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Interview with Jamie Madigan, Author of The Psychology of Video Games

Jamie Madigan is an expert on the psychology of video games who has appeared in numerous media publications and author of the blog The Psychology of Video Games. In this illuminating interview, Dr. Madigan discusses the profession of psychology and his place in the arena of industrial psychology. He is a life-long gamer and has brought that experience to the table during the gaming industry boom with a company called Game Spy Industries where he built web based services and products related to video games.

What event or series of events led you to pursue psychology as a professional choice?

jamie-madiganI took some psychology courses in college and liked them. Two of my favorite professors taught in the Industrial-Organizational Psychology program there so I took some elective courses with them and asked if I could get involved with some of their research. They paired me with a graduate student working on his Ph.D. and I got interested in the field. I applied for grad school in I-O psychology and got into a program.

Name 1 or 2 specific challenges you have faced in your career in psychology and the steps you took to overcome them?

One is that a Master’s or Ph.D. is required to work in the field, and the solution to that was to get one. Another challenge that’s largely specific to I-O psychology is that my graduate program didn’t do a lot to teach us the fundamentals of business, even thought we’d be operating in one and would need to be able to talk to business people about their areas of expertise and concern. Simple things like understanding a budget, profit/loss, Human Resources, etc. All of that I had to pick up through on-the-job experiences. It would have been wise to take more courses on this kind of thing when I had the chance.

Can you give us an example of an interesting case or project that have worked on and your role in helping to achieve a positive outcome?

I once developed and validated a testing program to hire meter readers at a utility company. These are the people who walk around and read gas meters to know how to charge people on their utility bill. (This is automated in new meters, but there are still plenty of old ones out there that require eyeballs to read them.) The testing program consisted of several cognitive ability tests and a battery of personality test. I worked with a sample of several hundred meter readers to select the tests, do the validation research (to make sure they predicted performance on the job) then implemented all the rules and procedures around using the test to screen candidates. This required a lot of policy writing and “nuts and bolts” type stuff like training and arranging for data retention and use. It was a big project but worked out well.

Can you describe what a typical day looks like for you or the activities you spend the most time on at work?

My work is project based, so after clearing out my e-mail and voice mail I work on whatever project I have going at the time. This may include doing research (reading materials like job descriptions) or it may include doing face-to-face or phone/internet based meetings. I spend a lot of time researching or asking people about their jobs so as to develop selection systems and competency models. When I’m not doing that I’m usually writing reports or other output like interview guides or screening questions. I also manage the day-to-day work of an intern.

What aspects of your work do you enjoy the most?

Learning about other people’s jobs and their fields. The best thing about my job is that I get to find out what people do and how it all fits together. Every project is something new.

What advice would you give to new graduates for getting hired after graduation?

It’s probably too late by then. My advice would be to get as much practical experience as you can while still in school –internships, practicums, projects based in real organizations, co-authorship on your faculty’s research, etc. That’s what will differentiate you.

What is the key strength you bring to your career and how would you advise new graduates to mine their own strengths to further their careers?

Problem solving and knowing how to do research. All of my projects are brand new endeavors and a lot of planning and figuring out what to do have to take place. The basic research and project planning skills I picked up in my education are super valuable here. Learn to do that.

For the Readers Edification – I-O is Industrial-Organizational Psychology. Here’s the definition from our main professional society (siop.org): “Industrial-organizational (I-O) psychology is the scientific study of the workplace. Rigor and methods of psychology are applied to issues of critical relevance to business, including talent management, coaching, assessment, selection, training, organizational development, performance, and work-life balance.”

The Wikipedia entry is also pretty good: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Industrial_and_organizational_psychology

We thank Jamie for generously sharing his experience and insights about a psychology career. You can learn more about Jamie at his blog, The Psychology of Video Games.