Solitaire is as common to PC’s as notepad, internet explorer, and questions from trendier friends asking why you haven’t gotten a mac yet. (They’re so much easier to use, and they last longer. (Shut up, Josh, I don’t want one.)) Ever since Windows 3.1, it’s been the primary program of the Games folder. There haven’t been changes to the functional process of the game since its first iteration, excepting a slight graphical overhaul from Windows Vista onward. The process of the game is simple and opaque. Click, drag, consider. Click, drag, consider. Repeat until you can’t do it any more. Then do it again.
The game was not made with computers in mind. It was first a lonely card game called Klondike. It just so happened that it was easily and cheaply translated into code. Despite its non-virtual origins, it was the first computer game I played with any regularity. It’s probably the one I still play most often. If there is a cognitive gap in my life, I play solitaire. It’s not something I do for intellectual stimulation. It’s something I do to fill time between other types of time-filler.
Since I’ve gotten this laptop, I’ve played this game 452 times. Assuming the average game lasts a little over 2 minutes, that’s about 16 hours in total that I’ve played. That’s an entire waking day. And it doesn’t even include time spent on freecell, minesweeper, and space pinball. That’s a large chunk of my life that I can’t get back. What was the point? There has to be a something more than filler, right?
If there is, I don’t know what it is. In my mind, this is the type of thing people don’t realize they think about when they’re referring to the degenerative process of gaming. Solitaire has no storyline, no covert message, and no lasting impression. It’s just a small amount of tedious problem solving done by one person on their own when nothing else in their life seems immediately worth contemplating. However, it’s done on the computer so it’s quicker. Shuffling and setting up a game with actual playing cards takes just as long as actually playing the game, so the computer version is largely preferable. But even so, it’s just streamlined time wasting. There is no plot, just occupation. You’re not competing against anyone, just yourself, or the clock, or your eroding sense of productivity.
Is there any academic value? It’s been removed from most U of M lab computers, so clearly not in a broad sense. What about entertainment? Surely, but it’s not the type of entertainment you can make a career out of like football or professional wrestling. What about the fact that it’s been around since the early 90s, does its longevity speak to its worth? Not necessarily. Cigarettes have been around for longer.
That’s not to say there isn’t a reason to play. There’s a notion of reward. On the ~15% chance that you win a game, you get a visual fanfare of the cards flying around the screen in a pleasing way. I still get a happy feeling thinking about winning the earlier versions of the game to see if one of the cards in the far right sell will eject to the left and leave a long, slow trail along the bottom of the screen.
But I’m not sure the fact that that makes me happy is a good thing. It feels more like a dependence or compulsion than an actual success. In my mind, solitaire is not a game of example, it’s a game of warning. But maybe I’m just being especially harsh because I need an exterior locus of control for ineffectual study habits. But if that’s the case, then what positive aspects am I missing?