Is Maslow's hierarchy of needs compatible with Rimworld?

How does Maslow's hierarchy of needs stack up with the dystopian construction and management simulation RimWorld?

Is Maslow's hierarchy of needs compatible with the game Rimworld (2018)?

Warning: This game contains references to drug and alcohol use, as well as dubious morality. The article also looks at addiction within the game world and references animal-based research. 

With almost a million owners, Rimworld could be said to be an indie game 'done right'. The game is a top-down construction and management simulation set on another planet in a dystopian future. The game features AI storytellers that have variable difficulty levels, these include 'Cassandra Classic', 'Phoebe Chillax' and 'Randy Random' (seen below). The storyteller's change the frequency and severity of random events - the total value and technological level of any base is taken into account when random events are chosen. 


After setting up the scenario, planet conditions, choosing your storyteller, difficulty, the colonists and the crash site, the player finds themselves with usually three or four colonists who have crash-landed on the planet and must survive. The player must then priorities what the colonists should work on, with each colonist having different skills which affect their work skills - so, for example, a 'pawn' (a term used to describe a colonist) may be very good at building which both speeds up construction and reduces the chances construction will fail. Another pawn may be good at creating art, which can be useful in trade later in the game.

This game roughly mirrors Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which is a theory in psychology proposed by Abraham Maslow which basically relates to human motivation. The theory states the most basic needs must be taken care of first before the higher needs should be taken out. In Rimworld a colony that specializes in art and neglects food will be unlikely to survive in the short term, however, a colony that neglects individual needs and aspirations may not survive in the long term. 

Physiological Needs - Shelter and temperature control

So the early game involves the player viewing the map to see what resources may be there, what land formations may be useful and any possible dangers. The player should find a location where a basic house or room can be constructed which will give the pawns somewhere to sleep. Additionally, on very cold or very warm maps the room can be equipped with heating or cooling (Or both). Both heating and cooling will generally require electricity, though passive coolers may be available if the player has chosen to start with less technology. In the early game, the player generally has access to both solar panels and wind turbines which provide intermittent power. This power can be stored in a battery. 


On crash landing, the pawns will generally have about a week's worth of food. The player would be wise to get this food and other materials into a room, or preferably a cold room for perishable food. A cold room can use cooling to lower the temperature to around freezing meaning the food will last forever. The player had two options depending on the map and conditions - they can either gather food from the local area which may be growing naturally, healing herbs and stimulants can also sometimes be gathered too. The second option is to farm. The game by default has a range of food, medical crops, cash crops like 'smokeleaf' and hops, and trees which can be planted in a designated area. 

Getting more pawns

Colonies can grow in a number of ways. One of these is capturing an enemy during a raid, locking them in a prison and convincing them to join you. Sometimes people also seek sanctuary from their enemies in your colony, but you may need to fight off their enemies. There are also other ways to grow the colony. 


The health of the pawns is another basic need. The pawn's health will slowly deteriorate with age, however accidents like cave-ins or being attacked will also lower health. It is possible to replace organs if an organ is damaged - and if the pawn is addicted to a drug they can become free of the drug but will suffer withdraw. There is a drug called Luciferin which will significantly boost the pawns abilities, however, the pawn will die unless a good supply of Luciferin can be maintained. There are methods, such as suspended animation pods, that can be used in the late game if the supply of Luciferin runs out. 

Safety Needs

So these included creating weapons to fight off an attacking tribe: these can be in the form of swords, sticks, guns or even automated guns when the materials are available. Additionally building fortifications will give your pawns an advantage in battle. 

Safety also includes protection from the elements, so this includes heating and cooling houses as well as making clothing, which also requires fur from animals or cloth from cotton plants. A pawn will require a tailor's workbench to create clothes. A player may also need to mine materials such as metals which are used in trade and construction. Silver is used as the game's currency. 

Social needs

once the basic colony is working a player should increase the time pawns spend sleeping. This seems to improve their mood and reduce the chance they will be afflicted by a mental breakdown. Leisure time can also be set where pawns will play games such as horseshoe pin, chess, Billiards and even TV's in the later game. Communal areas should be established, such as a dining room. The pawns gain a lot of pleasure from 'eating at the table'. 

