Thursday, July 12, 2012

Learning About English and Using Condoms aka Building a Tester Via Video Games - part I


I've ranted a lot about how I feel about the world of testing today, foamed about exploratory testing, defamed bad practises, pissed people off, hopefully helped some too. All has revolved around recent happenings, fresh phenomenas, hip and cool, but nothing about the past. Nothing about the reasons why I'm here, doing the things I do as a tester. It's about time to change that.

I've decided to start a series about building a tester. Something about what makes a person to become a tester, what ignites the passion towards it, what drives this passion onwards and how it's fueled by the very basics of a human nature.

This is a story of how I was built to be a tester.

If we come to think of it, the biggest influence and driving force for me becoming a tester has to be video games. By definition a video game is an electronic game that involves human interaction with a user interface to generate visual feedback on a video device (source: Wikipedia). The first ones came to be at as early as the 40's and since then there has been an overabundance of electronic gaming goodness in the market. Actually nowadays more money revolves around video gaming than it does around motion pictures. And without the help of porn, which makes it extra remarkable!

People seek many things from video games. Entertainment obviously, but also fun, excitement, achievement, recognition, fuel to an addiction, etc. Games are used to train people, treat depression, connect social groups, you name it. And of course because of which I'm writing this post; Video games offer the joy of puzzle solving.

Open it!
I love puzzles, I love being puzzled and beaten by puzzles. I've loved them since childhood. Not just the round-peg-to-round-hole ones, but actual, adult-serious conundrums. I remember learning the basics of chess in kindergarten and loving the game since, even though I haven't played it for a long time. I've books filled with logical puzzles, I've CAST puzzles always with me to fill the idle minutes at work or at home, I've Jari Laakso puzzling my ass with fun challenges (I just don't get that :), but nothing comes even close to what video games have to offer.

Let's get to examples. I grew up playing point'n'click games like Leisure Suit Larry, Space Quest and of course the grand Monkey Island. Actually I consider one of the minimum requirements for a cell phone to be an ability to install first two Monkey Islands. If it cannot be done, I won't buy the damn thing. Even if it has gigazillion megabytes of memory and diamonds in it! Why? Because if I don't get my regular dosage of the adventures of Guybrush Threepwood, I get the shakes... :)

Yes, I'm a geek. :)

The Beginning
Boy were the first point'n'clicks hard! Superhard! And that's because they we're parser games, namely you had to input just the right commands to get things going. Now imagine a 9-year old boy with no understanding of English language going through that experience. I had no idea what was going on! I was mesmerized by the play of 16 simultaneous colors over a 640x350 pixel grid. EGA, baby! Cryptic words started flying and demand of me doing something was high. Larry must get rid of the burden of virginity! WTF IS "VIRGINITY"?!

So I started learning English, for the first time in my life...

Those of you who've played the first Larry, remember the scene where you're supposed to use condom to prevent Larry from being killed by STD. To the others; Let me explain. Somewhere at the end of the game, after you've managed to tackle a series of excruciating puzzles riddled with cryptic language that is English, you are all that stands between Larry and a girl who'll have sex with him. Ok, at that point it was relatively easy to get them "going on" as I had learned the basics of English, but if you didn't remember to "use condom", Larry would die (in quite funny way, though :). WTF IS "CONDOM"?!

So I found out. Got myself a package. I don't remember where, but there it was... A BALLOON?! How would a bad smelling balloon would help anyone in anything?!

So I started going through sexual education. There was no such thing in schools back then, so everything depended on our personal motivation to find out. I'm glad people are more open about these things nowadays, because that kind of info is a lot for 9-year old boy to handle. I can only imagine how hard it was to be a parent back then, tolerating us with all our weird questions and all. :)

And remember; There was no Google back then. You had to really dig deep if you wanted info. I remember when me and my friends used to ring those gaming hotlines to get tips about the puzzles we tried to solve. You can imagine how much they cost, and how pissed our parents were.

Well, it was worth it... :)

I did pretty much anything to prevent Larry from dying! Imagine that kind of tenacity in testing. Testing is all about solving puzzles, figuring out what algorithms run them, if they're flawed and of course seeking information to support this. And now we have Google! As the systems and softwares have grown more and more complex, our toolbox has gotten bigger too because of the easy access to all the knowledge. What before required days to solve is only a matter of minutes, even seconds nowadays.

In part II I'll write more about how my love towards games evolves into relationship, how links to software development and testing start to form, and how I notice the first signs of testership in me.

Quote time. This time the creator of the Leisure Suit Larry series has the honor:
"People ask me: How do you make a game? I say: You sit in front of your computer and stare at the screen, and a year later you get up." -Al Lowe
Yours truly,

Sami "Click" Söderblom

1 comment:

  1. That is really good and interesting post, I am new reader here and I am impressed with your writing. Thanks for sharing it and keep posting such posts