10 Life Lessons Learned From Playing Minesweeper

First things first… I don’t like minesweeper. I really don’t… I loveminesweeper.  Like a middle-of-the-road drinking problem, it is simultaneously the foundation of my peace and the bane of my existence. When the world seems imperfect, the minefield reminds me that we are guided through existence by rigid, infallible rules. It is flawless in that way. Through my years of sweeping, I have come to realize that minesweeper has a lot of things to teach us about life. Here are ten such things.

1. Good things — not bad things — are most often what keep us from doing great things. There are four different levels of difficulty in minesweeper — easy, medium, expert and custom — and it is often comfortable success at one level that keeps a person from challenging themselves on a higher level. In life, most of us are not held back by our vices or legitimately bad things; all too often, we relinquish the pursuit of spectacular dreams in light of our noble but moderate successes.

2. There is no trick or gimmick to successfully getting started. In minesweeper, you begin games by randomly clicking to find openings from which you can work. There is no strategy for success in the beginning. In life, there is no playbook for becoming the person you want to become. What’s more is that unless you make a conscious effort to dive in and work toward your goals despite not knowing your precise path, you will never even set out to do anything, let alone accomplish something.

3. No matter how much you’ve honed your skills, and no matter how well you’ve done in any past situation, there will always be circumstances that are out of your control. Almost inevitably, you’ll get to the end of a minesweeper board with only a handful of mines to go, and you’ll run into a situation where you must blindly mark one mine between two boxes. Your former successes and current skill level have nothing to do with whether you win or lose the game. In life, sometimes we work very diligently and skillfully, only to find that the result of our particular situation is out of our hands.

4. In most situations, imperfect knowledge is all you have to work with. We can only use what we know to try and deduce things about that which we do not. Sometimes, we must assess situations and make the best decisions we can without being sure of the outcome, lest we get stuck and stay small.

5. While situations may seem to have purpose or design, they do not. Designs or patterns in the mines are purely coincidental and are not indicative of an overarching design or purpose in the mine field. Sometimes things that happen can cause us to look back and impose a false sense of purpose or intentionality to the entire process. These serendipitous situations are naturally occurring without intent, and we should not impose a false sense of order unnecessarily.

6. All aspects of our lives have an interconnectedness, varying greatly in degree. In a minesweeper field, the placement of each mine affects the outcome of the entire board, resulting in a different feel for each game. In our lives, all of the things that happen to us are linked together in a way that forms the narrative of who we are. Keeping the previous point in mind, this organic connectedness is an emergent property of the relationship of things, affecting interpersonal relationships, the things that happen to us, and the ways we live. Everything we do affects every other thing we do.

7. Understanding things conceptually is important, but it is no substitute for experience. I could sit with someone and discuss strategy for various minesweeper scenarios for hours on end. I could explain how a 1-2-1 on a straight edge will always indicate split mines, or how a 1-2-2-1 always indicates a cluster, but the best way for someone to learn minesweeper is to sit down and actually play. Sometimes we get too wrapped up in training or trying to complete our knowledge of a particular area rather than just jumping in and learning as we go. There is value in training and knowledge, but understanding “why” is fruitless if we do not understand “how.”

8. No matter what your skill level is or what you’ve accomplished, there is always someone–often many someones–who are exponentially better than you. I do not mean this to sound as negative as it may first appear. I say this because it speaks to the importance of maintaining a healthy perspective of self. I can sweep an expert minefield (99 mines) in around 100 seconds. The first time I broke the 120 second barrier, I really thought I had to be approaching the top of the minesweeper community, until I found out that thousands of people produce sub-80 second scores. In fact, the current world record is an astounding 37 seconds. While we should not downplay our accomplishments in life, it is important to maintain a healthy perspective about who we are and how much we have to grow.

9. Seemingly unimportant or inconsequential decisions sometimes turn out to be much more than what they appear and vice versa. In minesweeper, you never know which area will turn out to be a crucial selection in winning a game. Sometimes working on a small lead in a corner can open up an entire board, and working through a large opening in the middle can dead end quickly. In life, we make meaningless, small decisions all the time, but sometimes those decisions can have larger consequences–either positive or negative–than we anticipated.

10. Recovering from failure is a process that is entirely up to you.In minesweeper, you start a new game by clicking the smiley face at the top. While it may not be as easy as clicking a smiley face to rebound after failure or tragedy, the point remains that after a situation has affected you, whether or not you choose to recover quickly is entirely up to you. If you don’t like something about yourself, only you can make the decision to enforce positive changes in your life. The smiley face will never click itself.