Beer and 'smokeleaf' production take work and time - however, it's well worth it as these items can make a pawn happier as well as providing nutrition and mild pain relief in the case of smokeleaf, however, there's a chance that pawns can become addicted to these substances. It's a shame these mechanics in the game are based on random luck without taking into account other factors, such as overall happiness or social connection. In a 2012 paper, researchers  found that 'evidence... suggests that natural rewards, such as an enriched environment, can devalue drugs of abuse.'  It would have been more realistic and interesting if this research had been translated into game mechanics. 

Additionally, some pawns may pair off and they will probably want to share a double bed. Also if one of the colonists is killed in a raid, for example, this will make the other pawns who knew them understandably very sad. If a large number of colonists die the resulting unhappiness can create a despair spiral which can result in the end a colony through various mechanisms like the pawns going on a rampage or refusing to leave their rooms. 

Good relationships also contribute to Social needs including relationships with pets and people. These can be complex as not everyone will like each other. It can be difficult to control this aspect of the game, though this can be mitigated by keeping pawns that hate each other separated. 

Many of the pawns within Rim World have a large number of relationships with other pawns within the world. This doesn't seem to be a big problem in terms of CPU use, however, the total number of relationships increases rapidly, n*n - where n represents the number of colonists. So a game with 10 pawns would have 100 relationships. A game with 100 pawns would have 10,000 relationships, and a game with 1,000 pawns would result in 1,000,000 relationships. Not everyone knows each other in the game. Still, the number of relationships can quickly get out of hand. 

Esteem Needs

Once the colony has built up some silver reserves, it is possible to start to build strong trading relations with other tribes. Some traders will come to trade normally with you, but later on, you can create trade groups yourself or pay other groups to send a trading party. This is a great way to secure materials such as components for construction or other materials, or animals, which can be bread and provide fur and meat and can be farmed. 

Pawns can form a strong bond with an animal, which becomes their pet - pets will, however, need food. If the pet is a carnivore it may need to hunt for food or will eat your colony's food reserves if it is allowed to roam in that area. 

Esteem comes from a pawns individual needs being fulfilled. Every pawn will have different needs and wants, one may be a Nudist, a Pyromaniac, Industrious or even a Cannibal!

Esteem also comes from a pawn having a nice colony building, a luxurious bedroom, attractive rooms dedicated to a task like a dining room or a games room. The quality the items are built out of affects their aesthetic value, so a desk made of jade or gold will be enjoyed more than one made of wood. 

Self-actualization comes last. 

Google defines self-actualization as:

the realization or fulfillment of one's talents and potentialities, especially considered as a drive or need present in everyone.

Self-actualisation is primarily generated in the game by letting the pawn work in the area they love. Some skills will generate far more happiness than others. The below image shows that for Doc, Mining will generate a lot of happiness for this pawn. Doc will also learn to mine more quickly. The success of a colony can depend on having pawns utilizing the skills they are best at, however, once the colony is stable, allowing colonists to specialize at the tasks they enjoy will improve their overall happiness.

So, with Maslow's hierarchy of needs in mind - how does the game balance out the initial misery that comes from crash-landing on a planet? Well, the game uses an 'expectations' mechanic. Pawns expectations go up over time as their lives get better, and this simulates moving up the hierarchy of needs as more of the basic needs are met. There's actually parallels with reality here; many psychologists believe in the Hedonic treadmill, which is the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness after certain life events. 

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs seems to be true in RimWorld through game mechanics, as it is in our own. Sustained happiness; or at least satisfaction in RimWorld comes from doing a job the pawn enjoys, strong connections with family and community, good food and living! Perhaps we should try to appreciate everything we have and to count our blessings. 


Maslow's hierarchy of needs by Saul McLeodupdated 2018

Environmental enrichment protects against the acquisition of cocaine self-administration in adult male rats, but does not eliminate avoidance of a drug-associated saccharin cue. by Puhl MD1Blum JSAcosta-Torres SGrigson PS. Published 2012 

Hedonic treadmill by Wikipedia. Accessed June 2019

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