I Want to Know What Love Is – Relationship Cheat Code #1

Today I am going to delve into an aspect of what I consider the “mind games” of being in a committed long-term relationship.

There is a lot of negative connotation associated with “head games” as Foreigner put so well “We try and find the answer, but it’s nowhere in sight.”

However, I believe gamification can act as another tool in your belt for finding these elusive answers.

Just like a partner in Tennis, or Super Smash we have to start with a trust that we each have the same goal in mind.  We practice techniques like “don’t walk away from a fight,” and “never go to bed angry.”  Not to say that these tactics should work for everyone, but when applied with our “team composition” the results have been positive.

The navigational complexities of two similar, yet also different minds existing in such close proximity can be strenuous.  Because of similar reasons I mentioned in a previous blog post about mutual understanding we can keep discussions about this tricky topic light.  Even if she spends more time beating me at board games than working with me in online battle royals.

Which is why I refer to this arena as another liberal application of the word “game.”  Using the lens gamification supplies can help provide a more lighthearted, and collaborative perspective for building a great relationship.

I think this can apply to any relationship, not just romantic or long-term.

Knowing when to attempt to solve a problem, or just commiserate is one technique I have been working on that just recently had a bit of peer reviewed support.  More technically speaking, providing more emotional support in place of an overabundance of informational support.

Hows about a quick scenario:

Your partner comes home from work and is fuming about the intern.

“I watched them finish the water cooler, and never replace it!”

Should your response be:
A. Did you ask them to replace it?  Perhaps they just need to be told once.
B. What a lazy bum!
C. Next time they do that, grab the empty barrel and beat them with it!

If you said A, you are not providing emotional support.  That may be a reasonable solution to the problem, but did you presume this thought never crossed their mind?  Even C was more likely to help if you have a partner with a good sense of humor.

It is far more likely that the intern has been making many little errors, just like this, that result in minor inconveniences, and your partner either doesn’t have the authority to chastise them, or is simply exhausted from doing so.

Establishing that you understand their feelings can be grounding.  It may seem silly to some, but sometimes it is nice to be reminded that we are all humans, and our emotions are not out of the ordinary.  That alone could be all it takes.

In fact, too much informational support can cause negative consequences.  No matter how good your intentions.

If asked point blank for more solutions, by all means go ahead!  But at least in the case of newly weds, it is more likely that there is plenty of informational support, and we need to work on the emotional side of things.

It can be a bit counter-intuitive that saying something of little consequence like “That sucks” could be the most useful response you could give.  As with all things, practice makes perfect.

-James Schoenster
Co-founder of Cerebral Cellar



Zero Sum Game – Gamification Discussion #6

Back in the day, I had my first experience with an MMORPG (Massive, multi-player, online roleplaying game).

Runescape.  It was free to play (until you realized how great premium membership was), and rather easy to pick up, so this was perfect for my 10 year-old self.

Something that was fascinating to discover were the economics behind a specific item: The Party Hat.

In Runescape you could buy and sell goods and items to other players, so there was a distinct economy in the game, and one of the most expensive items of all was the Party Hat.

Party Hat came in several colors like blue, or green, and were completely useless.  No boost to your combat stats for glory in battle.  No increased ability to gather resources to help rake in that sweet dough.  Nothing.  It just looked fun.  Not even that cool if you ask me, it was a mono-colored crown you equipped to your avatar.

The reason for its amazingly high price was due to the way it was introduced into the game.  A one time event that lasted a few days in 2001.  Now, I began playing in 2003 or so, and the price of these hats has only increased since.

Because after the event in 2001 ended.  You couldn’t get any more, and they became increasingly rare as players discarded them, or quit playing the game.

Now, the creators of Runescape didn’t really want this to happen.  So from then on any “one-time event” items were untradeable.  Meaning, you had to be there to get it, and it was just fun to show off.

