A Psychologist’s Year in Cafe World – Part Five: Managing Time & the Spice in Your Life

This is the fifth of my posts offering psychological insights into the computer game Cafe World.

Café World (CW) is a café-themed, goals-based computer game where players build and furnish their fantasy cafés and complete tasks, which involves “cooking” dishes, serving drinks and interacting with other cafe owners in their neighbourhood. As discussed in Part Four (Self-Service Motivation & Strategy), playing any game requires a strategy and that includes how to make the best use of time.
My strategy was to make the best use of my time. I allocated one hour per day. This was half hour in the morning and half an hour in the evening. I admit that I was not always disciplined in sticking to this. Goals In CW overlap like soap-opera story lines stringing the player along to the next goal and the next and the next. It’s easy to lose track of time and spend more than one intends to. Now, after a month or so, I had honed my strategy to cook dishes with the highest points on the maximum number of stoves. So, in the final weeks, I was advancing one level per day on one hour’s playing time per day, aside from occasional lapses in discipline. I found myself advancing rapidly through the levels. However, I noticed that some players were able to advance two or three levels per day. To achieve this, one must treat CW like a job and play several hours per day, seven days per week. Now this is a double edged sword, for I can see how playing CW can be considered an achievement. It does require strategy, cooperation and a time investment. However, the amount of time it requires to become a star player means there is no time left to pursue real world goals.

Intrigued, I looked at the Facebook pages for the people in my neighbourhood. Players making modest to high advancement in CW had a mixture of posts for other applications, groups and friends. For those making very rapid progress, their Facebook profiles were virtually filled with CW posts, throughout the day. Now, the concept of Work-Life balance has become a popular concept in personal and professional development. The concept of Café World-Life balance is lesser known. As the old saying goes ‘Variety is the spice of life’. This means that we have to spice our lives with more than the virtual reality of Café World.

We all want to be good at something, make a contribution and enjoy recognition for our achievements. Being great at playing CW is indeed an achievement but it should not be an end in itself. Part of the reason for writing this post is to make point that a sense of fulfilment in life can be attained by making the most of our transferable skills. Playing CW requires focus, motivation and determination and action. It also presents us with a moment for reflection.As I have revealed in this series of posts, I certainly learned something about myself and playing CW served to remind me of my life skills, at the time I was facing unfamiliar tasks in the real world. It certainly helped me reconnect with my playfulness, something as adults we often forget.

Spending hours playing CW is not necessarily a bad thing, but if it becomes the focus of our day, it robs us of the opportunity to apply these skills to real world goals. If ‘significance’ is an important value in your life, then consider what other ways this value may be supported. If you are aiming to reduce boredom, then consider other ways to make life more interesting, particularly those which support your goals. Bordeom relief is a form of emotion-focused coping. Playing CW can help to block out negative emotions, temporarily. However, emotion-focused coping should only really be a short-term solution. It’s a quick fix but it doesn’t cut to the heart of the problem, that is, boredom. Instead, it just deals with the symptoms. Negative emotions can effectively put us on a sort of remote control. We are controlled by the negative emotions and act in habitual, quick-fix ways to relieve the symptoms. (See my post Dicing with Boredom. . . and Coping Styles). So is playing CW, for hours each day, a way of coping for you?

Control-focused coping is about addressing the root cause of the problem, not just the symptoms. Café World, hopefully, will have help remind you of your transferable skills. In this series of posts we have considered values (Just Being Sociable), goal-setting (Goal-Setting On the Table), cognitive flexibility (Non-Stick, Non-Stuck, Cognitive Flexibility), motivational strategy (Self-Service Motivation & Strategy) and in this post, the use of time and emotion-focused coping. The question is, how do you apply these insights and your skills to get more of what you want out of the real world?

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A Psychologist’s Year in Cafe World – Part Four: Self-Service Motivation & Strategy

This is the fourth of my posts offering psychological insights into the computer game Cafe World.

