Nash Equilibrium & Need-Hierarchy Theory — A-to-Z Blog Challenge, Literary Terms

NWe are now past the middle point of both the month and the challenge, and what a ride it has been so far. Already I am feeling the fatigue of this challenge, wanting to stop. Up until now, this has expanded my mind to new possibilities and from what I can see, it has expanded yours as well. Now, we are taking this challenge to a new level.

Today we are reviewing Nash Equilibrium and Need-Hierarchy Theory.

As always, I look forward to your posts, they become the highlight of my day. So show me your love, and I will show you mine. Wait, that sounds wrong….Oh well.

Help Keep This Site Running

This site is a great achievement for me, but due to being unable to work, I may not be able to keep this site running. With your help, I might be able to.

I need $125 by October 30th, 2017. Anything you can give will help.

Nash Equilibrium

Many might recognize the concept of this, if you have seen the movie “A Beautiful Mind.” Unfortunately, the scene in the bar with the hot blonde fails to capture the actual element of the Nash Equilibrium. Rather than explain why the scene fails, I will explain what Nash Equilibrium actually is.


This starts with Game Theory. We know from the previous article that Neumann was the one who started the concept of Game theory, but decades later, it was John Nash who helped push it forward. I will try to avoid math as much as possible here.

The Nash equilibrium is an optimum solution for 2 (or more) non-cooperative game. The solution, or rather the point of achieving ‘Nash Equilibrium’, is when the players know all the choices that can be made, and can pick the best move for themselves, and the other player gains nothing by changing their choice.

Before we go into a deeper understanding of this, let us setup a game. It is called Stag Hunt. In this game, there are two hunters who must decide what equipment to bring. They can only bring equipment for one type of animal. Where they are going, there is 1 stag and 2 rabbits.

Now hunting the Stag requires both people bringing their equipment. In doing so, they both get 3 points for their score. Each rabbit is worth 1 point, so if Player A goes after Stag and Player B goes after Rabbit, then Player A gets 0 points and Player B gets 2 points. However, if both players go after Rabbit, then they both get 1 point.


Prior to making the decision, they don’t know what the other person will be doing. Equilibrium is reached when both players choose the best move. In this case, going after the stag. Now remember that in a game, getting the highest score is regarded as the best move. That is the first part of Nash Equilibrium. The second part, in finding out what someone is doing, is if you feel it is to your advantage to change your mind.

So let us analyze this further. Both players know, to get the best score, is to go for the Stag. However, Player B doesn’t want Player A to have the stag, and goes for Rabbit instead, ensuring he will get 2 points. Player A finds out, and asks themselves, is it more advantageous to change their choice? If he doesn’t, he gets zero points. If he does, B splits the points and they get 1 point. So it is in the best interest for Player A to go for rabbit over stag. This does not constitute Nash Equilibrium. In order to make it a ‘Nash Equilibrium’ both would have to defect as their first move. Then when facing the option of changing your mind, it is not in your best interest to choose Stag if the other person chooses rabbit because then you get nothing and they get both rabbits.

Had both chosen stag as their first choice, and realized both chose it, it would be illogical for either to change their answer, as it would lead them to getting less points. While we are using points, think of it as meat. They both hunt meat, they both get 3 units of meat to feed their family. But hunting rabbit only gets them 1 unit of meat. Even if one of them captures both rabbits, that is only 2 units versus 3. It’s in the better interest of both players to cooperate as there is more meat to take home.


All of this assumes you wouldn’t betray the other person out of spite, you do what is best for yourself. So a player chooses a strategy and no player can benefit from changing strategy while keeping their own, then we’ve achieved Nash Equilibrium.

That’s great…now what does this mean, especially for writers?

As my article with Game Theory, this falls down to decision theory. A game can be seen as a conflict, or rather a conflict in a story can be seen as a game. In any game, it may be possible for all players to get what they want, or even sacrifice a little of what they want so everyone can win. The Optimum Solution.

However, to obtain this, it requires a level of cooperation. Something that doesn’t come easy to human nature. Now this can be as simple as mutual assured destruction, where both can destroy each other, and the best strategy is not to betray. In Burn Notice, both Michael and Jason Bly had evidence on each other that could ruin both of their lives, and both seemed willing to use it. Thankfully, the plot allowed them to find another solution, though both the blackmail and the truce are examples of Nash Equilibrium.


There is also when rivals must join together to deal with a greater threat. A good example of this is on the Original Star Trek, episode Day of the Dove, when an alien presence is threatening to take over the ship and May Sue, I mean Kirk, must convince the Klingons to work together to defeat the alien.


There was also the movie Enemy Mine. In this, neither character was the Protagonist or Antagonist, since the overall conflict was a war between the two character’s races. However, being crashed on a planet, they learned that their best chance of survival was working together, and if they betrayed one another, they could die. A great movie that eventually became a trope.


A last example, that was highly dramatic, is during the movie Wargames. Now the Cold War was often the subject of Game Theory, Nash Equalibirim being a principle solution. In the movie, Joshua (or W.O.P.R.) was playing a game to where the military thought was really a war. Professor Falken was able to convince General Beringer that it doesn’t make sense for the enemy to change strategies knowing the outcome of their decision could lead to their own death. The Professor was able to convince the General on the principles of Nash Equilibrium. An overall theme to the movie.

