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The Penultimate Word

The national pastime. The greatest game ever played. The sport of kings. All these phrases and more have been used to describe it. I, myself, am an avid player and fan. That’s right, Minesweeper: the finest procrastination tool ever invented. For those of you unfortunate enough to be on Apple or Linux operating systems, or “Broken Windows” as I call them, allow me to explain.

Minesweeper is a simple computer game. Players, or “sweepers,” as they are known in the international Minesweeper community, click on boxes which may or may not contain — you guessed it — mines. If the box contains a mine, it will explode, killing the sweeper, whose life force is represented by a small smiley face in the center of the status bar above the playing field. If, however, every mine is marked by a highly specialized process known as “right-clicking,” a variant on clicking, the sweeper wins and his smiley face dons a pair of aviator-style sunglasses rivaling the likes of Tom Cruise and Charles Lindbergh.

But Minesweeper is more than a straightforward puzzle game. If played correctly, it can become a game of intrigue, mystery, action and, under the appropriate circumstances, romance. Just imagine you’re machete-ing your way through the jungle. Your shirt is ripped open to the third button, exposing your swarthy chest hair. You, by the way, have chiseled features and a strong chin, and are much better-looking than you are in real life. Having just evaded a pack of wild gorillas and a pack of wild guerillas, you stumble upon a minefield. “Can’t go under it, can’t go around it, you gotta go through it,” you think to yourself. You sit in despair, despairing, but a voice sings down to you, as if it were an angel, or a large Viking woman. You look up to see the face of a beautiful maiden, who says, “If you can mark all the mines in this field without stepping on one, I shall marry you. And give you these sunglasses. But be wary, for should you miss and step on a mine, Beelzebub will have your soul.” Now that’s high stakes.

There’s a reason Minesweeper is the king of procrastination games. It’s the only one involving violence, and that’s what America loves the most. Take a look at Hollywood’s big box office hits this week. Violence, violence, violence, wacky dog flick. But there’s always a wacky dog flick. Now go ahead; open up a window of FreeCell, Hearts or Solitaire. You can only play for so long before you get bored with the cards. Even next-generation procrastination games like Spider Solitaire, 3D Pinball and Internet Backgammon can’t hold a candle to Minesweeper. Why? Because Minesweeper implies death and destruction.

Minesweeper was invented by programmer Robert Donner. In 1989 he began working for Microsoft, where he joined forces with fellow employee Curt Johnson in working on the game. In an email to metanoodle.com/ minesweeper, Donner says that the original version, which coincides more with my personal vision of the game, had a cursor shaped like a foot. “It changed into a bloody stump with dripping blood when you stepped on a mine,” Donner states. Now we see the real bloody truth behind the game.

If you think you’re strange for spending hours playing Minesweeper when you should be writing a paper, do not despair. Sites like metanoodle.com/minesweeper and planet-minesweeper.com list rankings for best weekly times and world Minesweeper records. Canadian Damien Moore, administrator of Metanoodle, claims to hold the world record in expert-level Minesweeper with a time of only 40 seconds. But Planet Minesweeper lists an Australian, Dion Tiu, and a German, Oliver Scheer, above him with record times of 39 seconds. My best friend, a fervent sweeper in his own right, claims a record of 152 seconds. I, myself, was cursed with a classic mistake: I accidentally reset my own high scores one day when the reset button popped up right under my cursor. That fateful double-click cost me more tears than Bush’s reelection and the last episode of Legends of the Hidden Temple combined.

But it’s not about the high score. It’s about the good times and the memories and the love of the game. Some people play for glory, some people play for fame, some people even play for money on sites like worldwinner.com. These people really don’t get it. Until you’ve sat down to write a 300-word essay on your favorite color and taken 14 hours to do so, you don’t know Minesweeper like I know Minesweeper. Until you’ve taken a day and a half to clean your room, when the only mess was a deck of cards and the instructions to a Ouija board, you don’t know Minesweeper like I know Minesweeper. And until you’ve wasted three hours researching a 117 KB computer game for your weekly column in The Daily Free Press, you don’t know Minesweeper like I know Minesweeper.

Ethan Rosenberg, a freshman in the College of Fine Arts, is a weekly columnist for The Daily Free Press. He can be reached at [email protected]

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