I Wish I Got Paid For Playing Games All Day

Every QAer has heard those words, more than once. And it is true, of course, that we get paid for playing games all day. But there is more to the job than appears at first.

A good QAer must have the detective instincts of Nero Wolfe or Lord Peter Wimsey (for the tracking down of bugs which, once seen, must be duplicated), the cunning of a fox (for scenting a situation where a bug could be lurking), the patience of a spider who continually spins her cobwebs (playing the same game over and over and over demands great quantities of patience), and the verbal dexterity of a debating team hotshot (for dealing with programmers who are notorious for claiming a good and genuine bug is really part of the design of the game). Learning the finer arts in this debate is one of the first duties of a new QAer or a new programmer.

"You make 'em, we break 'em" is our motto in QA, which does not necessarily endear us to the programmers, but it is, of course, only for their own good that we set out with such gusto to break the game if possible. It pains me to observe that now and again, one of them is unreasonably touchy about making a dozen different versions of the game. I understand the programmers have their own viewpoint, which differs slightly from the QA viewpoint. I have even heard it rumored that the programmers are not fond of QA; but no doubt this is without any basis in fact, since we are really quite a lovable bunch. Just because we have taken to notching our disks like the gunfighters of old are reputed to have done for each "kill" of the day is not a proper reason to overlook our sunny temperaments; cries of glee are often heard in QA, like: "All right! Another bug! How many is that for today?"

Playing a game through means not only checking the proper route to keep your character alive, but also all the various ways to die. (For a time, we considered as a motto for QA, "We live to die", but we were looking for pizazz and it didn't quite make it.) Another thing we do in QA is look at the grammar and spelling. However, I set out to talk about the various ways to die in a game. Bugs can abound there. In Space Quest I, there are three different ways to die in the shuttle alone. Have you ever pushed the "Don't Touch" button? It's great. Try it. I know it works because I tested it. One of my favorites — I was sorry to see it go — was also in Space Quest I when the main character fell off the cliff, somersaulted through three scenes, only to be eaten while tumbling by a sand creature who arose from the deep. It was great visually, but alas, it was a bug and it went. You can die various ways in the King's Quest series as well. Have you ever eaten the cookie yourself, rather than feed it to the wizard in King's Quest III? Personally, I like to save my game, then make one of the wizard's magic spells wrong.

Once a new QAer gets over the embarrassment of dying — the sounds will give you away — and gets into the spirit of things, we die with relish quite often (after saving our games, of course.) New QAers learn fast that it is best to save a game at once when a fellow QAer leans over and inquires, with innocence and sincerity shining all over a smiling countenance, "Have you ever tried going into that hole, or making a storm on the ship, or pushing that button?"

Then, when we have tried all the preplanned ways to live and die in a game, and checked all the menu choices, the joystick, the mouse, the hard disk, the help screen, single disk drives, double disk drives, and built-in features — Mixed-up Mother Goose has eight characters and 18 endings, all of which must be checked — when we have remained alert to strange colors, odd sounds, aberrant musical tempos — the real work begins. That is when we begin using the pieces of the game in as many unusual ways as we can dream up, to see how the game stands up to it. Like playing the fiddle, after eating the mushroom, just at the moment of stepping into the hole — that one sent the main character into a tailspin that didn't stop. Or turning into an eagle and taking a leisurely pleasure flight around Llewdor - that one hung the game entirely.

Finally, the ultimate task and biggest challenge of QA is to try to out-think, out-maneuver, out-smart and out-wit the biggest "foe" of all, the final worthy opponent, the amiable adversary — you, the user. We are vastly outnumbered. We are four against tens of thousands in a contest of wits. But we are undaunted. QA will stand forever … just at this point a little plump creature wearing a red crown rushed into the room, brandished a flamingo at me, and bellowed "Off with her head!" So I shall say farewell to you, gentle reader, and submit this to the tender attention of the editing pencil of the merciless copy editor.

Don't you wish you got paid for playing games all day?

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