Gaming under pressure: Assessing decision making and communication skills

I’m a psychologist with a personal focus on the development of assessments. One aspect of my work is the use of commercial games to help assess the skill set of future employees. Of course skill assessment done through gamified systems like iam-it and other IamProgrez tools are on another level in terms of assessment and behavioral prediction but commercial games have a fun role to play.

These games are by their nature not only more fun and engaging but, when setup correctly, you can extract from players more information compared to commonly used assessment methods like questionnaires or role-playing.


For example: Let’s assess your decision making skills under pressure with a traditional test. The questionnaire will describe multiple situations both at work and in private. For every situation you will get four different options on how to act in that situation. At the end of the questionnaire you will be told how well you can make decisions under pressure.

In reality there is no actual pressure in these questionnaires and the decisions that you can make are extremely  limited.

In the game ‘Mini Metro‘ the situation is entirely different. In this game you are under ever increasing pressure as you faced with ever more complicated decisions.

mini metroSource

Imagine that you have a limited number of tram lines you can place. You need to connect them with tram stations. People start showing up at the stations to move to another station. As times passes  it gets more crowded in every station, new stations appear and bottlenecks starts to become clear. You must spend your time rearranging tram lines, but the time that it takes you means that the tram is not operating. Then you are faced with the choice where you pick an extra tram line or upgrade the capacity of the existing tram stations to hold more people. The decision you make at that point in the game is important because it will tell me a lot about how you perceive the situation.

As a psychologist I would highlight these moments during the game, start asking questions and in doing so assess your skills. This game creates an amazing blend between constantly increasing pressure and moments of important decision making with a sense of immersion and real achievement that no traditional questionnaire can match.

(Experience it for yourself.)

Mini Metro however is a single player game so you can only assess one person at a time.

There is another game that I have been testing in the office. It involves two players and tests both decision making and communication skills ‘under pressure’. The game is called ‘Keep talking and nobody explodes’.


In this game there is a bomb that needs to be disarmed. Disarming the bomb can only be done if all the puzzles on the bomb are correctly solved. Sounds easy right?

What if I told you that only one player can interact with the bomb (‘the Disarmer’) while the other player has sole access to the manual (‘the Expert’). These two together have to solve the puzzles while in no way being allowed to look at each other.

Oh and the bomb  is slowly counting down…

Imagine you are the Disarmer: How would you describe, with words alone, the puzzles in the image above?

From my tests run in the office the chances are high that first time disarmers describe the locations where the puzzles are on the bomb. As you gain more experience with the game you will learn that this is an decision that wastes precious time. It’s not important where the puzzles are located on the bomb. The reason why is revealed in the image below.

Complicated wiresSource

This is part of the view that the Expert sees for solving the wire puzzle. As you can see the Expert will have his own instructions to follow. Based on the wires there are different steps that need to be checked. You obviously note that none of these steps are about where the puzzle is placed on the bomb. In our examples above of the bomb and the manual telling the Disarmer that the wire is the color black is a complete waste of time. The Disarmer needs to tell the Expert what the puzzle looks like and then wait for the Expert to ask him questions.

This game teaches you that in communicating with your colleagues you both need to know what the other needs from you

If you don’t a lot of time is wasted on sharing useless information. You need to learn when to listen and when to act. When you act you have to either ask clear questions or you have to describe something knowing that your partner can’t see what you mean. The moments when you make these decisions reveals a lot about you. As a psychologist it is highly revealing (and fun) seeing how different teams of Experts and Disarmers communicate with each other under the pressure of a ticking time bomb.

At IamProgrez new interns play this game which teaches them to be better listeners and improves their communication skills. With the help of this game we can teach them these lessons in a fun and innovative way.

This game (alongside our other in-house gamification tools) reveals to them what we expect from them when we, both as a team and as individuals, listen and communicate with each other.

Try getting all of that out of a paper questionnaire!


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