They didn’t ever change the way Party Hats worked though, so they continue to this day to be traded for sky-high prices.  I am not sure how else to express how highly regarded these things are, so I will link a real-life marketplace for this in-game item.  They are going for several thousand dollars…

The simple concept of scarcity created value in an otherwise completely useless item.  A perfect example of the Core Driver Scarcity.

Now, back when I did my discussion on Ownership I gave something out to all my readers.  It is still a scarce resource, but I can produce more so it doesn’t have the same effect.

Precious metals and how much time we have in a day are scarce.  There is only so much, more can’t be created, and value is assigned in part due to these properties.

But metal and time can be used for something.  Why was the Party Hat worth anything?

Maybe some readers can come up with reasons it held so much value!

Aside from an investment vehicle (it only becomes worth more as they became more rare) it was a status symbol.  Perhaps I will go into the value of status symbols another time.

-James Schoenster
Co-founder of Cerebral Cellar

Different Strokes For Different Folks – Soccer/Board games Mash-up

Good to be back!

I went on a little vacation last week, and now I am back in the swing of the “real world.”

While on this trip I had the pleasure of enjoying some of the best, non-stop, soccer (fútball) action in the World Cup.  If you followed previous world cups, you may be aware that this particular Cup has been absolutely BONKERS!

For the third year in a row, the defending champs are out in the group stage, but the upsets are only a part of the craziness.  I could go into the details, and spend 1000+ words on my World Cup thoughts, but that isn’t what I am trying to establish here.

What I noticed this year was the complete lack of interest many Americans have for the world’s most popular sport.  It only happens once every 4 years, and yet I’ve seen more interest talking about Curling earlier this year…

Maybe a bit of an exaggeration.  I don’t expect everyone to get as excited about the World Cup as myself.  I play, I coach, I wake up at 7AM on weekends to watch games live.  It is a huge part of my life.

We would absolutely crush it if talent like LeBron James, Aaron Judge, or LaDainian Tomlinson grew up with “The Beautiful Game” in their sites.

Not saying that these guys at the age of 5 decided they wanted to be basketball, baseball, or football stars for the dough, but it is just a simple fact that more money is in those industries here in America.  The stadiums, the broadcasting, the advertisement and merchandise are monumental!  That all translates to exposure.

I feel like board games are faced with a similar conundrum when faced with industries like Video Games and Television.  There is only so much time in a day, and there comes a point you have to portion out what you will spend your time on.

While I know many people who enjoy playing video games for hours every day, or watching so many of the same shows I enjoy, many of them would act like I was pulling their teeth to get them to play a round of Catan, or Coup.

Smart, creative, funny people that I just KNOW would love this game!  Sometimes, you catch one and they convert.  I hear things like “once I realized there was more than monopoly and scrabble I was hooked.”

It makes me so happy when people I introduced to a game suggest we play!  All it took was a little of the right kind of exposure

I feel both Soccer and boardgames are very low barrier to entry.  All you need is one friend to have a ball, and another to have a table.  Yet, they don’t seem nearly as popular in the United States as I would expect.

What I think I am trying to wrap this all up in is the fact I am a big fan of having an eclectic taste, and our tribal instincts really get in the way of that.

Jocks only like beer, balls, and Call of Duty.  Nerds only like Portal, Starwars, and energy drinks.

Both groups have individuals who love nothing more than to (for lack of a better term) shit on things they don’t like.

Usually, I contend they simply don’t understand, and that is ok!  If you don’t care to have me explain it to you, just say so.  No need to spout things dripping in sarcasm like “oh look, he kicked a ball and scored a touchdown!” or “isn’t Pokemon for kids?”

No.  No No NO

There is usually no reason you can’t respect what other people like.  I bet if you really thought about why you don’t like something like sports, or boardgames, or Nicholas Cage.  You would find there isn’t much of a good reason at all.  Maybe if somebody you met playing Dungeons and Dragons at the FLGS took you to a hockey game, or if your Tennis partner pulled out Ultimate Werewolf on the teams trip to an away match, you could find something you hadn’t enjoyed before.

