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It’s quiet inside the room. You look straight ahead, the eyes never flinching. Your breath is coming out in soft sighs that not even you can hear. Your hand is shaking as you move it forward ever so slightly, carefully maneuvering and manipulating the object in your hand. The price of failure is steep, the implications and stress are nerve-wracking. Should you slip up, you won’t be losing patience; you’ll be losing a tiny bit of your very sanity. With such things hanging in the balance, it’s no wonder why you’re taking this task so slow and steady. Yet no matter how good you think you are, you’ll screw up. One false step will activate the hidden mine, instantly killing any chances you thought of attaining that precious high score. And when the bomb does go off, you’ll still have that stupid smiley face staring back at you, practically taunting you to begin a new game of Minesweeper.

No worries.

This incredibly addictive and challenging game has been around for well over a decade, drawing in gamers with ease. Unlike many of today’s top class PC games, Minesweeper hails from a time when the personal computer didn’t have much to offer its new owner. Sure, there were things like a word processor, a paint program, and a few other things, but they weren’t going to grab the attention of the average user. Thus Microsoft developed a few primitive games to include with their initial package, thus ensuring that their new customers would have something to do in between scribbling with a mouse pad or typing up miscellaneous documents. But just like its other brethren, Minesweeper held a special quality that could keep people fixated on their computer screens, playing round after round with no end in sight. And despite its old age and simplistic style, this game has remained one of the most popular and widely used game programs the world over.

When you begin a game, a gray grid will pop up on the screen. There will be a big yellow smiley face toward the top, flanked by two number counters. Gripping your trusty mouse firmly in your hand, you’ll move the little arrow over one of the boxes in the grid and click it. The box will disappear, the replaced by a number ranging from 1 to 5. With no other explanation in sight, you’ll select some other random box, click it, and begin the process anew. You’ll continue to do so for a varied amount of time, going about your blissfully ignorant way. However, not all is what it seems. Lurking within that deceptively simple array of boxes lay an enemy far more sinister and potent than your average video game villain. When you click on a certain box, you’ll accidentally activate a mine that was hidden beneath it. The bomb will go off, revealing the locations of the other traps and killing the innocent smiley face. And you won’t know why.

The tragedy could have been averted had you taken some steps to observe your surroundings. You know those numbers that show up when you click on a box? Those numbers signify how many mines are within the eight blocks surrounding the box you just chose. That means if you got a 1, there’s a single mine lurking in one of the squares above, below, right, left, or diagonal. Of course, you won’t know which box holds the weapon of not-so mass destruction, leaving you to carefully choose another box to select. Your next selection will reveal the location of more traps, which will eventually allow you to pinpoint the exact location of every bomb on the grid…or get you blown up in the process. If you think you’ve found the exact location of a mine, you can use your mouse to mark it for further suspicion. The number counter in the upper left corner of the screen shows how many mine markers are left to your disposal, while the other times your performance. Should you manage to mark all the mines correctly, you’ll beat the game, and be handsomely rewarded with a well-deserved high score. Once you’ve felt that you’ve mastered it, you can alter the difficulty level and give yourself a whole new challenge.

Oh dear.

It’s a game of wits and observation, a daunting task that will require most of your attention to play. You’ll be so utterly focused on counting those numbers and obsessing over which box to click, you’ll never even notice how utterly ugly this game truly is. The PC has access to so many different colors, yet this game utilizes five or six at most. Unlike the other Microsoft package games, Minesweeper doesn’t have any fancy playing cards or images to imitate. All it is a small gray grid marked out by a few lines, topped off with the red number counters. When he gets wiped out the explosion, the smiley face’s eyes will change into Xs, but you’ll probably restart another game too quickly to notice. But while this game is as bland as they come on the personal computer, the decent sound effects make up for it. A tiny tapping noise will be emitted with each passing second, a small reminder of your impending doom. Once you’ve accidentally set off a mine, the subsequent explosion will be loud and mildly realistic, jarring you from your comfy desk chair.

It may not be the prettiest game to ever grace the PC, but it gets the job done. In fact, it goes far beyond its duty as a primitive puzzle game. Its humble presentation hides a much greater quality just waiting to be discovered. There’s something about sitting down, clicking on boxes and hunting down mines that make it so incredibly addictive. The amount of attention and focus needed for this game is astounding, creating an inherent challenge that few people have the patience to undertake. This game invokes the obsessive tendencies lurking deep within us all, taking them by the throat and causing us hours of playing sessions. Yet Minesweeper remains, lying dormant in your Games file as you read this, as you pass it up for newer and supposedly better games. But if you’re in the need for something addictive to hold you over between big title releases, just remember that Minesweeper is just waiting to take you on.

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2005.

Gentle persuasion

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