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:
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