Putting your life to the Test

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The Independent Culture
I SEEM to be going through a period of wild commercial fecundity at the moment, coming up with new ideas every day. There was the Bastard School, where you go to learn to be horrid, and the machine to take the capers out of cocktail anchovies; the computerised cocktail-dispenser; the Write-U-R self-correcting combination Biro-and-spell-checker, and its companion, Write On fugitive paper, guaranteed to erase any embarrassing communications such as declarations of love, resignations, threats to sue and cheques (available in a range of strengths from 30 minutes to 10 years).

Last night alone, in the interval between waking up screaming after a nasty dream in which I had been assaulted by the French poet Rognon (a huge kidney-shaped thing on one spindly white leg, like a ureter) and blacking out from mental enervation, I invented the self-bleaching toilet, the non-lacerating Plasticine zip, the BoomBlaster (amplifies and feeds back the sound into those Ford cars with blacked-out windows and huge bass speakers, causing them to implode with a wet splash), the Gentleman's Portable Muckraker (an on-line device which will access embarrassing information about whoever you happen to be dealing with), self-programming spectroscopic washing powder, the disposable razor with built-in aftershave (choice of fragrance including Grebo, Sarge, Pansy and Executive), the Self-Retaining Condom with Miracle Velcro Ring (Yes! Enjoy the afterglow without clum- sy "I-know-it's-there-somewhere" fumbling!) and the gyroscopically stabilised coffee mug, not to mention my scheme to register the and symbols, henceforth to be referred to as "" and "".

And a good thing too, because the Huge Computer Game which has occupied so much of my time over the last two years is about to come to an end. The programmers, at the time of writing, have put themselves in purdah and are sitting closeted in their room, peering at their screens with mad red eyes and occasionally screaming like jackals as they find Just One Last Tiny Bug. By the time you read this, they will have frozen the code and burnt the gold master, or, to put it less dramatically, they will have said, "Bugger it. Seems fine to us. Let's make a copy and send it off," and gone home for a shower.

So it's all over, and I'll be needing some other source of income, some other method of spending my time ... although, actually, it isn't all over, really, because now, like all computer games, it goes to The Testers, a group of American people who sit in windowless rooms, picking nits. It is The Testers who are the final arbiters, and they are truly relentless. To be a Tester, you need superhuman patience and a warped mind. Testers don't just play the game and see if (a) it's fun and (b) it works. They torture it. They send in reports saying, "If you try to tear the Parrot's head off and stick it in the lightbulb socket in the main lobby, you can't," and it's no use saying, "But nobody would ever try to do that," because they reply, quite reasonably, that they just did try to do that, and it didn't work.

Anyone who has been involved, however peripherally, in the composition of computer games hates The Testers, even though they are ultimately the guardians of the gamesmiths' reputations and pockets. You spend hours crafting the gags and The Testers complain about the interface. You get geniuses in to do the art direction and The Testers moan about the appearance of the little dialogue boxes which say things like "Your Computer Is On Fire And It's Really, Really Not Our Fault But This Game Will Now Quit". The Testers have cold merciless eyes and remind me of the eponym of an epigrammatic poem by a boy called Guy Cook (at least he was a boy when I was at school with him; probably a man now, I should think, evolution being what it is). The poem was called "Schoolmaster" and it went:

I gave him the poem. He said

"There is no 'e' in 'argument',"

And gave it back.

The trouble is that, while one may legitimately sneer at such schoolmasters, one may not sneer at The Testers. The Testers are always right. The Testers are dispassionate. And the awful thing is, The Testers are essential.

But how unfair that it is only computer gamesmiths who have access to The Testers; how absurd that there should be such a safety device for an entertainment medium, but none for the infinitely more serious and potentially catastrophic matter of our own actual lives. Which is why I intend to set up LifeTest, Inc: "Testing For Life". A LifeTest consultancy will be available for a small one-time fee, or, if you are a bit of an arse with a perennial tendency to screw everything up, you will be able, for a modest retainer, to have your own Personal LifeTester on 24-hour standby. Using a combination of sophisticated cognitive techniques, movie- style plot evaluation, computerised modelling, intuition, experience and raw prejudice, LifeTest will run an exhaustive test-to-destruction analysis on your current plans and report back to you with a go/no-go decision. It is far better than the current system, which requires that you marry Deirdre, take the new job, decide on the Rover, join a gym, dye your hair or have a baby, and only then, having realised your mistake and screeched "Oh pants!", can you rush off to a "counsellor" and get your head patted.

LifeTest will change all that. At last, you will have instant access to pre-emptive counselling. Prepare for that disaster before it happens! Wave goodbye to ugly domestic errors! Make religious scruples a thing of the past! Yes - even now, highly paid CGI programmers are hand-crafting the QuidNunc on-line questionnaire, which will interactively cover all areas of human doubt and endeavour, enabling YOU, the CUSTOMER, to provide your LifeTester with all the information needed to test YOUR new life- choice. You know it makes sense. At least, it will do, once we've ironed out the bugs.

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