Solitaire: What’s the Point

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?

  1. John said:

    I think the main point of Solitaire, and other “simple” games like Minesweeper, is to act as cognitive stimulants. Both games require decision making, planning and memory (to name a few). Whether you realize or not, the strategic parts of your brain are definitely in action when playing these games. As a result, while playing these games, your brain is learning, growing and constantly making new connections. That is the point of these simple games: they make you use your brain. Granted, they can be addicting and often serve as time-wasters for students and employees, which is why they are frequently removed from school and work computers. Yet, this still does not diminish the positive mental stimulation that these games provide. Do people agree that these games help your brain grow?

  2. snbrown said:

    I play Solitaire frquently and I personally find it amusing. I do not believe that all games need to have a storyline or a covert message, it is a game nontheless. Some will like it and some won’t. I believe that it depends on the person playing the game. Some people prefer to play games alone and computer cards games such as Solitaire and Freecell are an excellent way for them to do that. Others are competitive and admire a challenge, therefore a gmae such as Solitatire might not please them. I also believe that games such as these do allow you to stimulate your brain in a new way. Many games, rather with an opponent or not, require thinking of a strategy on how to win. This game provides a way for people to execute problem solving. Problem solving is a part of everyday life so why not practice problem solving methods. Though it may sound silly to practice problem solving strategies through a “simple” card game, it is an effective way to keep the brain active.

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