Last week, we wrote about Microsoft Solitaire, a digital version of the card game that been included in almost every single Windows release since 3.0 in 1990. However, another causal game that Microsoft also launched in 1990, but not inside Windows itself, became nearly as popular.
Of course, we are talking about Microsoft Minesweeper, which most people just refer to as Minesweeper. The game is simple to play but, like most great and addictive video games, is hard to master. The premise is simple. You see a grid of squares. Some have mines. The object is to click on every square that doesn’t have a mine. Some squares have numbers that show how many mines are adjacent to that square.
While there were simple video games released before 1998 that were similar to Minesweeper in terms of gameplay, GameSetWatch says that it was the work of two men at Microsoft, Robert Donner and Curt Johnson, who came up with the game that so many of us know and love today. Johnson has said that he was inspired by another game when he and Donner came up with Minesweeper, but he claimed he has forgotten what that game actually was.
In any case, the simple design of Minesweeper, combined with the use of logic and deduction to avoid hitting a mine, was the perfect time sink. In 1990, the game was included in a software game collection, Microsoft Entertainment Pack 1 which also had a Microsoft Windows version of Tetris. However, the game didn’t become mega-popular for PC users until 1992, when Microsoft added Minesweeper to every copy of Windows 3.1.
According to Business Insider, Microsoft co-founder and then-CEO Bill Gates quickly became obsessed with Minesweeper. Microsoft product manager Bruce Ryan stated that Gates had uninstalled the game from his own PC because it was taking up too much of his time to play.
Ryan stated that at one point his team created a macro for Minesweeper that clicked on one corner of the game’s grid and then reloaded the game. This macro kept this up until it found a way to solve the game with just one click.
Ryan reportedly then emailed Gates, stating “Sorry, you got eclipsed by a macro.” Gates wrote back, stating, “When machines can do things faster than people, how can we retain our human dignity?”. We do have to wonder, with the rise of AI, if he still feels this way,
With the addition of Minesweeper in Windows 3.1, followed by several other Windows releases, the game continued to get popular. It also ran into some controversies due to its name. The Cutting Room Floor reports that in 1999, a group in Italy got together to protest the game, feeling it was offensive to real victims of minefields. Microsoft renamed the game Flower Fields for the Italian version of Windows 2000, ME, and XP, with people now uncovering flowers instead of mines.
For the version of Minesweeper that was released for Windows Vista, Microsoft decided to give the game’s development over to a third-party team at Oberon Media. Windows 8 was the first version of the OS that did not have Minesweeper bundled with it. Instead, a free version of the game was added as a downloadable app and that’s where it remains today.
It includes the “classic” game but also includes a story-themed “Adventure mode” along with other features and, unfortunately, some ads as well unless you pay to get rid of them.
Perhaps one day Microsoft will simply include the classic versions of Minesweeper and Solitaire in a future version of Windows with no ads. We suspect both will be massive time sinks all over again.