That said, I don’t want to say negative opinions are always wrong.  The Last Airbender (live, film version) was appalling and should always be regarded as such.  The difference is, I can explain to you why, and not just say it was dumb.

In fact, if you have made it this far and still think you have a good reason to dislike sports, board games, or anything else most rational human beings find entertaining.  Let me know why in the comments!

The world is full of enjoyable things.  I have a personality bent on experiencing as many as I can, but even if I ultimately don’t enjoy something I can find a way to understand how others can.

Except for claustrophilia…

-James Schoenster
Co-founder of Cerebral Cellar





Fortune Favors the Bold – Gamification Discussion #5

My favorite comic book of all time is The Sandman by Neil Gaiman.  If you aren’t into comic books don’t run away just yet.  I can’t say I have read many myself, but this was recommended while I had a lot of time on my hands (I miss college…) and I got hooked.

There is a character in this comic, goes by the name “Destruction”, that says “there’s no such thing as a one-sided coin…there are two sides to every sky.”

There is nothing I see this apply to more than Social Influence.  Our gamification core driver opposite Ownership.

It isn’t hard to understand exactly what I am talking about when I say social influence.  Peer pressure, mentoring, group think, we all deal with this form of motivation each and every day.  Even when you rebel you are falling for the impact of social influence.  Maybe you feel so negatively affected by others that you have to change your behavior to either remove yourself from its power, or even fight against it.

The duality of this source of motivation is also rather apparent.

People can accomplish so much together.  Society as we know it is the result of our countless ancestors working together to create something better than there was before.  Teachers use authority to influence children in positive ways despite the desire to be doing “literally anything but math.”

If we get really clever with it, the possibilities are extraordinary.  Like convincing nearly 1,000 people to go to another country so you can orchestrate a mass murder.

Or draw in millions of kids to a game that is proving to be rather addictive.


It is clear to see that we need to be careful when wielding the power of Social Influence.


So how can you tell the difference at its conception?

Usually the end goal is a good indicator.
Are we trying to build up those we are influencing, or build up ourselves?

That can be tricky still.  We often are not a good judge of our own selfishness, or simply do not understand that what is best for us, may not be the best for someone else.

A great example is the TV show Game of Thrones.  As a fan I want to talk about it with just about anyone I meet, and if you haven’t seen it “you just Have to watch this.”

I have a friend who just didn’t like it.  Tried two whole seasons and still wasn’t into it.
While that was a shock at first, it is a perfectly reasonable thing to not be into high fantasy

This poor person has been repeatedly accosted over this position because GoT is so tangentially related to other things she enjoys.  I felt bad when I saw her face as I asked the question she hated answering, but has had to do so over and over again.

The show has been a cultural phenomenon.  People across generations and a variety of interests have all found a common interest, and who doesn’t love sharing something like that with others?

What worked for a large portion of the population has negatively impacted those in the minority.

Neither are “right.”  It’s a freakin TV show.

You shouldn’t stop trying to share your passion because of this minority.
You also shouldn’t berate someone in this minority over their “suspect” taste in television.

With Social Influence there is no “silver bullet”, no “one size fits all,” and we do not all “need a thneed.”

Keep your motives pure, and you can usually get it right, but even with the best intentions things can go wrong.  When that happens you have to be ready to listen.

Someone will tell you what you are doing wrong.


Trust me.


-James Schoenster
Co-founder of Cerebral Cellar



Make Hay While the Sun Shines – Photosynthesis

Back when I wrote about my FLGS The End Games I mentioned purchasing Photosynthesis by Blue Orange Games.

I finally had a couple chances to try it out, and I have to say I was not mislead.  The game is great!

