For years I thought Minesweeper was a horrible trick. It was hidden in a folder in Windows 95 called Games, but it didn’t look like any game I wanted to play (which was mostly Quake, at the time). Bonus side eyes for Spider Solitaire, which sounds more exciting than it is because of the word ‘spider’.
Coming to it years later I got hooked, trapped in a battle for leaderboard dominance against my dad. Minesweeper is a surprisingly decent time trial challenge, as you learn to spot certain number formations and use simultaneous left and right mouse clicks to instantly clear any safe spaces. It’s impressive to watch the grid taken at speed; I’m not amazing, but I’m faster than people who’ve only played it once, so it became my party trick at university. For my dad, it meant staring at the words ‘Keep up, old man’ forever emblazoned at the top of the leaderboard (expert difficulty, natch).
My interest waned with the shift to Windows Vista – they changed the design, removing the weird yellow face at the top of the board. I used to love that guy, nervously pulling his little ‘ooooh’ expression whenever you were about to click on a square. He bought a sense of theatre to the proceedings, an built-in audience for risky plays. Ditching him was a disaster. Now, Minesweeper has to be downloaded as an Windows 10 app and it’s ghastly – no smiley face and they’ve added a Story mode that tries to marry Minesweeper with Spelunky. Yuck.
Writing that has reminded me that Charles ‘Broken Sword’ Cecil was once working on an adventure game adaptation of Minesweeper. It was part of the OneBigGame initiative, where developers would produce a game specifically for the charity, and his was said to take us into the backstory of Windows classic timewaster.
There are a lot of unanswered questions: How did the mines get there? Who is the minesweeper – is it the yellow face at the top, or is he just an observer? Why are they doing the job with such vague detection hardware? Where did the yellow face get the most excellent sunglasses that he dons when you clear the board? If that sounds too flimsy, then it could also go the way of The Hurt Locker, tackling the psychology of a maniac who decides to do his lethal job as a race against the clock.
Why not play the classic game in your web browser and ponder these big questions with me.