I Wonder If Chess Will Do For OS X What Solitaire Did For Windows?

"Can anything be more galling to the spirit of a man," continued John, "than to see his younger brother in possession of an estate which might have been his own?"

Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility

Akin to a modern-day version of "Gorillas in the Midst," I like to observe computer shoppers as they graze in their natural habitat.

Watching PC users and Mac users interact with computer-store computers is an activity that reveals more about the psychology of the average computer shopper than any Rorschach test ever would. Instead of trying to divine a personis emotional makeup from solicited descriptions of inkblots -- and the concomitant meanings inferred -- one need only put that person in front of a computer and let them try their hand at the mouse and keyboard for a look into their soul, a look at their motivations, a look at what makes them tick.

While doing just this by watching computer shoppers during my weekend stints at a local Minneapolis Mac retailer, I have observed something that may be considered innocuous to most of you, but was quite interesting to me:

This old man comes into the Mac department. He sits down in front of an iMac. He apparently has never used a Mac before. Trying his hand at the Mac OS interface, he makes an odd request, to no one in particular: "Whereis Solitaire?"

I call this an odd request because, for the life of me, I donit know why anyone would play such a boring game, much less find it enjoyable. Iive tried my hand at Solitaire, but can never see the point. Itis monotonous and grossly uninspiring. I can understand why itis included with Microsoft Windows. The two are a perfect match.

Solitaire is just one more reason why we should hate Microsoft, the corporate personification of monotony and "uninspiration."

This isnit the first time Iive puzzled over PC usersi love affair with Solitaire; but the aforementioned old chapis request for the game struck me as odd, with a twist. The twist is that, in apparent contrast to Windows, Apple has given us Chess bundled with OS X; maybe this is in response to Solitaire; maybe itis not. After all, itis no secret that Steve Jobs sees Microsoft as the equivalent of bad TV programming that astonishingly garners the highest Nielson ratings. I feel similarly when it comes to Microsoftis inclusion of Solitaire: for such a boring game, there sure are a lot of people who find it a gratifying and relaxing pastime. I find this unfathomable, for Solitaire has got to be equal to a good dose of sleeping pills.

If youire going to foist a game upon us, why not make it something that would provide hours of enjoyment and present an ongoing challenge: played properly, chess does just that; a diligent chess player will develop an increasingly strong adeptness at strategy, for example; with Solitaire, you only have the double entendre of "playing with yourself."

Aprocryphal or not, itis been said that Solitaire is Bill Gatesi favorite game. That explains its inclusion in Windows and partly explains the pocket-protector crowdis affinity to Windows. Chess, however, is a different matter. Sure, there are plenty of pedants who play Chess, but Iid like to think that Chess attracts more of the Think Different crowd than the insipid Solitaire ever would.

I donit know why Chess was selected as the OS X game of choice, since there are obviously other games out there.

I havenit played Chess in a few years, but its inclusion in OS X makes a statement of style, thought and depth. My prediction is that, even though it is only one small application among the many included with Mac OS X, its inclusion will help attract to the Apple brand the kind of person that has typically been attracted to other things Macintosh: the person who thinks deeply, lives passionately, and prefers to do more than play with himself.

Iim talking about games here.

Rodney O. Lain is a snob. When he isnit laughing at PC users who play Solitaire, he is a regular contributor to The Mac Observer with his "iBrotha" column, as well as the occasional editorial.