“Being a software tester in the video game industry is its own kind of augmented reality. When you work 80 hours a week, days bleed into each other, and your mind starts to bleed. Months would go by and I wouldn’t see anyone, and then I would resurface from my job cave. This was my life at 5th Cell, where I secured my first salaried overtime-exempt position in video game testing.
Those days, I don't remember having a sense of self. I had no willpower—the work dictated my days. I had no energy to cook so I ate out a lot. Jimmy John's was ordered into the office so many times that I don't know if I dislike the place or the memories just give it a bad taste. At times my back would begin to hurt. At 25 years old, I started walking like I was 60. The individual days had no meaning; meaning was derived from the project. Everything must be implemented and tested, and the quantity of work was the only professional meaning that anyone could siphon. I remember the minutely sublime moments when some of us would leave work to walk to a pastry place just to not be in that office building. As dramatic as that seems, those walks helped to remind me that there were people outside of those in the office.
I disappeared, simple as that. Your body decomposes from the stress and bad food, and your social skills disappear. It was demoralizing.
You may wonder why anyone would do this. Making games has been a dream of mine since I was a kid. I just never knew someone would take advantage of my passions. It’s incredibly rare to get a salaried position testing video games—something like one out of a thousand—so I felt like I had achieved a dream when I got that job. I never spoke up because I didn’t want to rock the boat. Those who did speak up were seen as venomous, and they were let go.
5th Cell is no longer in business, and I am with a new game testing company in Bellevue. I’ve been with this company for a year. I work a forty-hour work week, and I receive pay for overtime, which only happens if there is an emergency. With working a forty-hour work week I’m able to do things. I’m able to live a life and work on my own project—I’m working on my own video game. I have a social life. I hang out with friends.
I have a better balance between work and life, but life still requires money, and my job doesn’t pay all that well. I’m making the same amount of money that I made at 5th Cell ten years ago. I’m living with roommates, and I’m 32. I don’t have the money to go out. I have medical bills, and I’m paying student loans bills. Life is now available, but life has its own weight to bear.
I’m a twelve-year veteran in testing, and I only make $15 an hour. It feel pompous to say this, but I should be paid a minimum of $60K a year based on my knowledge and years of experience. To be quite terse, that feels like shit. It feels like, if anything, I’ve wasted the prime time of my youth. All my passion has built up to having two roommates with a job that doesn’t pay to my experience. Companies will never pay that, though, because they are not interested in the quality of your work when it comes to video game testing. They just want as many bodies as possible in the seats. I know I’m being sardonic, but this is the nature of the business. We are seen as cheap labor that they will exploit and overwork. It is very difficult to be seen and treated as a human.
— Victor, software tester, Bellevue