Unboxing took some time, but was so much fun I didn’t care.  The trees being “3-D” really tapped into my love of models and added a layer to the game.  My limited tabletop game collection doesn’t include anything like it.
Squirrels, birds, mushrooms, and the like all appear on various trees, and the forest that appears in the heat of the game is immersive!

I can’t fawn over the way the artwork adds to the gameplay much more, but it truly is art implemented artfully so.

The actual mechanics of the game are simple, but the choices you get to make can be grueling!  The game leaves no room for luck outside of player decisions, and there is usually enough going on that strategizing a turn or two ahead is as challenging as it is rewarding.

In our first game there were a few different strategies attempted, and it became clear at the end of the game which paid off.  Spread out the trees, and stay focused on the sun’s position.  The field changes enough that waiting for your time in the light to come around isn’t enough.

After we saw what the late game looks like, my wife and I have played more and the parity was impressive.  The game felt close the whole way through, and we were separated by only a few points.  The 1v1 in this game felt great, and it will be guaranteed to get more table time because of it.  Also important to us, took hardly 30 minutes from set-up to putting it back on the shelf.

The theme was unique and the interactions intuitive.  Many opportunities to chat about how the board is shaping up, or make silly tree puns (what can I say, the game grows on you).

I am so grateful to my local game store representative as he hit this one out of the park.

Looking forward to further games of tree chess.

-James Schoenster
Co-founder of Cerebral Cellar


Shameless Artifice Enclosed – Gamification Discussion #4

Ownership has been a hotly debated topic throughout human history.  In particular exactly what can you own, and what does ownership mean?  Often I drift off and find myself pondering the inspired writings of John Locke and Thomas Jefferson, or just how relevant they even remain this day and age…

We avoid getting too political by calling Ownership a core driver in our gamification model!





Gold, coupons, loot, potatoes, or goats.  Whatever a game gives you to collect, exchange, or perhaps consume can elicit the power of ownership.  Because you earned it, dammit!

Calling this a “game mechanic” hardly seems applicable because it is one of the pillars of our society.  Some people live their life purely based on the most efficient pursuit of “physical things I can own” possible, and most of them reach a much higher level of accumulation than most of us ever will.

But that doesn’t bother me one bit.  There are plenty of other things that make me feel “rich.”

Some “free” ways games can instill the feeling of ownership is through simple customization.  What does your avatar look like?  Can you change the background color?

My Spotify has gotten so much time to “become mine” it can curate several extremely entertaining playlists every few weeks… Well, at least they always entertain me.

Ownership is one of the two core drivers that display both white and black hat qualities.

The upsides of having more stuff seems pretty obvious, but in the words of the Notorious B.I.G. “Mo money mo problems.”

Put a bit more verbose by Bertrand Russel “It is preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else, that prevents us from living freely and nobly.”

Date it all the way back to the birth of Christianity or Buddhism.  People responsibly practicing ownership is a bit touch and go.

This “primal” response is rather easy to predict, and that makes understanding it a very powerful tool.  Dangerous… but extremely useful.   Like a saw…or a car.

Naturally I want to try this out with reckless abandon!  So, if you are reading this:

CONGRATULATIONS!!!  You just won a pure imaginary thingamajig!™  Good job you!

This thingamajig can fit in your pocket, or be stored in a file on your computer.

If you try to get rid of it, it will appear on your pillow just before you go to lay down.  The thingamajig is not useless.  It has a purpose, but like most of us just hasn’t quite figured that out yet.  Be encouraging.

You can’t give anyone a thingamajig, but feel free to brag about it.  If you are feeling generous you can link them this post and they will win their very own thingamajig to hang out with!

So take it, hold it, store it, pet it, whatever.  It is yours.

Keep an eye on the Cerebral Cellar social media pages, and you might one day be very glad you have this thingamajig.

-James Schoenster
Co-founder of Cerebral Cellar

P.s. ™ shown does not represent an actual trademark.







