The appliance of gaming science

Or how playing computer games can help you test.

I’m pretty certain that there’s a large overlap between those who work in IT and those who game, it’s not one hundred percent but the Venn diagram doesn’t have a lot of space in it.So now it’s time to explain how that can possibly help you as a tester.

There’s as many types of video gamer as there are people who play videogames, but they tend to fall into a few major archetypes. There’s the classic power gamer – completist, min-maxer* who will research how to win, learning hundreds of key combinations if that’s what it takes. There’s the roleplayer who focusses more on character and story than on statistics. There’s the casual gamer who plays to kill a few minutes here and there who doesn’t care if they’re not first to do something as long as they have fun. Recently there’s also been the mobile gamer who plays puzzle/social games.

Now of course there’s massive overlap between these archetypes and none of them is going to represent anyone completely, Most people are a mix of all or some of these, but each one can teach us something about how to test, so the more of a crossover you have, the more pools of experience you can bring to bear.

The Power Gamer

This archetype is probably what most people think of when they think gamer, what they might not realise is that the archetype is also the embodiment of the motto, semper paratus**, always prepared. For a tester this means learn your product. What should it do? How should it do it? What should it not do? What external interactions can affect the result? For example, should your messaging app deliver messages within a certain time? Should it always be listening for messages? How does it handle network timeouts? What happens if it gets closed before a message arrives? Is it peer-to-peer or server-client? What are the weakness of each? How do you test them? Is this the most efficient way to test this product? The power gamer looks at all these things before making a move. Planning is key.

The Roleplayer

This is more often associated with tabletop gamers, players of Dungeons and Dragons, or Live Action RolePlayers. This archetype gives us something incredibly valuable to a tester, empathy with the end user. A roleplayer can assume another character and act out their reactions to various events, which is exactly what we need to do as testers. When a new user encounters your product, how do they interact with it? What cues do they have? What does a regular user do most often, is it easy? What’s the least common thing you’d do as a user? Is it OK to bury it in a few layers of menus? The roleplayer in you can help you answer these questions and more.

The Casual Gamer

The casual gamer is the master of making each moment count, Got a spare half an hour? Advance a little way in a game, watch some youtube videos about the game, maybe even read up on what the Power gamers are doing. They bring another useful skill to the table, maximising what you can do in the time available to you. This can mean a bit of exploratory testing when you have a few minutes, but it can also be so much more. Do you have fifteen minutes while that build finishes? Practice a bit of programming and finish your script! Got five minutes before a meeting? Read some of your engineering documents or even a testing blog or two! Casual gamers make the most of the time they have, testers should too.

The Mobile Gamer.
The mobile gamer is related to the casual gamer, but often more heavily focussed on puzzle based gaming. This gives them a keen eye for pattern recognition and the ability to work on problems subconsciously while they focus on other tasks. These are two very powerful tools for everyone, not just a tester, but the ability to spot when something isn’t quite right, before it leads to a problem is the very nature of what it means to be a tester. We’re the stitch in time to save nine. It’s very often the case (at least for me) that the solution to a problem comes to me when I am doing something completely unrelated, learning to allow your mind to work on things in the background is definitely something every tester should work at.

No matter how you game, you’re learning skills you can bring effectively to testing.

This post was originally on how the visualisation techniques of gaming could be brought to bear to help in test strategising, but morphed as I was writing it. I do plan to come back to that theme in the future though.

*a min-maxer is someone who tries to get the most power output from the least input, the maximum from the minimum.

** I would also accept estote parati

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