If you think of conflict as a game, then you see Nash Equilibrium a lot in fiction. It can also be used to figure out the logical decision. Though sometimes people choose the illogical choice, understanding the logical choice can add weight to the illogical path.

Need-Hierarchy Theory

Need-Hierarchy Theory or Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a psychological theory proposed by Abraham Maslow. He described patterns of human motivations in the categories of Physiological, Safety, Belongingness and Love, Esteem, Self-Actualization, and Self-Transcendence.

Many of his colleagues would study the mentally ill or criminally insane, to which he responded that “the study of crippled, stunted, immature, and unhealthy specimens can yield only a cripple psychology and a cripple philosophy.” He instead chose to study the healthiest 1% of college student population and such great minds such as Albert Einstein, Jane Addams, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Frederick Douglass.

The best way to understand the hierarchy of needs is to think of a pyramid. Elements at the top are the most important while those on bottom provide stability. The first 4 layers (also known as Primary needs), starting from the bottom, is what he called deficiency needs, or d-needs. From bottom, they are: physical needs, security, friendship and love, and esteem. Lacking these needs (or at least a great majority of them) will offset a person. Everyone needs these elements before they can obtain the secondary, or the higher level, needs (also the 5th layer), known as self actualization.


Maslow wanted to focus on the positive elements of human potential, rather than the negative. That it was possible for all people to obtain the highest levels of self.

So we are going to start from the bottom and try to better understand these needs.

1. Physiological Needs

These are the physical requirements for human survival. Without these, the human body cannot fully function. Since these are the most important, they are the first layer of the pyramid.

  • Breathing
  • Food
  • Water
  • Sex
  • Sleep
  • Homeostasis
  • Excretion


2. Safety needs

If the physical needs are met, then we move to safety. This is an area of feeling secure in life to be able to live and be happy.

  • Personal Security
  • Financial Security
  • Health and well-being
  • Safety net against accidents/illness


3. Love and Belonging

With physiological and safety needs met, we then have interpersonal. Basically the feeling of belongingness. This is especially strong in childhood and can override some elements of safety. Even as adults, we have a need to connect with others as part of our selves.

Human beings need to love and be loved, both sexually and non-sexually. With absence of love and belonging, people are susceptible to loneliness, social anxiety, and clinical depression.

This is why social media networks are so popular, is that the internet provides a way to connect with a larger group of people.

Peer pressure can also cause people to overcome or ignore social and physiological needs. Though this tends to hurt people more than help.

This is divided into two groups, large and small.

Large Social Connections

  • Clubs
  • co-workers
  • religious groups
  • professional organizations
  • sports teams
  • gangs


Small Social Connections

  • Family members
  • Intimate Partners
  • Mentors
  • Colleagues
  • Confidants

4. Esteem

All humans have the desire to feel respected, including self-esteem and self-respect. Esteem grants validation to each person. Some people pursue hobbies or professions to gain validation, allowing a person a sense of value. Low self-esteem is a common occurrence due to imbalance in this level.

Those with low self-esteem will often seek fame and glory, believing it will gain them respect. But they won’t find it until they accept who they are on the inside. Lower elements such as depression may prevent a high level of self-esteem. Two types of esteem:
Lower is need of respect from others

  • Status
  • Recognition
  • Fame
  • Prestige
  • Attention

Higher is the need of self respect

  • Strength
  • Competence
  • Mastery
  • Self-confidence
  • Independence
  • Freedom

Higher takes precedence over lower as it relies on inner competence gained through experience.

Failing of these needs may lead to inferiority complex, weakness, and helplessness.

5. Self-actualization

The last level, the top tier. This is a persons realized full potential. Generally requiring a mastery of the below levels. Maslow describe this as: the desire for self-fulfillment, namely the tendency for him [the individual] to become actualized in what he is potentially. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more of what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.”

In his terminology, he described this as a desire, not a driving force. Basically, it is something that was in the person the whole time, but not something he realized about himself until he was a complete person.

Despite the pyramid, there are some parts of it that can be skipped in order for a person to obtain this level of “self”.  Such as more importance of self-esteem over the need of love. It may also supersede some elements of basic needs.

I find a lot of value in this system, but Maslow developed this during WW2 and human understanding and culture has evolved a lot since then.

Another diagram, updating his original work added a number of elements:

  1. Biological and Physiological needs – basic life needs – air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep, etc.
  2. Safety needs – protection, security, order, law, limits, stability, etc.
  3. Belongingness and Love needs – family, affection, relationships, work group, etc.
  4. Esteem needs – achievement, status, responsibility, reputation
  5. Cognitive needs – knowledge, meaning, self-awareness
  6. Aesthetic needs – beauty, balance, form, etc.
  7. Self-actualization – personal growth, self-fulfillment
  8. Transcendence – helping others to self-actualize

8-level of HoN
Even with the updated list, I feel compelled to update it. I am no Psychiatrist, so I may get a number of things wrong, but this is what I take with me when I write.

