Playing World of Warcraft could get you a sweet job

( is going to be going on a 30-day or so haitus in a couple of weeks while I manage some big life changes, so I’m going to make some extra posts outside of the Tuesday/Thursday schedule to offset things. If you want, just save these extra posts up and read them during the impending dry spell.)
A while back I made a post about HR systems in the online video game World of Warcraft. The basic gist was that the people running the guilds of players in these games develop systems and skills for dealing with people issues. And these approaches look a lot like typical HR systems covering recruitment, selection, training, performance management, and “employee” relations. reader Bryan pointed me to an article on that talks about the same kind of issues in the context of what they call “unintentional learning” from video games in general and World of Warcraft in specific.

In this way, the process of becoming an effective World of Warcraft guild master amounts to a total-immersion course in leadership. A guild is a collection of players who come together to share knowledge, resources, and manpower. To run a large one, a guild master must be adept at many skills: attracting, evaluating, and recruiting new members; creating apprenticeship programs; orchestrating group strategy; and adjudicating disputes. Guilds routinely splinter over petty squabbles and other basic failures of management; the master must resolve them without losing valuable members, who can easily quit and join a rival guild. Never mind the virtual surroundings; these conditions provide real-world training a manager can apply directly in the workplace.

It’s an interesting little read and I’m glad I’m not the only one having these strange thoughts.
There is, by the way, also an excellent article by legendary game designer Will Wright where he says some things that mirror what I talked about in my post on Everything Bad is Good for You about how video games stretch cognitive skills in ways that people don’t typically notice.

Improving Applicant Reactions by Altering Test Administration

This is kind of late news, but I thought I’d put it up here anyway. After years of nagging by my advisor, I’ve finally published my dissertation! Whee.
You can find it online in the Winter, 2005 issue of Applied HRM Research, or you can click here for a direct link to the .pdf file. Hey, it’s not the Journal of Applied Psychology, but I’ll take it.
Essentially, the research looks at ways to improve applicant reactions to selection systems by changing the way that they are administered. It’s more about changing the administration instead of changing the test content. Here’s the abstract:

Research on applicant reactions to selection procedures has traditionally focused on a limited set of test characteristics, predominantly test content and job relatedness. Using an organizational justice framework, this study takes a different approach and examines six characteristics of the way tests are administered and their role on such salient outcomes as company attractiveness and intentions to remain in the selection process. Two hundred eight actual job applicants vying for the same jobs in nine different locations across the United States provided their reactions before the test and immediately after. Results show that six rules (participation, consistency of administration, uncertainty reduction, interpersonal treatment, transparency, and quality of two-way communication) are related to overall perceptions of fairness, and that these perceptions are related to applicant intentions to recommend the company to others and to accept a job offer.

So there, I’m published. Well, in the world of academics. I’ve actually written three books (video game strategy guides), that TIP column, dozens of online articles for and that whole blog thing. But this is nice, too.

How to save money on employment testing

It’s no secret that a lot of companies are looking to cut costs and increase effeciencies in their hiring processes. While pre-employment testing has demonstrated benefits in terms of getting better people in the job, it can be costly. Assessments for higher-level managers or executives can costs several thousand dollars per person, and even simpler tests of basic aptitudes like computational ability or language skills can rack up costs pretty quickly.

Fortunately, I recently found the answer to this problem while strolling through the “Everything’s A Dollar” store in Tulsa, Oklahoma. There on Aisle 3 between off-brand dishwashing liquid and various mass-produced knicknacks sat a rack full of these:

There were also booklets for math and spelling skills, and for simpler jobs like “Consultant” there were books that test your knowledge of shapes and colors.

Brilliant. I mean, you can’t beat that for a buck, and for an added bonus adverse impact will work in girls’ favor for once!

Everything Bad is Good For You

I recently read this book by Steven Johnson entitled “Everything Bad is Good For You — How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter” and I have to say it’s one of the most interesting things I’ve come across in quite some time. In general, Johnson describes a phenomenon he calls “the sleeper curve.” He says that the vessels of today’s pop culture –mass media like TV shows, video games, and the Internet in particular– have grown steadily more complex and cognitively demanding over the last 30 years. What’s brilliant about Johnson’s arguments is that he divorces them from discussions about the content of the media as well as its artistic or moralistic merit. Sure, the artistic value of The Legend of Zelda is nill when you compare it to literary classics (save the princess AGAIN? are you kidding me?), but Johnson notes that that’s the wrong way to look at it. Instead, you have to look a the cognitive demands of the game and how it encourages the player to learn absurdly complex rules and follow them along while using cognitive functions relating to spatial intelligence, memory, and logical reasoning. What’s more, Johnson actually makes a pretty good case for how media like video games and television are, on average, actually making us smarter instead of dumbing us down.
There’s more in the book than I’d want to try and cover in one post, but one topic Johnson talks about that’s particularly relevant to this website is that of emotional intelligence. The author spends a good chunk of one chapter discussing how shows like Survivor and The Apprentice are taxing on emotional intelligence. (As you may know, emotional intelligence is often defined as how well one can read the mental states and emotions of other people, track relationships between and within groups of people, and use that information to understand and predict what people will do.) Watching reality television shows like The Apprentice requires emotional intelligence to make sense of what the various contestants are doing and WHY they’re doing it. It’s more than Bob Barker ever asked us to do on The Price is Right. To understand why Contestant A hates Contestant B but decided to create an alliance with Contestant C is a form of intelligence, Johnson argues. Many folks debate the merits of constructs like emotional intelligence, but he’s definitely on to something I’d never thought of, especially relative to the simplicity of earlier shows.
As I said, Johnson also talks about other forms of intelligence and makes a pretty good case for how consumption of today’s more sophisticated (no, really) television, movies, and video games is actually making people smarter. This isn’t to say that the content of the shows is teaching them to be more prosocial, kinder, or caring, but if it does make people smarter it does kind of raise the question of how wise it is to raise a new generation of amoral, desensitized, super geniuses. That future problem aside, though, the book is really fascinating and I recommend picking it up so you can ponder for yourself.

My new TIP Column


The April 2006 issue of The Industrial Psychologist (TIP) is online, and inside is something of particular importance to me: my first TIP column! Marcus Dickson (from Wayne State) and I are co-editing a new column called “Good Science–Good Practice.” Read the first issue here.
The column will report on research that is of use to the mythical Scientist Practitioner. Here, I’ll just quote us directly:

In some cases, we will highlight recently published research, in order to promote the visibility of that research. In other cases, we will highlight research that is accepted for publication but not yet in print. We may even focus on papers presented at the SIOP conference because those fly under many people’s radar. We intend to cast a broad net in order to identify a diverse range of studies that would be of interest to the widest range of SIOP members, but in general, we will seek out research that is rigorous enough to meet high scientific standards and advance a given body of knowledge, yet applicable and useful enough to be applied to the challenges most practitioners face every day.

I’m really excited about this column. It scratches the same kind of itch that this website does, and it’s kind of nice to get my name out there and get some formal involvement in SIOP that extends beyond paying dues and filling seats at the conventions. Hopefully people will enjoy it.
And like Marcus and I say in the first issue of the column in this month’s TIP, if you have or know of research that you think fits the bill, send us a note so we can consider it for the column!