Café World (CW) is a café-themed, goals-based computer game where players build and furnish their fantasy cafés and complete tasks, which involves “cooking” dishes, serving drinks and interacting with other cafe owners in their neighbourhood.
CW has three points systems running concurrently, each representing a different aspect of the game and influencing strategies for play. There are coins which you earn by selling your food for a profit. There are also points that reflect your experience as a Chef. New levels unlock new recipes. There are also buzz points. These indicate the popularity of your café and how many visitors you are getting. The appearance of you café has only minimum effect on your rating. As long as you have easy access to chairs and food on the tables, then it’s easy to maintain the maximum buzz points.

So, apart from taken a total random approach, basically there are three main strategies in CW. Either you cook dishes for profit (coins) or you cook for reputation (Chef points), you cook based on your tastes in the real world.. All dishes in CW have separate points and profit ratings. Now in the early stages it is a good strategy to focus on money. This allows players to buy more tables and chairs and buy the more expensive dishes that also yield higher profits. In later stages once you have enough money, to ascend the levels it best to select dishes that yield more points, but are not necessarily the best money spinners. With the third strategy, people cook the type of food they like. So people who don’t like cheese won’t cook virtual pizza. This decision robs them of access to the dishes that would help them ascend through the levels in the game. So either, these people have not grasped that different rules apply. After all, they should be cooking for their customers and not for themselves. Maybe they are playing the game in their way and are not bothered about succeeding, just having fun.

Playing a computer game requires a degree of focus, motivation, determination, the ability to manage time and the ability to take action. It also causes us to pause and reflect about our values in life. I don’t see myself as a competitive person, but clearly I am. I did get a certain amount of pleasure from ascending the ranks and passing veteran players whose achievements seemed unattainable when I first started playing. However, playing CW also affirmed my value of cooperation. It also helped to remind my strategic skills at a time when I had unfamiliar real-world tasks to complete. It was also enormous fun, except when there were software conflicts and the program kept crashing. However, as frustrating as this was, it caused me to experiment with different browsers. I learned that the Flash application on which CW is based can conflict with other software, especially if the Flash code is not well-written. Yes, it is only a game but the principle applies to real world obstacles and problem solving. All too often people give up on their goals when life’s obstacles get in the way. Sometimes we need to find a way around the obstacle and sometimes we need to be patient. Either way, giving up is not going to get us closer to the desired result. Being resourceful or even asking for help may indeed get us over hurdles.

Focusing on values is the cornerstone of motivation for achieving goals in the real-world. What is important to you in life? What values do you stand for? Are your goals linked to your values? In the first part of this series of posts in Just Being SociableI considered the importance of co-operation as a source of motivation in my life, and the quality that motivated me to continue playing CW. Other values dear to me include fairness, curiosity and the love of learning. All of these have an impact on my motivation.

Values and motivations are not always as simplistic as in CW. However spending time to work out what is really important will help pull you along when your goals get tough. It can also serve as a challenge. If you know what is really important to you in life, then what actions are you taking that directly support these values? It’s no point valuing ‘adventerousness’ if you never embark on an adventure!

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A Psychologist’s Year in Cafe World – Part Three: Non-Stick, Non-Stuck, Cognitive Flexibility

This is the third of my posts offering psychological insights into the computer game Cafe World. 

Café World (CW) is a café-themed, goals-based computer game where players build and furnish their fantasy cafés and complete tasks, which involves “cooking” dishes, serving drinks and interacting with other cafe owners in their neighbourhood. Computer games can sometimes shine a light on the way we view the world, in particular cognitive flexibility – that is, our ability to flexibly in different situations.

