Story telling and week[end|night] testing Martin Jansson

Story telling is an important part of testing. It is a part where you communicate and tell a compelling story what information you found at. Each story needs a scene in which it plays.

Some of you might have attended the weekend or weeknight test sessions, some might have attended classes in testing where they teach by painting you a scene in which you act. For those of you who are familiar with roleplaying games or story telling games, this is just like the story teller describing the scene and where you as a character act in it as well as interact with other characters. In order to learn the most and to be able to act the best of your abilities, the story teller need to paint the scene so vivid that you can imagine it yourself. The characters you interact with also need to be full of details, have an history and have agendas of their own.

When I took the class in Rapid Software Testing by James Bach, he had several exercises where he painted scenes that we interacted in. Some in the class were very unused to this, but James played the story well and coached them into acting. The best exercises were those that he had been practicing a long time that had lots of details and where you interacted with many different characters. Each character had a history of their own and he could tie them to individuals that he himself had interacted with in past projects. James laid out lots of traps that you were supposed to avoid or escape. He sometimes named what you did so that you can use it as an ability or heuristic in the future and more easily talk about what it was.

Some of you might be experienced with MUD:s, MUSH or similar. These are text based games that sometimes have a flare of role playing in them. As a Wizard (a programmer or game master) you sometimes had tools to you could utilize to make the scenes more vivid. You added *feelings* and smileys to your regular text messages to make a distinction between your moods. This has become a natural part of our language when chatting. Still, you can use it even more vividly when story telling in a chat.

How can you then apply your story telling skill to the test session? Here are a few ideas:

  • Paint the scene well before the session, with all characters, the mission etc
  • As a group of participants, what is your role? Are you a team? Do you know each other from before? How were you gathered? If there is a mix of skill and experience, how do you explain that? How do you intend to act it out? If you are experienced will you act in a different way so that the traps laid out will give a better learning experience for the in-experienced ones? It is good if this is defined before the session start.
  • Put more details in the characters. Let them have names, titles and a brief history. It will make the decision making, interaction and role playing in the scene alot better.
  • As a participant, when asking questions be clear to whom of the characters you talk to.
  • As a session leader, when asked questions be clear on which character that answer.
  • As a session leader, be clear when you want to give out general information about the scene, information about the characters in it or things that the characters notice as one “voice”.
  • As a session leader, use the power of story telling such as “Meanwhile somewhere else … ” where you paint a scene to show things that happen outside the scope of the camera. This is a good trick to bring even more detail and power to the story being played out. Visualizing what you do with the camera such as zooming in or out can also paint a more interesting scene.
  • As a session leader, do you want someone to act test lead so that they can practise leadership and organisational skills? If so, perhaps coach them into the story and scene a bit before hand.
  • When chatting add feelings and moods to your regular chat message so that you can roleplay differences in what you say, as hidden messages between the lines.

I understand that there is a limited time issue both for preparation and when actually doing the session, but doing some of these things might help to some extent. Who knows, you might learn more?

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