As is my habit, I recently attended the annual conference for the Society for Industrial/Organizational Psychology (SIOP), which is the professional organization for people who apply psychology to understanding human behavior in the workplace. Trust me, we I/O psychologists actually do know how to party. ((Seriously. Ask any I/O psychologist to tell you the one about the priest and the Likert scale. It’s hilarious.)) Apparently some of us also know how to play video games, because I happened upon one panel discussion called “Serious Games and Virtual Worlds: The Next I/O Frontier.” The purpose of the panel was to explore how video games, virtual realities, and other immersive technologies can help us measure and predict worker behaviors.
One concept that particularly clicked with me was the idea of making games out of what are called “situational judgment tests,” or “SJTs.” These are tests used to screen job applicants and help decide if a person likely has abilities needed for success on the job. They typically present test-takers with a situation, give them relevant facts, and then ask them how they would react or solve a problem requiring some kind of application of rules and a judgment call. For example, a SJT for first line supervisors might describe (or show via video) an employee coming in to work late and giving an explanation of his tardiness. Using this scenario, a copy of the fictional company’s attendance policy, and access to the offending employee’s past time sheets, applicants are asked to indicate what they would say in response to the employee’s request to make up the time later. This can help prospective employers decide if an applicant should be able to appropriately handle similar situations on the job.
Think about that. If you’ve ever played a Western role-playing game, especially something by Bioware, you’ve taken a situational judgment test. I was recently playing The Witcher, for example, and during the tutorial you’re tasked with having to decide how to deal with an attack on your stronghold –do you want to chase down the powerful mage who’s trying to steal your stuff or do you want to deal with the monster rampaging through your courtyard? Your choice may say something about your preferences and your priorities, not to mention your tactical skills. Or take the conversation in Mass Effect 2 that has you guide Commander Sheppard through a conversation with Mordin about the alien doctor’s involvement with the bioengineered, near-destruction of an entire species. That’s a delicate exchange, and true to the character of a good role-playing game, Bioware lets you proceed through it in a number of different ways, each of which could reflect something different about you.
I think the idea of using these kinds of games to test job applicants on their ability to make various real-life judgments is a fascinating one. One could easily imagine a game where applicants are told to interact with an in-game character and solve problems as they would in real life –sort of a role-playing game where the point is not to role-play.
What’s more, we know other things about human psychology in video games that could improve our measures of work-related abilities. We know, for example, that people who are deeply immersed in a technology or engaged in psychological flow are more likely to forget about their surroundings and forget (or at least downplay) the fact that they’re playing a video game. One of the biggest problems in using tests or interviews to assess job applicants is that they may behave differently relative to a normal day on the job. But if casting an assessment in the mold of a game helps them forget that they’re taking a test or disregard it, then we’ve got a much more accurate measurement of their ability. Game designers could be brought in to make the assessment more like a game, and while you’re at it you could take the opportunity to convey important information about the company and its values in order to make the assessment informative to the applicants, too.
As I’m so fond of saying, somebody get on that. And remember: I’m available for consulting work.