Sometimes we can become fixed in our approach to goals as we adopt a one-approach fits all situations. One aspect of playing CW illustrated how personal values can affect game strategy. In CW there is a distinction between cooking dishes and serving dishes. Some tasks require players to serve a dish which means cooking for the prescribed duration and serve it. Other tasks require a player just to cook a dish, where it is enough to just get it on to the stove. It doesn’t have to be completed or served. So, the moment the beginning of the cooking duration is acknowledged, the player can click on the dish and throw it away. This process of cooking and throwing away can be repeated until the task is completed. However, some players refuse to adopt this strategy and insist on cooking all dishes to completion and serving them, because they “don’t like to waste food”. Now this value is one a whole-heartedly uphold in the real world. In fact, I actually refuse to go out for a meal with people again once I know they are ‘push it around the plate’ food wasters. However, in CW, this value and approach just doesn’t apply. I’m happy to “waste” virtual food. The dishes are nothing but pixels on a computer-screen. There is no waste.  No one goes hungry as a consequence of my actions, virtually or otherwise.

Sometimes it is vital in life not to drag values or approaches from one setting to another where they have no validity. Different situations sometimes require different approaches. This applies to goal-setting, problem solving and solution finding in the real world. It is important to take stock of the situation and context to develop an appropriate strategy and response to particular circumstances. As babies we have maximum cognitive flexibility and continue to adapt to new situations. As children we learn as we play. As we age, sometimes we forget the value of play in our lives and also fall back on a limited number of strategies. Anyway, this is my defense of spending time playing on a computer game when I could be doing more grown up stuff (and I’m sticking to it).

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A Psychologist’s Year in Cafe World – Part Two: Goal-Setting on the Table

This is the second of my posts offering psychological insights into the computer game Cafe World. For Part One of A Psychologist’s Year in Cafe World, see: Just Being Sociable

Café World (CW) is a goals-based computer game, where players build and furnish their fantasy cafés and complete tasks, which involves “cooking” dishes, serving drinks and interacting with other cafe owners in their neighbourhood. This includes requesting items, returning favours and joining forces to complete team tasks. Goals are often divided into sub-goals. On completion, players are rewarded with new recipes or kitchen appliances, such as coffee machines, slow cookers, pizza ovens and sushi bars.

The way goals are organized in CW provides insight into how we should structure our real world goals. CW has larger goals divided into several sub-goals, with each step building on the previous one. In both CW and the real world it helps build motivation to tackle larger goals. They seem less daunting and are encouraged to build on our successes. That’s where CW gets it right. Where CW gets it wrong is by overwhelming players with so many goals all requiring action. That’s when tempers become frayed and insults in the “neighbourhood” start to fly.  Of course, the demands of real life often divide our attention and our resources. We talk of “spreading ourselves too thinly” (to use a catering metaphor). However, for goal-setting in personal development, it is better not to take on too many things on one time. Progress builds motivation whereas feeling overwhelmed negatively impacts on motivation. Goals should be achievable and realistic. Sometimes in CW there is just too much going on and so people either have to select just a few goals to pursue or else give up playing.

Many of the CW goals are also time-bound. Having a target date is important to focus our attention and resources. It gives a sense of urgency and can add to the motivation. However, if the deadline is totally unrealistic, it causes negative stress and adversely affects performance. A little stress (eustress) is a good thing and boosts performance. Too much stress (distress) inhibits performance. CW often miscalculates the time players need to complete the team tasks. Inevitably this leads to panic as player frantically try to complete the game and shout at the people who are ‘just not pulling their weight”. So, having a realistic target date from the outset is important. Goals should stretch us, but not to breaking point.

So playing Café World can act as a goals tutorial. The secret is to actually apply these insights to real-life and take action. When it works well it follows the SMART acronym for goal -setting. I’ve added a couple of extra letters to make goals SMARTER:

  • Specific – you know exactly what it is you are aiming for, such as a turbo-powered stove or the right to cook a new recipe
  • Measurable – thea fixed number of steps and a fixed number of things to collect or cook
  • Achievable – the goals are possible within the realm of Café World.
  • Realistic – this is sometimes here CW gets it wrong. Do you realistically have enough friends and enough hours in the day to achieve these goals?
  • Time-bound – Again this is where CW gets it wrong. Sometimes the special tasks don’t allow enough time.
  • Enthusiastic – all goals in CW have a positive emphasis. They are about moving forward and achieving something, not moving away and avoiding something.
  • Reviewable (or Regularly Reviewed) – sometimes players give feedback on unachievable target dates and the game-makers adjust the dates. This is what exactly what we need to do: review and adjust rather than give up.

