Games are useful for so much more than having fun. Types of games focused on testing skills are generally called tester games, and they can show you how the other members of your team think, make you think about how you think, and even help you change the way you approach testing.
I find myself playing games a lot. I especially enjoy playing games with others. While they can also be fun, games give me chances to interact with new people, learn new things, practice my coaching skills, and generally socialize with other testers.
These types of games focused on testing skills are generally called tester games. I like tester games so much I’ve attended workshops, tutorials, and track talks on games at multiple conferences. I’ve attended and run games sessions at conferences, meetups, and at work, all in an effort to spread my love for tester games.
What I haven’t done is earnestly try to use tester games in any kind of formal training. I hope to change that.
What Is a Tester Game?
For those who are not familiar, a tester game is any game or puzzle that can be used to teach a specific testing skill, act as a simplified model of a system, or in some way allow a player to practice different testing skills, concepts, or ideas.
I do not consider myself to be an expert on tester games. That being said, I have played a good number of tester games with testers I both respect and consider to be excellent coaches. I also own a large number of games myself (that I keep at work) and have been known to haul them off to conferences and other testing events. And, of course, I keep talking to people about my belief that games are valuable tools for testers.
Categories of Games
I haven’t seen anyone try to divide tester games into categories before. Doing so doesn’t add any real value to the games themselves or affect their use in any way, but for the purposes of this article and to help explain some of the differences between the different games, I am identifying three main categories of tester games:
Examples: the pen game, the important difference game
These are simple games that usually only have a small set of possible solutions. More akin to a logic puzzle or something like a trick lock, these tend to offer little variation in how they are played. The ones I have encountered require little setup or preparation and can be paused and restarted, or even played via correspondence, which make them a good choice for quick pickup games. Part of the fun of a tester challenge is observing others while they try to solve a puzzle you have already figured out.
I have one version of the important difference game that I’ve run for a while that uses two of my business cards. One is my corporate business card. The other is a personal card I purchased from a business card website. There are many differences between the cards, but the players are trying to figure out the one difference that is important to me. The point of the game is for the players to ask me questions. In short, this game is about requirements. The players who do well ask me questions early to try and understand what is important to me. Despite the cards being different colors and having different finishes with differently cut corners and different information on each, the important difference to me, at least in this version of the game, is that the cards are different shapes. My personal cards came from a UK company (that I didn’t realize was in the UK) that sells cards in the dimensions common to the UK: 85 millimeters by 55 millimeters. My corporate cards are printed in the US and are the standard US business card size of 3.5 inches by 2 inches.
As I said, challenges tend to be simpler games that can be played once, but there are games that offer more replay options and complexity.