Microsoft's Minesweeper: Develops Problem Solving and Critical Thinking Skills


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Introduction: Psychic powers? That is what an observer might think while watching someone find the bombs while playing Minesweeper; however, it is really a skill acquired through experience.

I. Minesweeper Background Information

II. Minesweeper Game Details

A. Beginning the Game

B. Types of spaces

C. Levels of Play

III. Minesweeper Develops These Skills

A. Poblem Solving

B. Critical Thinking Skills

IV. How Minesweeper Is Useful In Life

A. Job Environment

B. Critical Thinking Skills

Conclusion: Minesweeper has been proven to be a good alternative for achieving the crucial problem solving and critical thinking skills that are needed in life. Problem solving is an asset to the person who is able to apply it to any given situation.

Microsoft's Minesweeper: Develops Problem Solving

And Critical Thinking Skills

Psychic powers? That is what an observer might think while watching someone find the bombs while playing Minesweeper; however, it is really a skill acquired through experience. Microsoft's Minesweeper is a game of strategy that is a mind-boggling puzzle to a beginner, but it can teach a player the process of problem solving and logical deduction. In addition it is a challenging game that is complex and difficult to learn, and therefore it develops critical thinking skills.

Microsoft's Minesweeper was created by Robert Donner in 1989. (Donner) Prior to this there was a game in which a player had to click on a grid of squares and try to get form one side to the other without being blown up. A modern version of this game is known as Bomb Sweeper. It probably influenced Donner with some of the ideas for his own game. Bill Gates liked Donner's game so much that he included it as one of several logic based games in the Windows Operating System. Donner may not have realized that people would find his game so entertaining.

The game begins with a left click of the mouse on the minefield. A minefield is a grid of cells that contain randomly placed mines (see figure 1). The minefield in a beginner game is nine by nine cells and has a total of ten hidden bombs. The main objective of the game is to locate all of the bombs without exploding one since the game ends when that happens.

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Both skill and luck are involved in playing the game. This is evident with the first click because a lot of space could be uncovered or just a little.

The first move a player makes is always safe because it would be no fun to lose on the first move. Next, a player must uncover enough of the minefield to locate a bomb. Players encounter three types of cells during the game. The first kind of cell is a "numbered" square. A "numbered" square indicates how many mines are in the eight spaces surrounding it. The second kind of cell is a "blank" square, which means there are no mines around it. The third type of cell is a bomb. A player must process information from the types of cells he uncovers to locate the bombs. After the first move, if a player randomly clicks on spaces, it is possible to set a mine off and lose the game.

Instead of randomly clicking on the mines a player must develop a strategy using problem solving skills that he/she learns through trial and error. Dr. Mark L. Mitchell introduces the five ordered steps of problem solving in his website: define the problem, generate solutions, evaluate alternatives, act, and evaluate. (Mitchell) To define the problem in Minesweeper is to locate the bombs. This means that he must generate solutions by learning what the numbers mean through a process of trial and error. For example, a player considering the vertical column with a one, two, two, one, and one on the right hand side of Figure Two might use the following reasoning: the top "one" means that this square is touching a bomb in one of the two unrevealed spaces it touches. The "two" below the "one" means that there are two bombs in the tree spaces that this cell touches. Thus the third unrevealed space has to be a bomb because there can only be one bomb in the two unrevealed spaces that the top "one" touches. Additionally, because the third cell is proven to be a bomb, the cell below it can not be a bomb because a one is next to it. In addition, the second cell down has to be a bomb because the fourth and fifth unrevealed cells in that column have been proven not to be. In conclusion, the five ordered steps have been used to determine which unrevealed cells are combs.

Once a player has mastered the basic concepts and reasoning, he or she can move on to more difficult levels of play. Minesweeper has three levels of play, and the option of a custom game. The first difficulty setting is known as "beginner" and it is the most easily conquered of the three. Progressing in difficulty is "intermediate" which consists of sixteen by sixteen spaces and it has forty bombs. The last and hardest setting of Minesweeper is "expert." An "expert" game consists of ninety-nine bombs in a minefield that is sixteen by thirty spaces. Once a player masters these three levels of play, he or she can choose to play a custom game. The player is allowed to determine the size of the minefield, and he or she controls the difficulty of the game (more bombs/less bombs). Minesweeper has many levels of play that make the game fun and educational.

People who play Minesweeper for fun and enjoyment may not realize that they are learning a new process of thought. The skills the player acquires are reasoning skills that a person can use in all real life situations. For instance, Inductive reasoning is a skill acquired through trial and error. An example included in Mission: Critical is, "I've noticed previously that every time I kick a ball up, it comes back down, so I guess this next time when I kick it up, it will come back down, too." (Mission: Critical) Minesweeper players can begin to recognize patterns through the same process. Together with the problem solving skills, the inductive reasoning acquired through Minesweeper educates the mind in valuable ways.

These skills are extremely valued in the work force, however they are scarce. Research indicates that critical thinking and problem Solving skills are not typically addressed in the classroom. (Problem Based Learning) Qac15, a High School graduate, agrees to this claim. Most of his classes were simply recall or basic comprehension. Since students are not learning these fundamental skills at school, they are shocked when they enter the real world. Rather that happens to be college or the workforce. Problem solving skills typically are most often learned through life situations. Since these skills are not being taught in high schools, employers are paying handsomely for people with them.

Minesweeper is a good motivational tool and it also fights boredom. For instance, a player may feel good whenever he or she defeats the game. Since a player feels good about defeating the game, he or she may be more likely to solve other problems in real life the same way. Playing games such as Minesweeper are a good source of relaxation. However, it is possible to get carried away, and become addicted. As long as the player does not lose touch with reality it is a fun game to kill a few hours with.

Although, the game was intended for pleasure, it has the ability to provide the player with so much more, In playing Minesweeper, the player experience the joy of winning or the frustration of defeat. The challenge is then offered again to the player by using another course of strategy to obtain success. The game in itself is an enjoyable learning experience. Minesweeper has been proven to be a good alternative for achieving the crucial problem solving and critical thinking skills that are needed in life. A person is then able to use these same skills in life settings, school or work related. Problem solving is an asset to the person who is able to apply it to any given situation.


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