Mahjong Solitaire is a solo computer game roughly based on the 4-player Chinese tile based game made popular during the 19th century. While the same tile sets are used for both games, the similarities between the two end there.
The origins of computer-based, solo Mahjong, stem from a somewhat tragic story. The 1980s were a unique age for game-making in the computer industry. Unlike today, where games are developed by massive companies with thousands of expert employees, games in the 80’s were often planned, coded, and finalized by a single person in their free time. Stanford University student Brodie Lockard fit the bill perfectly, creating the very first computerized Mahjong game independently. Unfortunately, Lockard had been hospitalized after a 1979 trampoline accident which left him paralyzed from the chest down. To pass the time during his rehabilitation, he learned to type using a mouth stick and single-handedly designed and wrote the code for the world’s first computerized Mahjong game.
In the years to come, Lockard continued to develop his game until he felt it had finally been perfected—then, reached out to video game development company Activision with the game. Activision licensed the game, released it, and sold it under the name “Shanghai.” Ported to several different platforms, the game became a massive success, selling an estimated ten million copies!
While laws protect a game’s design, they do not protect the concept, therefore Activision could not stop others from making their own versions of Mahjong after the release. Several other companies made subtle changes—like updating the tile set—and released their own versions. Think, for example, of Microsoft’s variant “Mahjong Titans,” which also became quite popular. The sheer number of online gaming companies who picked up the concept and ran with it are likely behind the fact that Mahjong has become the world’s most popular video game—beaten out only by Klondike Solitaire.