The Winmine Congress was established in response to controversy over the Dreamboard and Board Cycles. Seven members were elected to resolve these problems. Founded 31 Oct 2002, it dissolved 8 Mar 2004. It has since been superceded by the International Minesweeper Committee.
The idea of a Minesweeper council had been suggested earlier by James Lange (Canada). On 6 Oct 2002 Keith Whitener (USA), echoed by James two days later, mentioned the idea again in response to a furious debate in the Guestbook. Steffen Stachna (Germany), one of the players suspected of manipulating Board Cycles, voiced his support immediately. Lance Votroubek (USA) then created two polls in the Minesweeper Addicts group. The first asked how many players should sit on the panel, the second allowed each player to select up to 7 members.
23 people voted before the polls closed 31 Oct 2002. Lasse and Damien received unanimous votes. Dan (22), Marc (15), Stephan (14) and Matt (14) were easily elected. There was a three-way tie (8) for the final member. Eduardo Cros (Spain) stated on 10 Oct 2002 that a Congress was much less useful than a new version of Minesweeper. Consequently, he teamed with Sorin Manea (Romania) to create Project Minesweeper Utopia. On 31 Oct 2002 Roelof Smit (Netherlands) declined the position due to time constraints, leaving Sorin free to join. Eight other players received votes. On 12 Nov 2002 Lasse created the Winmine Congress group and sent invites to the other members:
Hi guys, welcome to the congress. I'd like to say that just because I started this group it doesn't mean that I'm somehow the leader of this congress, it was only to take the next step in the process and get us started. I hope we'll get a thorough discussion on the needed topics, and would like you to bring up every concern you might have so we can work our way through it carefully and hopefully find a solution to the problems that have occured the last couple of years. Let's see what this congress will lead to - Lanyjé
- Lasse Nyholm - Denmark
- Damien Moore - Canada
- Dan Cerveny - USA
- Marc Schouten - Netherlands
- Stephan Bechtel - Germany
- Matt McGinley - USA
- Sorin Manea - Romania
Congress formed after Roland Seibt achieved a world record of 9 seconds on Intermediate. His previous record had been 15, but he manipulated Board Cycles to find the Dreamboard. Using this board he repetitively broke his record. His new world record came the day after a 10 and the same week as a 12.
Matt wanted to accept these games, arguing that Roland did not break existing rules. His own world record had been made on the Dreamboard, although he did not manipulate the game to find a particular board. Lasse also accepted the record because he did not want to apply laws retrospectively. He hoped that a new rule would prevent similar methods, eventually enabling someone to set a new legitimate record. Stephan agreed with Lasse. Marc also accepted the record because he believed a viable rule could not be created. He suggested specially marking such scores on rankings.
Damien strongly disagreed with these suggestions. He noted that 9x9 Beginner boards had been banned from rankings after Khor Eng Tat achieved a 1 second game. Retrospective law could work. Cycling through boards to get the Dreamboard was cheating, just as building a program to generate the Dreamboard was cheating. Sorin had built such a program and achieved 6 seconds. Sorin argued that memorising boards made Minesweeper like F1: "All the players know the course and whoever does it faster wins." He suggested these games could count as personal records but not for rankings. Dan claimed any prior knowledge should be banned. He suggested creation of an offical version of Minesweeper.
After these arguments Matt changed his mind. Outlawing the Dreamboard was not a perfect solution but a step in the right direction. Stephan still disagreed because he had found nine boards with a lower 3BV. He also disliked the idea of a clone, because retired players would not be able to repeat their scores for the rankings. Marc argued that new players often made records on the Dreamboard unawares, that banning the Dreamboard would cause new dreamboards, and that clones would be useless unless adopted by Microsoft.
In the meantime Steffen and Matthew Ackerman (USA) both scored 8 on the Dreamboard while Case Cantrell (USA) achieved similar scores on several different boards. This finally led to an agreement that banning just the Dreamboard would not work. Despite this progress, Congress became acutely aware that no decisions had yet been issued in its six months of existence.
Marc suggested that Winmine was not the problem, the true problem was that people were willing to cheat. He believed Congress should not be Big Brother; instead, individuals should subscribe to an honour system. Congress should issue an official statement of disapproval but ultimately allow cheaters to risk rejection from the community. Several cheaters had already left the community after being publicly shamed. If necessary, such players could be banned from the Active Ranking or have manipulated scores erased from the rankings, but this could be done case-by-case as a corrective measure. The desire for acceptance would be the lone preventative measure.
A poll was created 15 Apr 2003. Members voted 6-0 in favour.
Waiting for poll results it was noticed that Marc was missing. Several attempts were made to contact him before he wrote the Congress on 23 Jun 2003:
Some time ago, I suddenly got sick of it all. Computer and internet in general and Minesweeper in particular [...] I needed to get away from the whole thing for a while. I still play [...] but I won't be competing in the AR anymore. I'll probably still drop by from time to time, but it's probably best you find someone else to take my spot on the congress.
Lasse responded quickly:
I understand Marc, good to hear from you though, I was getting worried something had happened to you. We'll figure out a solution for the congress, though it seems it's silently walking into the land of Has Been.
That was the last post for several months until Matt confessed:
I have been pretty much absent from minesweeper for the better part of a year now, as I'm sure you here have noticed. Occasionally I check the guestbook at Damien's site to see if anything worthwhile is happening, but I never saw anything worth my time so I kind of lost interest in the community.
It was agreed to invite Lance Votroubek (USA) and Georgi Kermekchiev (Bulgaria) to replace these two members, but Stephan replied:
I don't really care any more. My mouse is going to stop working properly. Combined with some lack of free time, I stopped playing almost completely during the last week. So, I decided that this might be a good moment to make room for any player that is and will be more active than me.
The nail in the coffin came when Sorin posted the final message to Congress:
We haven't really taken any decision here so I wonder if a council is really necessary. [...] I also 'retire' from the council. [...] If a new council will be formed I think we should have democratic election.
Lasse voiced a similar thought:
I'm thinking that it may not be the time for anything official in the minesweeper world - not yet anyway. It seems that everything is quite calm now, with everyone making up their own minds as to whether they accept claimed records or not. [...] I don't feel the need for "official" discussions, it doesn't seem needed anymore (if it ever did).
Congress was the first attempt by the Minesweeper community to regulate itself. This directly influenced the later formation of the International Minesweeper Committee. Congress demonstrated the difficulties and possibilities of such a group, and several members were able to transfer this experience though election to the IMC.
Failures of Congress were to advertise itself, to create elections or to publish results. The international nature of the group and insistance on unanimity contributed to a lack of results. This inaction aided its demise.
The success of Congress was to morally persuade Steffen, Matthew and Case to voluntarily withdraw their manipulated scores. Roland foreceably had his manipulated scores withdrawn but was allowed to keep them as personal records. XP Beginner was temporarily banned but reinstated in a seperate ranking list. Congress agreed to a corrective rather than preventative role and was the first attempt at official collective decisions.
It is easy to overlook the true contribution of Congress. Modern sweepers will laugh at the naivete of some discussions. However, one must remember the context. Congress was founded before the discovery of 3BV and before the first Minesweeper video. The only serious clone in existence was Global Mines with none of the features of modern clones. Winmine scores could not be banned because there was no alternative.
In the end, the true reason for demise of Congress was depression. The innocence of Minesweeper had been lost and the beauty of Intermediate destroyed. As the record holder, Matt took this hardest and completely abandoned the community. Within months of Congress ending every member but one (Damien) had officially retired.