Pretentious Meditations – Loosely Applied Stoicism

I decided on a topic for this post a week ago, but couldn’t find the motivation/time/tact required to get it done.

During that week I saw so many examples of applying “thick skin” I could only help but laugh to myself as life itself seemed to mock my procrastination.

Maybe it was a little bit of confirmation bias, but the skill is pervasive!

I seriously try to practice this quality, but constantly catch myself failing to uphold it throughout the years.  Addressing it in a blog post represented an interesting challenge that I couldn’t pass up.

In hindsight I can point to the event that started my mulling over this subject.  The Met Gala.

I am no connoisseur of fashion, but the theme this year “Heavenly Bodies” ended up grabbing my attention.  Namely because of Rihanna (one of the event chairs) and her prodigious garb.

I like to believe I have an intimate knowledge of Catholicism compared to the general population, and my first reaction was that this outfit was rather off-putting.  Yet the internet reaction of outrage over something like a dress (such as one “clearly” colored blue and black) was not happening.  This was puzzling from my incensed perspective, so I had to spend more time investigating before making any lasting judgement.

After a bit of digging, and trying to justify my feeling like the reactionaries I often mock, I found an interesting take.  Cardinal Dolan of the Diocese of New York did not mind the dress, and was addressing it with a lighthearted joke.

At this point I realized I was over-reacting, and needed to be a bit less prone to taking offense.  After-all, it was just a dress.  A dress that was included in an event meant to push the boundaries of fashion while adhering to a theme that was intended to be a flattering nod to the culture I was invested in.

It got me thinking about how often I have reacted negatively due to a gut reaction, false assumptions, and preconceptions of or related to some harmless engagement over something I hold dear.  This sort of thinking leads to gatekeeping, but I want to be welcoming!  If you have something good, the best thing to do is let it spread!

As I always try to do here, this can apply to game design when you consider playtesting.  How do you handle feedback when it isn’t glowing praise?

Having thick skin can create opportunities for communication, collaboration, and empathy that otherwise would be shut down by your own biased experience.  One of my favorite quotes of all time is:

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” – Aristotle


Which leads to the other side of this.  Being able to stand up for what you believe in.  Maybe a bit more “hard headed” than “thick skin,” but in my generous interpretation they are in the same vein.  I’d say they are both qualities held in high regard for those that consider themselves “gentleman.”  Although, I think it silly to consider these qualities gendered…  We can all stand to benefit from prudent application of these traits.

Watch one game of Hockey (GO CAPS!) and you will see countless examples of players taking what they consider a “slight” and swallowing their pride for the sake of the team.  Focusing on their game, and maybe even using that abuse as fuel for their ambition.

But not when the foe crosses the line.

Swing a stick at the keeper, or land a cheap shot in a scuffle, and the flying fists of fury and retribution will be falling on you in earnest.

Later in the week I saw another pertinent example.  My youth soccer team had a tournament with limited substitutions on a hot hot weekend.  We made it to the final, but after going up 3-1 we let the other team tie the game and force penalty kicks.  We couldn’t wrap it up there, and the defeat was hard to stomach.

I saw some of those players had the qualities I am discussing here a bounced back mentally much more easily than those that need to work on mentally “toughening up.”

I am not by any means discrediting the feelings that crushing defeat or missed opportunity bring about.  Those are very real, and can be quite visceral and suffocating.  I find myself falling victim time and time again!  Having a game-plan for whenever you can catch yourself in this viscious cycle is invaluable.

The prescription I apply for myself is borrowed from stoic philosophy:

“Most powerful is he who has himself in his own power.” – Seneca

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” – Viktor Frankl

“How does it help…to make troubles heavier by bemoaning them?” – Seneca

“Our life is what our thoughts make it” – Marcus Aurelius

The emotions that offensive actions, hardships, or unfavorable outcomes erupt within me are a part of being human, but how I respond to those emotions defines me.

-James Schoenster
Co-founder of Cerebral Cellar