Steven Reiss in the real world

I’ve talked at length about psychologist Steven Reiss and his 16 Human Desires—eight here, and eight more here.

But I want to take things from the theoretical to the practical, so let’s look at the simple example of a video game.

We’ll say it’s an online multiplayer fantasy world—a playable version of the Game of Thrones television show, where both men and women can pretend they’re living, fighting, and loving on the continent of Westeros.

The game could be seen to play into our desire for acceptance. “Are you playing The Throne Game? Oh, you have to—everybody who loves online fantasy is there.”

It satisfies curiosity—there’s always something new to do in Westeros.

Playing the game simulates the experience of having kin and clans and mates and sex: so it checks off the “family” box.

There is honor built into the players’ “code,” and idealism too. And definitely the independence factor—we are, after all, making choices in the game based almost entirely on what we want.

Does it speak to our desire for order? Of course it does—it’s a game, with defined rules. So as much as anything can happen, we know for the most part what’s going to happen on a broader level.

Power and romance—this kind of game definitely sates those desires. If you’ve ever played one, you’ll know what I mean… You can spend hours and hours completing tasks that help your character become more powerful. And in this kind of black-and-white fantasy world, there’s a straight line between power and desirability. (Some might say in the real world, too.)

Saving? These games often incorporate items we need to collect—precisely to stoke that desire for saving in us.

Social contact and social status, in an open-world game played by millions of people who compete for points to see who’s “the best?” That’s a no-brainer.

And yes, physically we might experience peace and tranquility in the meditative state—some might say vegetative state—that we fall into when we play video games.

Finally, yes, in an online world where there are nearly no consequences to violence, it can become quite easy to satisfy our need for vengeance. In fact, there are some who are concerned that this ability to sate the vengeance impulse in games can bleed out into the real world—pun intended—and cause violent attacks.

So really, the only two of Reiss’ 16 desires that this game doesn’t satisfy are those for eating and physical activity, right?

Well, you can get that desire for physical activity sated by proxy as you watch yourself ride a horse around a virtual world…

And you can eat while playing. Many, many, many people do.

Sixteen desires, neatly met by one video game.

It gives you some insight, doesn’t it, into why these things can become so addictive.

And I hope it sheds some light on how you can think about your own offer in the context of Reiss’ model of desires—

Suddenly you’re not just satisfying one or two anymore.


16 Human Desires blog series:
Steven Reiss and the 16 Human Desires, part one
Steven Reiss and the 16 Human Desires, part two
Steve Reiss in the real world

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