Minesweeper: The Little Masterpiece
Since Tetris, few games have successfully been reduced to their most abstract elements. While video and computer games increase in design complexity and graphic detail, the tendency to be predictable has remained essentially the same. The magic mushrooms are always hidden in the same blocks, and the aliens are always hiding behind the same steel doors. With increasingly narrative (and linear) game design, replay value seems to diminish. In fact, replaying a finished game becomes a mere test of memory. However, by reducing games to their most abstract elements, random mathematical properties could mean endless replay value. Doesn’t this sound revolutionary?
No, this is nothing new. Actually, the older the game, the more abstract it tends to be. One of the first arcade games, Pong, was an abstract tennis game (Nolan Bushnell is given credit for the 70’s game, but the concept had been around for several years prior). An even more abstract game came along with Tetris (1985), Alexey Pajitnov’s magnum opus. Nevertheless, few people give much thought to Microsoft’s little Windows pack-in, Minesweeper. Forget Halo. I contest that Minesweeper is the greatest game ever invented!
It comes down to this: you have a grid containing a number of mines. Your goal is to uncover all the squares without mines. If you uncover a square containing a mine, it is game over for you. First off, this is much more realistic than most first-person shooters, in which you can survive hand-grenades, machine guns, and rock launchers. But the real joy is the pure, abstract strategy that Minesweeper demands. By determining probabilities and finding patterns, as in Tetris, you can race the clock to find all the mines. You are not inhibited by a contrived walking speed of some military avatar, because you have no on-screen presence. Mind versus math, and perhaps a little dexterity. How much more abstract can you get?
If you’ve never played, you might be confused by all the little numbers and symbols. The numbers refer to how many mines are in the surrounding squares. Since there are no uncovered squares to begin with, you will have to take a few wild guesses. Once you have a small area, you will begin to notice patterns. Many patterns are obvious giveaways where a mine is. For example, if a square says “3” and there are only three adjacent squares, those must contain mines. Mark the squares with a flag (by right clicking on them) and continue.
I could provide a comprehensive strategy guide for Minesweeper, but wouldn’t that spoil your fun? Try it for yourself; this little masterpiece may surprise you!