So, the challenge is to leave the safety of Café World and apply the principles to the less predictable real world, where they rewards are greater. . . and not pixellated. Start small, be SMARTER.

For more on goal-setting see:

To discuss your goal-setting and coaching needs contact Gary Wood on Facebook (Page)

A Psychologist’s Year in Cafe World – Part One: Just Being Sociable

Psychology impacts on just about every aspect of being human, and playing a computer game is no exception. After rejecting countless invitations from strangers (a.k.a. Facebook friends) to accept imaginary gifts or send culinary items, I relented and decided to see what all the fuss was about. It was the beginning on a year playing Café World (CW).  My primary motivation was just to have fun. Some of my real world friends accepted my invitations and it became another way of keeping in touch. However,  I also quickly learned that CW is a very socially oriented game. As a social psychologist this really appealed to me.

CW is a café-themed computer game where players build and furnish their fantasy cafés and complete tasks, which involves “cooking” dishes, serving drinks and interacting with other cafe owners in their neighbourhood. This includes requesting items, returning favours and joining forces to complete team tasks. In my “neighbourhood” I noticed that the one player points ahead of the rest, was also the most reliable in responding to requests.  In CW, even though it’s a competition, you succeed by co-operation. However, some people are slow to grasp this. There are also various challenges where players form teams to tackle time-bound catering goals.  Where there is a limited time to cook an insurmountable numbers of dishes, it isn’t possible to go it alone. It is these challenges that bring out the worst in people. There are some hilarious posts on Facebook profiles of bitter disputes that breakout over non-cooperation. Warnings and ultimatums are issued stating “If you don’t respond to my requests, I will no longer respond to yours”. People are accused of being “amateurs” and “not taking things seriously”. This minority, who take things far too seriously, complain, hassle and become quite aggressive with statements such as “How can we expect to succeed if you are not pulling your weight?”. They can become abusive. People gently point out that “it’s a game and none of us are getting paid for this”. For some, this does not seem to matter. They become so engrossed that they become the bullying celebrity chefs we so often see on television. This begs the question, if people behave like this playing a game, do they behave the same in the real world? What are they like as colleagues, team players and team leaders? Do we all play computer games by the same rules as we live our lives by? Did CW turn make these players a little too “enthusiastic” or just shine a spotlight on their behaviour?

Early on, I took the lead from the top player in our neighbourhood and I simply responded to all requests. I’m sure that some people hoped to prosper by taking without reciprocating, however I didn’t let their behaviour alter my strategy. I like the idea of succeeding by cooperation, so I just played my part and didn’t worry about the motivations of anyone else.

CW also appealed to my sense of fun and irony. Other non-players would scoff and tell me that I had too much time on my hands. I was told that I need to get a real life or run a real café. The implication was that my time should be put to better use. Part of me liked the fact that I was playing a “dumb game” and should know better. The gross assumption was that playing a computer game can tell us nothing about ourselves and other people. As I wrote at that start of this, psychology impacts on just about every aspect of being human, and playing a computer game is no exception. CW did not make me a more socially-oriented person, I was that before I started playing. I like the lesson that we can succeed in life by co-operation. Whether pixellated virtual reality of Café World or the “real world”, co-operation for me is not just a means to an end, it is an end point, a terminal value, in and of itself.

In the following parts I will consider how playing Café World can help us to reflect on goal-setting strategies, time-management, cognitive flexibility and transferable skills.

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