The Hidden Power of Games

February 7, 2024
The Hidden Power of Games

I’m not sure how many of the people on my list would even remember Space Cadet when it was new. But if you look at the replies to Thomas’ post about it you will discover that a LOT of people do remember it. And loved it. Nostalgia is a thing people!

But I’m not here to talk about re-creating games of the past to attract the nostalgia gamers of today (although that’s a huge market). Nope, today I want to talk about why exactly we had games on Windows 95. Windows 95 had several games included. Some of them even started out on Windows 3. Why did Microsoft include games by default on their operating systems? I can guarantee it wasn’t because companies wanted their staff to be playing games on company time.

And I don’t think it was because they wanted people to have fun on their home computers, either, although that certainly was a big benefit. Nope, they put games on computers to teach people how to use their new computers effectively. These games introduced new ways of interacting with the computer. The biggest new thing with Windows 3 was the mouse. And while I welcomed the improved interaction that the mouse offered in the graphical user interface (having used X Windows for some time), many people didn’t. They were too used to keyboards as the sole method of interaction.

So, what does a game have to do with that? Windows games, like Solitaire, Reversi, and later Minesweeper, didn’t really work well at all with a keyboard. They did work perfectly with a mouse. In order to enjoy playing these games you had to use the mouse, and use it well.

BOOM. Yup, the games taught people how to use their mouse effectively. I had personal experience with this. When I bought my parents their first home computer, they were completely new to Windows, although they had both used computers at work before they retired. They persisted in trying to learn all the keyboard shortcuts, and really didn’t like the mouse. That afternoon, after I got tired of reminding my mom for the 10th time about which keyboard shortcut she needed to reach a menu, I excused myself for a few minutes and before I left, said, “Here, look. There’s a solitaire game, why don’t you give that a try until I get back”. The next day it was hard to pry her off the computer for Dad to take his turn. And she stopped asking about the damn keyboard shortcuts!

We are constantly being bombarded with new technologies, and new ways of interacting with these new technologies. Some people, like me, find that fun. Others do not. Each new method of interacting comes with its own special challenges. When we create new apps with new and novel interactions, we need to think seriously about making the learning process fun. And maybe, someday, people will be nostalgic about YOUR app!