Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Of Mines and Mavis

Kevin Staszkow once told me that the two basic games of the Microsoft fun pack – Minesweeper and Solitaire – were developed to help new computer users learn to use the mouse. Since most people who were operating Windows 3.0 or 3.1 during the early 1990s were new to the computer, the games put the fun in functional. Minesweeper was intended to help users learn to make accurate clicks as well as to differentiate between the left click and the right click. Dragging cards across the screen in a game of Solitaire supposedly helped users learn to drag and drop.

I have no idea whether this is true, but the concept seems plausible. The only weird thing is that one maneuver in Minesweeper involves clicking the left and right mouse button simultaneously; I cannot think of any other instance in which you’d want to click both mouse buttons at once. But it was Windows 3.0, and who knows what Microsoft thought the future would look like?

In any case, the aforementioned trivia, despite its ambiguity, is what justified me teaching my year 12s to play Minesweeper today; that and my hopes of finding a protégé on whom I can impart my skills. Also, I have the year 12s for 2 periods in a row on Wednesdays, and while we’re stuck learning about computer theory, it’s nice to give them something fun to do.

Yes, I know… Not all of you out there could find Minesweeper that appealing that you’d want to play for more than 5 or 10 minutes. And a number of groups found Mavis Beacon and Typer Shark more appealing, and who could blame them? But there were groups that did play Minesweeper the whole time… And their mouse-using skills are tip-top.

The program that I use to keep the students’ computers in line during the day allows me the ability to limit the applications a student can use. Since most classes are doing typing right now, the program is set to limit their computers to only running Mavis Beacon during most of the day. If you click on anything else, the computer shows you a conciliatory hourglass for a moment, and then sits there waiting for you to go back to Mavis Beacon.

For some reason, the program could not (or would not?) find the winmine.exe file, and so I could not isolate Minesweeper so students would only be allowed to play it. So I had to give them access to the whole computer, which was a little scary. They didn’t go too crazy though. Several explored the Start Menu, and when that got boring, they found the other games in the Games folder.

I could see some value in Minesweeper and Solitaire and even Spider Solitaire, but I could not justify Pinball. Incidentally, Spider Solitaire was a huge hit, though it had nothing to do with the game or the challenge. I’m pretty sure it’s the spider on the icon that was a huge selling point for most groups.

It made me nervous at first, but as I watched them, but then I figured letting them explore is easily as justified as having them play Minesweeper.

In the end, only one group was able to complete a beginner-level Minesweeper game. It took them 44 seconds. Not half bad for it being their first time with the game. I’m not sure if that qualifies as protégé status quite yet though.

I hope you’re enjoying Minesweeper as much as I am. Some pictures below.

Rockin' the Minesweeper.

The first group to win! Entering her name into the top scores.

Posing with the record. Awesome.

1 comment:

Eric Carr said...

Wow! Look at all those old school references! I haven't played Minesweeper in a long I fired it up and it lasted four clicks and I was done. So thanks for the memories! Tell Mavis I said Hi!