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The True Purpose of Solitaire, Minesweeper, and FreeCell

If you haven't ever played Solitaire, Minesweeper, Hearts or FreeCell, it's safe to say you're in the minority. These simple Windows games have probably caused more lost worker hours than anything short of a worldwide coffee shortage. Whichever one was your favorite, the temptation to take just one more go at beating them—to get a faster time or a better score—was hard to ignore.

But as fun as these games were, they weren't actually designed for entertainment. At least not in their Windows incarnations.

The oldest of the four, Microsoft Solitaire, was first added to Windows 3.0 in 1990. Although the game (sometimes called "Patience") has existed since the late 1700s, this digital version seemed to be demonstrating that in the future we would no longer require a physical deck to play simple card games. But that's not what it was doing at all. Its real aim was far more modest: it was teaching mouse-fluency by stealth.

The intention was that Solitaire would get a generation of computer users still most familiar with a command-line input to teach themselves how to drag and drop, without realizing that's what they were doing. The fact that we're still dragging and dropping today suggests that it worked rather well.

Minesweeper, too, has a similar place in technological culture. The numbers-based logic puzzle has roots in the mainframe gaming scene of the 1960s and 1970s, where a version called "Cube" by Jerimac Ratliff became incredibly popular. Decades later, in 1992, the Microsoft version Minesweeper was introduced to Windows 3.1—not to demonstrate that Windows was an adept gaming operating system, but to make the idea of left and right clicking second nature for Windows users, and to foster speed and precision in mouse movement.

If you needed any proof that this isn't a coincidence, look at another Microsoft card game: Hearts. It was introduced with 1992's Windows for Workgroups 3.1—the first network-ready version of Windows—and used Microsoft's new NetDDE technology to communicate with other Hearts clients on a local network. Again, this wasn't just a card game. It was a way to get people interested in (and hopefully impressed by) the networking capabilities of their new system.

And finally, there's FreeCell. Released for Windows 3.1 as part of the Microsoft Entertainment Pack Volume 2, FreeCell was bundled with the Win32s package that allowed 32-bit applications to run on the 16-bit Windows 3.1. Its purpose was actually to test the 32-bit thunking layer (a data processing subsystem), which had been introduced as part of Win32s. If the thunking layer was improperly installed, FreeCell wouldn't run. So what you thought was a game was actually a stealth test of software systems.

Of course, none of this explains why those games persisted once their remit was fulfilled. The answer is simple: people had too much fun with them. Any time Microsoft tried to remove the games from a release of Windows, testers went crazy. Eventually, in 2012, Microsoft released a version, Windows 8, without any of the games. Users could download the Solitaire Collection and Minesweeper separately, but you had to pay extra to play without ads.

However, with this year's release of Windows 10, Microsoft has at least brought back Solitaire. If you go looking for the others in your search bar, you'll instead be shown search results from the Windows Store where you can download the latest versions. And maybe that's intentional, because what better motivation do you need to learn how to use the Windows Store than to get your hands on your favorite games? Maybe they're still teaching by stealth, even after all these years.

This post originally appeared on our UK site.

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fun
Dungeons & Dragons Gets a Digital Makeover
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Since the 1970s, players have been constructing elaborate campaigns in Dungeons & Dragons using nothing but paper, pencils, rule books, and 20-sided dice. That simple formula has made D&D the quintessential role-playing game, but the game's publisher thinks it can be improved with a few 21st-century updates. As The Verge reports, Wizards of the Coast is launching a digital toolset meant to enhance the gaming experience.

The tool, called D&D Beyond, isn’t meant to be a replacement for face-to-face gameplay. Rather, it’s designed to save players time and energy that could be better spent developing characters or battling orcs. The resource includes a fifth-edition rule book users can search by keyword. At the start of a new campaign, they can build monsters and characters within the program. And players don’t need to worry about forgetting to bring their notes to a quest—D&D Beyond keeps track of information like items and spells in one convenient location.

"D&D Beyond speaks to the way gamers are able to blend digital tools with the fun of storytelling around the table with your friends,” Nathan Stewart, senior director of Dungeons & Dragons, said in a statement when the concept was first announced. "These tools represent a way forward for D&D.”

This isn’t the first attempt to bring D&D into the digital age; videogames inspired by the fictional world have been produced since the 1980s. Unlike those titles, though, D&D Beyond will still highlight the imagination-fueled role-playing aspect of the game when it launches August 15.

[h/t The Verge]

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Pop Culture
Can You Spot Fake News? A New Game Puts Your Knowledge to the Test
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Bryn Dunbar

In 2017, misinformation is easier than ever to access. During the 2016 election, scammers—including hordes of Macedonian teens—raked in serious money by churning out deliberately fake stories about U.S. politics, with a very real impact. In a December 2016 Pew Research Center survey, 64 percent of U.S. adults said that fabricated news was sowing "a great deal of confusion" about current events.

It can be hard to determine what’s real and what’s fake in the viral news world. A new game—expected to launch for iPhone on July 10—will test your skills. Fake News, designed by the creative agency ISL, asks players to distinguish between headlines found on true stories and headlines drawn from fake news sites (as determined by fact-checking sites like Snopes, Politifact, FactCheck.org).

The simple, arcade-style game for iPhone asks you to swipe left on fake headlines and swipe right on true ones. You have 100 seconds to sort through as many headlines as you can, competing for the highest score with other users. For instance, did Arby’s really get its name because “RB” is another way of saying roast beef? (No, RB stands for Raffel Brothers, the founders.) Does Jeff Goldblum really have a food truck named Chef Goldblum’s? (Kind of. It was a film promotion stunt.)

Fake News also exists as a physical arcade game. The creators installed a table-top arcade game in a D.C. bar on July 5, and may install it elsewhere depending on demand.

The game is harder than you’d expect, even if you think of yourself as fairly well-informed. As research has found, viral stories require two things: limited attention spans and a network already overwhelmed with information. In other words, our daily Internet lives. The more information we try to handle at one time, the more likely it is that we’ll fall for fake news.

Scientists found in a recent study that warning people that political groups try to spread misinformation about certain issues (like climate change) can help people sort through dubious claims. While that’s good to remember, it’s not always useful in real-life situations. It certainly won’t help you win this game.

One of the reasons Fake News is so hard, even if you keep abreast of everyday news, is that it doesn’t tell you where the headlines are from. Checking the source is often the easiest way to determine the veracity of a story—although it’s not a foolproof system.

Need help finding those sources? This Chrome plug-in will flag news from troublesome sources in your Facebook feed.

Update: The game is available for iOS here.

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