Minesweeper, the classic puzzle game that comes with every Microsoft operating system has transcended time to become a staple in every puzzle gamers' list. The familiar block clicking and quantitative puzzle solving game is the pastime of students in class, people stuck inside on a rainy day, and even puzzle aficionados striving to get the best time on expert (which happens to be about 36 seconds). When one looks at the simple game mechanics of minesweeper (although not that simple since for a neophyte who does not know the rules of the game, the exposing of the blocks might seem downright random), one can see that it is relatively straightforward. The math involved is grade school level and it arguably takes little to no skill to beat. Getting record times, well, that's another story. Because of its simplicity and rather idle nature, Minesweeper certainly seems to supports the ideas of John Huizinga who said play was "superfluous" and "It is never a task". Even Roger Caillois said play was a "free and voluntary activity "and the aspects of Minesweeper certainly help to prove this definition. One could even go as far to say that Minesweeper is "of pure waste: waste of time, ingenuity, skill..." as Caillois put it. Minesweeper proponents would disagree but is it not true that Minesweeper is the game for the bored student who doesn't want to pay attention to the lecture? Or the lazy kid with the crappy computer and nothing else to do? Certainly Minesweeper is not the same type of "play" that involves the development of physical and mental faculties, which Huizinga mentioned as the driving force behind play for animals. There is the factor of math and thinking involved but it would be brazen to claim that there is any significant benefit from playing Minesweeper all day.
That being said, Minesweeper holds true many of the definitions of "play" and "games" that are set forth by Caillois, Huizinga, and Bernard Suits. Caillois mentions that play must be of "uncertain activity" and that "doubt must remain until the end". This is very much the case because, regardless of the player's skill, there is always that doubt that he could accidently click on a mine, or mistakenly analyze the numbers. Minesweeper also has the "boundaries of time and space" as Huizinga puts it, which is evident by the size of the board (which can vary), and the timer that continuously goes up. There are also the rules and means by which the end condition is achieved, which is to properly click the non-mined blocks and flag the mines so as to ultimately expose the locations of the mines.
However, Minesweeper is interesting in that it becomes, in terms of Caillois' games classifications, many different kinds of games according to the player. As mentioned, the goal is to eventually expose the locations of the mines by not clicking on them and appropriately exposing only the non-mines. In this case it is very much concerned with the "Ludus" (i.e. puzzle) type of game that Caillois says. Of course, often the minesweeper board will create a situation where winning ultimately relies on luck. In other words, it is impossible to use the number clues to figure out which remaining tiles are mines. Such an element of the game creates an "alea" or chance aspect. This could be applied to Suits' argument that games use rules and certain means to create a situation that inefficiently leads to the win condition. Realistically, it would be easier to use metal detectors to sweep the mines, or some other way. Using numbers can become slower and, as mentioned, based on luck. However, this is what makes the game a game, and the "Lusory Attitude" that Suits claims is required for game playing is ever so present in Minesweeper. Much like his argument of game playing, the joy of Minesweeper comes not from clearing the game, but rather how you get there.
Consider the competitive Minesweeper gamer who strives to hold the shortest time for beating, easy, medium, and expert. For this person, there is not so much joy from playing the game within the "lusory means/attitude", rather his joy comes from the achievement of the goal within the "lusory means/attitude", or in this case, a timer-based goal. For this person, the game is not as much the "Ludus" but also becomes a game of "Agon" or competition. He competes against himself, and others, to finish with the best time. Caillois says that there is certainly a "manifest relationship" between Ludus and Agon and that many games come with both. While Minesweeper certainly has both, it would be fair to say that for the competitor, the Ludus part of the game (the calculation, contrivance, and obstacles) becomes much more insignificant as they have probably already mastered these elements. Instead it is the fastest time, Agon, that drives them and becomes the main aspect of the play.
Minesweeper, although simple and addicting, is multi-layered in terms of what it represents to the player. Surely this argument could be made for many, if not all, games in which case the question of whether Huizinga, Caillois, and Suits' definitions of play and games properly defines Minesweeper. To be terse, Bernard Suits said it best, "They will show either that the definition is too broad or that it is too narrow,".
Huizinga, Johan. "Nature and significance of play as a cultural phenomenon." The Game Design
Reader: ARules of Play Anthology. Ed. Salen and Zimmerman. (Boston: MIT, 2006.)
Caillois, Roger. "The definition of play and the classification of games." The Game Design
Reader: ARules of Play Anthology.. Ed. Salen and Zimmerman. (Boston: MIT, 2006.)
Suits, Bernard. "Construction of a Definition." The Game Design Reader: ARules of Play
Anthology.. Ed. Salen and Zimmerman. (Boston: MIT, 2006.)
"Minesweeper Level Rankings" The Authoritative Minesweeper. 22 Sept 2009.<http://www.minesweeper.info/scorelists.html>