By Scott Olster
August 10, 2011

By Josh Dawsey, contributor

FORTUNE — At 12 years old, Brayden Olson was a self-described “virtual world nerd,” playing an early version of Asheron’s Call — one of the world’s first virtual world games.

“From then on, I knew exactly what I wanted to do,” Olson said. Never mind that he didn’t know what an entrepreneur was and wouldn’t meet one until college.

A decade later, Olson, now 23, has combined his two loves — entrepreneurship and virtual simulation — at Novel Inc., a two-year-old firm that aims to upend the way prospective employees and employers find each other. Novel wants to turn the pre-job application and screening process into a video game, in which candidates go through a series of simulated workplace scenarios to determine if a job is a good fit for their personalities and skills.

“You’ll basically be having fun, but you’ll be learning some specific things and you might find yourself more attracted or less attracted to the job,” says Olson, who founded the company in 2009 and serves as its CEO.

Novel is still tweaking its product, which Olson expects to release later this year. For now, he says, it will be aimed at job hunters, but it could eventually be used by employers to screen and train workers. His business model? He plans to charge companies a small fee per player-slash-applicant.

Novel has already attracted big-name partners and quite a bit of press attention, thanks in no small part to Olson’s enthusiasm. He is working with human resources executives at Nike (NKE), Starbucks (SBUX) and Alaska Airlines (ALK) to create the right simulation situations for would-be workers.

He’s secured $2 million in venture capital from investors such as Vancouver, the Canada-based McLean Group and Jim Boettcher, a well-known Silicon Valley tech investor. Last month he was a contestant in Start-Up Idol, a fundraising competition at Fortune’s annual Brainstorm Tech conference. (He lost to artificial intelligence app maker Clever Sense.)

He’s even hired Toby Ragaini, a lead designer on Asheron’s Call, as vice president of Novel Studios.

Novel also has formed a partnership with the University of Washington. Behavioral scientist Bruce Avolio, who has developed similar simulations for the U.S. Army, is providing research. “There’s a variety of reasons this could work,” Avolio says. “When you talk to young people, you find that at least three-fourths of them say they play games.”

And who knows, Olson’s game may even help a few job seekers realize that instead of working for someone else they really should start their own companies.

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