Hard Fun

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, the biological reactions experienced during a test exercise could be perceived as being very similar to those of an addict:

  • Challenges, particularly those that are aligned with or just ahead of our ability, produce adrenaline and excitement.
  • Successful accomplishment releases pleasurable neuro-chemicals into the brain [1].
  • Curiosity – surely the core attribute of any skilled tester – when provoked, creates a rush of bio-chemicals stronger than heroin.

These mainly involuntary responses to external stimuli go some way towards explaining why many of us [testers] enjoy our jobs, but there’s plenty of similarity between them and other activities too. Sports for example, or games.

Sports and games both have a key principle upon which they and the people who play them rely. The participants follow a code of conduct (a set of rules) which constrains their behaviour within the sport or game environment. The obstacles presented to impede the players progress are mostly voluntary in nature with the exception of video-games where rules are typically enforced by the underlying software*.

To derive maximum pleasure from the sport/game one tries** to abide by the rules of the gaming environment, since overcoming the obstacles of the game provides the player with the opportunity to:

  1. See how good they are.
  2. Try and beat the game or other players in the game.
  3. Engage with multiple objectives.
  4. Exercise strategy, not luck [2].

It’s a fairly trivial exercise to map across these game-playing benefits to a testing context:

  1. Using intelligence and skill to identify the means, location and opportunity to capture and eliminate bugs is no easy feat. Testers must constantly exercise and improve their abilities to stay in the game.
  2. It would be easy to play the tester vs developer card here, but we’re all developers now, right? Anyway, there’s challenge enough simply trying to stay on top of the testing market, hold down a job/contract/freelancing gig in the face of outsourced or factory-testing competition. “Dedication’s what you need!”
  3. Software testing is a many-horned beast. If you haven’t got multiple objectives {functional, performance, security, usability, etc} then you’re not playing the game right!
  4. Luck will get you so far, but point 2 refers. As does Paul Holland’s recent (and most excellent) post regarding exploratory testing [strategy], here.

Of course, in a testing context we shouldn’t be constrained by a set of rules governing our behaviour except to the extent that we define by our own testing approach. I’m certainly coming around to the opinion that a testing approach that enables me, or others, to leverage sport or gaming mechanics to make testing more enjoyable/entertaining for both tester and team, has got to be a good thing. It seems others are on the same track also…

 

*Assuming there are no bugs/exploits which enable the player to circumvent the games constraints of course.

Picture of Lance Armstrong
** Unless you’re this guy.
- Simon

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