1. Sex is not a Physiological need. We desire it, and we feel compelled to have it, but if this were true, then it would exclude Asexual people. Since I know they exist, I know that sex is not as important as many people feel it is. Especially as we grow older. I would put it in the third level.

2. Esteem also requires mindfulness and responsibility. We need to be empathetic to people’s needs, and take responsibility of our actions. People high with self-esteem are more ready to take responsibility for their actions, than those with low self-esteem.

*Responsibility is in the updating pyramid, but the old pyramid is generally accepted above all others.

3. With strong Love and Belonging, fetishes and kinks should belong in Esteem. I say this, because often times, those who lack confidence in their sexuality, tend to be repressed in their sexual desires. Whether the oppression is from outside or from within.  However, I won’t say that fetishes and kinks are a requirement of sexual intimacy, and often times sexual desire and fetishes can be two separate things. But there tends to be a link between sexual oppression and denial of fetishes.

4. While Physical is most crucial for us to be alive, there is equal importance in security to maintain a healthy lifestyle for us to remain physically healthy.

5. We need to address narcissism and ego. While focusing on the positive elements of mankind, we need to address too positive. Someone who thinks too highly of themselves. To this end, we need to place humility in cognitive. We need our esteem to be high, but consciously know that we are not better than anyone.

6. In the new model, it puts importance on beauty. I disagree that this should be its own level and that it should be part of esteem. How we feel about ourselves is very much an opinion regarding self-esteem.

Nash Equilibrium & Need-Hierarchy Theory

On one hand, we have the search for the optimum outcome that is beneficial to everyone, and on the other, we have what makes a human being self-actualizing. So our commonality is Incentive Choice. We have spoken on decision making and decision theory before, but this goes more into the motive of the choices we make.

Some cite that we don’t have free will as our experiences and environment guide our choice. I personally think that’s bullshit, but I would agree that our experiences and environment does have an impact on our decision making.

When writing our characters who are engaged in conflict with other characters, we need to determine at what level are they making their decision. We then need to understand how well situated they are in that level. In a conflict with other players of the game, we need to understand what is the best move for all the players to choose, and whether if they know each others move, if it will change their decision.

When it comes to a zero sum game, then there will clearly be a winner and a loser. In a non-zero sum game, it may be possible for the players to find a way of cooperation so that everyone can win. However, even if a solution can be found, we need to look at their personal needs and determine if said offer is what they desire. Some may find solace in their enemy losing if it means they too lose…so long as the opposing player cannot win. Others may look beyond their own needs and look towards a greater good when making a decision.

Help Keep This Site Running

This site is a great achievement for me, but due to being unable to work, I may not be able to keep this site running. With your help, I might be able to.

I need $125 by October 30th, 2017. Anything you can give will help.


  1. My brain hurts now!

    I do like the trope of enemies having to co-operate, it can lead to all sorts of insights on characters, especially if one is normally chaotic neutral/evil, because it’s always a knife-edge situation.

    As my sis said, we saw Enemy Mine in the cinema and loved it, but it never seemed to get the runs on TV that other movies did. It’s a gem.

    great post,
    Sophie’s Thoughts & Fumbles – A to Z Ghosts
    Fantasy Boys XXX – A to Z Drabblerotic

    • mad_cat says:

      Glad to make your brain hurt…I mean, glad you liked the post.

      I was 5 when that movie came out, but was an adult when I saw it, so I feel I saw it when I could most appreciate what it was. It definitely deserves more love.

  2. Loved the post, and the explanations. I find game theory very interesting, though I don’t think of it when I work on plots. Only subconsciously. 🙂

    On the matter of Maslow’s pyramid, I have to disagree with you on some of the additions. I’ll take them in order:

    “2. Esteem also requires mindfulness and responsibility. […] People high with self-esteem are more ready to take responsibility for their actions, than those with low self-esteem.”

    – while I agree that esteem requires responsibility, I disagree with the rest. People with low self-esteem can (surprisingly) readily take responsibility for their actions, driven by their almost automatic self-blame. They naturally assume they fucked up, something which people with high self-esteem are reluctant or even disinclined to do, unless enough facts prove it, and sometimes despite them. Whether either of them is right is another matter.
    Basically, people with low self-esteem assume they failed even when they didn’t, while people with high self-esteem presume they succeed even before they gather any evidence. True responsibility comes only from a complete understanding of one’s own actions and their consequences, which might be impaired by too high or too low self-esteem.

    “5. We need to address narcissism and ego. […] Someone who thinks too highly of themselves. […]”

    – I suspect you mean egomaniacs instead of narcissists, the former being self-aggrandizing people, the latter being people with a personality disorder, and thus not part of the “healthy population”.

    • mad_cat says:

      Thank you for your comment and thank you for your disagreement. It is through conversations like this that expand our knowledge. I’ll think about what you said.

  3. […] is such a thing as a Non-Zero Sum Game. This is where a final result of the game doesn’t equal zero. Perhaps both protagonist and […]

  4. […] the examinations of personalities and traits, this is the first time I’ve seen anyone else (except me) use this […]

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