Everyone has their go-to game for when you want to turn your brain off a little bit. For my wife, it’s solitaire. For others, it’s something like Tetris or Bubble Galaxy. For me, it was always Minesweeper.
Back in my college days, before I would “one more song” myself until 2AM like I do now, I would “one more game” myself with Minesweeper. It shipped standard with all copies of Windows and at first, I didn’t bother to try to figure it out. It didn’t seem like it would be my cup of tea at all and it sat unplayed for quite some time before I finally started playing it in the fall of 1992. The idea behind the game is to flag all the mines hidden on the board, using only numbers to guide you. The numbers indicate how many mines there are in the squares surrounding the numbers. So many nights I would sit there and mindlessly try to find the mines hidden beneath those gray squares, usually failing to flag them all before accidentally clicking on one. I got really good at the beginner level, took a little longer on the intermediate level but eventually beat it.
Then I got to the expert level. With 99 bombs in a 30 x 16 playing field, it took weeks, if not months, for me to beat this level. And even after I beat it, doing so was pretty much the exception to the rule. Forget about trying to beat the clock – just trying to clear the board was a tall order without trying to beat your last time. Even though only 20% of the board contains a bomb, it seemed like no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find all 99 without inadvertently uncovering one.
The thing about Minesweeper is that it really is all about maintaining your concentration, with a little bit of lucky guessing thrown in just for the hell of it. It seems like every time I played, I would be down to having to guess between one of two squares, one containing a mine and the other not. Invariably, I would always choose poorly. I think that at least part of that boils down to the fact that by the time you have found 90 mines, your brain is starting to unravel a little bit. It’s easy to make a mistake as it is, but never so much as when you have 10% of the bombs left to find and you have to try to guess where they are. Early in the game, a blind click can lead to a huge opening up of the board, but at the end, most of those outs have been used.
I hadn’t played Minesweeper for years, and then when I traded in PC for Mac last year, I figured my days of Minesweeper were behind me. I found a game called Zombie Minesweeper for the iPad a while back, but it didn’t have the same experience as the original did (not sure why I expected it to, the gameplay was totally different.) But a few weeks ago, I got curious and looked in the App Store and there it was. So now, when I’m supposed to be reading or doing something productive right before bed, I can be found “one more game”-ing myself once again. I haven’t sprung for the 2 bucks it costs for the full app because I’m cheap that way, so I can’t play the expert level yet, but one of these days I’ll do it. For now, I’m content to play the intermediate level with 40 bombs, because 90% of the time I lose anyway.
It must be something about insisting on playing games that I keep losing because it seems to be a common thread with me as far as iPhone games go. My friend Matt kicks my ass at virtually every iPhone game there is, yet I keep playing. I guess I’m a glutton for punishment. But I think part of it, too, is that when I play Minesweeper, I commune with the 20 year-old version of me that played it so feverishly and constantly. I’ve discovered over the last few months that talking to that part of myself (which started with my birthday letter) and hearing him out goes a long way toward quieting my anxiety. It helps me to be in touch with the part of me that just wants a friend so he doesn’t have to sweep for mines on a Friday night alone in a dorm room.
Good thing I still like to play Minesweeper and, much like the Atari games of my youth, I still kind of suck at it.