Anyway, one of the reasons the unexpected hiatus took so long is that Shogun is a game that requires rather long stretches of time to play, and those are rare in the busiest month of the term. Small windows of free time mean small games, and my distraction of choice in these cases (quite a popular one, or so I gather), despite its remarkably simple rectangular graphical style and elementary gameplay mechanics, still manages to take hours of
Obviously, I'm talking about Minesweeper or, in this particular incarnation, simply Mines - the champion of games fueled by pure, concentrated boredom and non-committal procrastination. (Solitaire holds an equivalent title among people who are not cool enough for Minesweeper.) This is how a typical game goes:
You find yourself by a field. A face is smiling at you - friendly, reassuring, and yet you can't help but feel something is being hidden from you, a menace that you do not yet fully comprehend. But you also feel something has been decided already and you can not turn back now.
And so you make your first step - always safe, the first step - into the field. You are surrounded by numbers now. The simplest of symbols for some, perhaps, but not for you. For you they have meaning and purpose, and just at first glance - by sheer instinct - as if the wisdom of thousands of your forebears started flowing through you - you know what to do. The corners adjacent to a "one" are to be marked, and no foot is to tread upon them.
Other tricks start coming back to you (coming back? have you really done this before? was it you?) and you complete each tiny piece of the puzzle as it comes to you. You clear the surroundings of every number whose full meaning has been uncovered, but now that's not enough, you become more ambitious and more brave, seeing patterns and responding to each with appropriate rituals that you are now certain you always knew. Planting a flag there and stepping confidently elsewhere, you reveal new paths and openings and dead-ends without really thinking.
There is no stopping you now as you march onwards, sidestepping every devious trap set by the nameless minelayer. In a moments' pause, you begin to wonder - who is the minelayer? Is he protecting something of great importance beyond this field? Is he just a maniac who planted this laboriously intricate web of traps for his own amusement? Or is it a relic of an ancient war, the implements of which have since forgotten their targets and are now mindlessly preying on whoever is careless enough to pass through the field?
Suddenly you realize you have reached the other side. Is this it? Are you free now? No, you can not be free, not while there are still mines around. You return to your work. But for what?, you quiz again. What is so important that you should risk your life (you think you risk your life - are those not deadly mines that you mark?) by traversing this field? Will you get answers? Are there any answers? Who knows?
The face - it knows, and by that knowledge, it grins.
At some point, you hit it. The dilemma. You can't solve it, you don't have the time to solve it, or it simply is not meant to be solved. You try to go around it as you did many times before, but you never succeed. At last, you resolve to take a leap of faith - and land safely. You know you should feel relieved but - in the deepest heart of hearts - do you really?
From there, you proceed ever more cautiously. Your senses sharpen and you take an extra moment to weigh every decision before committing to it. You feel as if your concerns for personal safety take a secondary place after the needs of the field itself - as if it wanted to be solved - waited for it - and is finally awakening from a long slumber.
And then it is done. You plant the last flag, and the face can contain itself no longer. It laughs, teeth glistening from side to side. You can not quite understand if it laughs with you in victory, or at you, or if it even knows you are there. You deserve answers, now more than ever, you pick yourself up, you approach the laughing face, and then you find yourself by a field.