those needs isn’t met. It’s hard to concentrate on your wargame of choice when your tummy is a bit rumbly or you are being set-upon by a wild and rabid gorilla. For example. It turns out that we all also have a huge range of psychological needs too; social relationships, trust, skill mastery, self esteem, learning, the list is surprisingly long.
On the subject of surprise, what I found particularly fascinating was that I always assumed that the psychological “needs” were optional; that they were a “nice if you can get it” kind of thing. Turns out they are actual, recognised requirements that must be fulfilled in order to live in happiness and satisfaction. Not only that, but these needs are set out in a hierarchy for a reason: If you don’t take care of the basic ones, the higher-levels become difficult or even impossible to achieve.
Now, this is a lot of text and not a lot of Warmachine, so how can we apply this understanding to our beloved hobby? Well, the more I learn about Maslow’s theory, the more I can see it applies to multiple levels of the Warmachine community.
Level 1) The Basics
The physiological requirements are really pretty obvious; you run out of food, water or air, your Warmachine career is likely to end fairly rapidly. Practically, if these requirements aren’t met to a comfortable degree, you simply won’t be capable of playing as well. Eat well, stay hydrated, get enough sleep (and don’t play tired), play in a comfortable environment (not too hot or cold or dry or humid), do enough quality exercise outside of the game...
If you want to give yourself the best chance to play as well as possible, your game will end in frustration if you don’t take care of these basic needs. Duh.
Level 2) Safety
Now, this is an interesting one and also one that I didn’t originally think was especially applicable to our hobby. It’s actually huge and super-relevant given the context set out in the opening paragraph (no need to go and check; you’ve got it memorised, right?). Assuming they aren’t currently too worried about starving to death or desiccating in the sun like a nerdy sultana, people need to feel safe and secure. Shock!
As a middle-class, middle-aged, white, straight, cis male, first-language-English, emotionally secure (relatively), non-impoverished individual; the world is made for me. The majority of the Warmachine and, indeed, tabletop wargaming, gaming, leisure and entertainment industry etc. etc. is aimed squarely at my demographic and bends over backwards to accommodate me and my fellow... demographees? It’s a word now.
This has the unfortunate effect of making me blinkered to the needs of people who don’t conform to the above list of averageness. The wargaming community is pretty much tuned to attract people who are the same as me and the natural upshot is that any group of Warmachine players is going to largely feature people like me feeling very comfortable in their own skin hanging around others who fit the same description.
This is somewhat compounded by the facts of nerdship (another actual word); being typically a bit introverted, possibly lacking some social confidence and a natural feeling of ‘ownership’ of the game that probably represents a significant financial investment and a not-insignificant emotional investment. From the outside, this can be (perhaps wrongly) perceived as an insular, un-welcoming, inaccessible environment and create barriers to entry that need not exist.
In short, if you want your wargaming community to remain stable, retain players but at the same time steadily grow and diversify, then you need to be very active in welcoming potential new players into your established “zone o’ safety” and create a tolerant, nurturing, safe and secure environment in which players and the community can flourish. Recognise that the game can be very inaccessible and that you have a lot of power to reverse that.
Level 3) Social needs
This ties in very closely and progresses naturally from lvl2.
So, we’re not dangerously malnourished or being chased by a bear made of knives? Then we can look at satisfying our need for friendship, trust, community, a sense of belonging, teamwork and acceptance, amongst many other things.
I think this level has one of the clearest relationships to the Warmachine and wargaming communities and requires very little in the way of explanation. The community is literally just that: “the condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common”.As far as the game itself is concerned, being an active part of the community is always going to make you a better player. Hopefully, your gaming group can provide you with a wide variety of opponents and tournaments and many people to learn from and with. Incidentally, I’ve noticed often that players who have reached a certain, proven skill level in this game typically say that an important factor keeping them interested the game is... the people. These are often also people with a track record of travel and frequent engagement outside of their own local metas. Interesting!
Level 4) Esteem Needs
Now our bellies are full of meat and potatoes shared in safety with our friends, we can get to the meat and potatoes of why I think a lot of people get into (and fall out of) the hobby. The esteem requirements identified by Maslow are split into two groups:
Internal: Dignity, achievement, independence and... MASTERY (caps coz it’s a big ’un, for me at least)
External: Approval, prestige, reputation and respect.
We all have some awareness of our own value, whether recognised from within or from those around us, and a feeling of positive value is very satisfying and rewarding. We compare ourselves to one another by competing in single games, tournaments and team tournaments and the object of the game (although not the point of playing) is to win; to somehow prove to ourselves or our peers that we have value.
As far as my own experience goes, I’m personally very attracted to the broad idea of being good at things, so the progress towards mastery of any particular skill is very important to me. Having said that, my need to prove my capabilities appears to be primarily internal. This means that I’m not naturally drawn to team competition as much as many might be (although that’s been changing a lot recently as a result of my reading around the subject).
As far as competitive Warmachine is concerned, if we are aware of the psychological requirements that drive us towards achievement, we can also understand a lot about creating situations that satisfy these requirements and managing the frustration and dissatisfaction of requirements unmet. We can also pretty handily turn this knowledge around and ensure that our opponents’ and teammates’ experiences remain very much on the positive side of fun and satisfaction. Who wouldn’t enjoy a reputation as a rewarding and fun opponent?
Level 5) Self-actualisation and Transcendence
Here we are at the top of the pyramid and the pressure is on to wrap things up in a satisfying way. We’ve got a belly full of Stalker Snax, removed any grenades or loaded assault rifles from the game room, we’ve found ourselves a willing opponent and privately congratulated ourselves on remembering to put on trousers before they arrived. Feels pretty good, right?! TROUSER MASTER!!! What next? Well I’ll freely admit that stuff like Self-actualisation and Transcendence are terms that drift perilously close to sounding like utter woo, but if you stick with me, you’ll probably recognise these concepts in a pretty intuitive sense.
Self-actualisation is pretty much just doing your best to fulfil your potential. In WMH terms, it’s making a continued, conscious effort to become a better player. Through practice, self-teaching, finding mentors, studying cards and rules, list building and discussion and finding any way you can to push yourself further down the road to improvement, mastery and possibly an elegant and creative playstyle. Trancendence is simply to become motivated by values beyond one’s self. To become the mentor, the active community builder, the tournament organiser. To help others find their own way to getting the most out of the game in the most satisfying way possible.
See? That wasn’t so bad now, was it?
And remember, in the end, the real “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” is the psychological motivation model we made along the way. Fact.
Thanks Steve! Remember, you can find his content at The Mighty Die, and we strongly encourage you to go and enjoy his video batreps. Look for more guest content coming to KnightsMachine in the future!