From Pre-History to the Digital Era: The Evolution of Gaming
One of the oldest ways to bring people together, or to pass the time alone, games of all types have been a staple of the human existence for at least 5,100 years, which means we’ve been playing games for almost as long as history has been recorded.
Merriam-Webster defines a game as “a physical or mental activity or contest that has rules that people do for pleasure.”
Before most people agree to play a game, they want to know exactly what game they’re playing and what the rules are. Is the game just for fun or is money on the line? Do I have to run around or can I sit on a couch? Does it take time to learn and practice to be able to participate, or is it an intuitive, pick-up-and-go type?
For this reason, “what’s in a name?” is a common question that’s far less important than, “what’s in a game?”
But how did we get to all these different options? How is there a game for every type of person nowadays? Here is a brief look at the evolution of one of humanity’s favourite pastimes.
Thousands of years old evidence of dice and board games has been found in Asia, Africa, and the Americas. The earliest known example of a game dates back to 3100 BC Ancient Egypt with a board game called Senet, which is mildly similar to chess and involves five pawns for each of the two players. The second oldest is the Royal Game of Ur, another board game involving black and white markers and dice that dates back to Ancient Mesopotamia around 2400 BC.
In China during the 9th Century, playing cards were invented, and the Americas are famous for their early love of ball games. The Mayan and Aztecs played a game that involved keeping the ball in play (think racquetball), and aboriginals of North America invented what is now known as lacrosse. In some of the earliest lacrosse games, goals could be up to six miles apart and games could last for multiple days!
Games back then were made with bones, rocks, wood, and sticks. Could you imagine showing someone from BC times, or even someone from 50 years ago, what games have turned into today?
Today there are over 200 versions of Monopoly alone. Board games span the spectrum, from pop culture to historical, from trivia to strategy; the number of board games is truly countless. Role playing versions have cult followings that can be categorized as a lifestyle choice, and video games have taken on their role in a more mainstream way by offering open worlds and objectives taken on by a character that you become and control.
While Nintendo’s Mario Party is the most blatant example of a video board game, it can be argued that every video game ever made is an electronic version of what could have been a board game. If you can beat the computer in chess, you’re the most impressive electronic gamer in our book.
Card games and other games you might play at home or at the casino have also evolved considerably. From their early days in Ancient China to the invention of the 52-card deck to the rise in popularity during American and European wartime, to today, where you can watch professional gamblers face off on TV. Not only can you go to a casino and play any table, card, or video game (like Slots and Video Poker), but all those options are on the internet too. From the comfort of home to the glitz and glamor of a brick-and-mortar hub, card games are never far from anyone who wants to play. What a change from the agrarian, working sun up to sundown days of the card game early days!
Ball games went from deeply religious, often violent rituals to international spectacles featuring the world’s most impressive athletes. Football, Rugby, Cricket, Volleyball, Baseball, Basketball, American Football, Hockey, Tennis, Golf, the list goes on and on. Again, the electronic options abound as well, with Wii Sports, Wii Fit, FIFA, Madden, NBA 2K, and so many others being a major driving force of the video gaming industry.
So the question remains: “What’s in a game?”
The easiest answer: “A whole lot of history.”
Games have meant something to someone for a very, very long time. Whether you play solitaire while slacking off at work or are a professional card shark going for millions at the Texas Hold’em table, whether you’re battling for a kingdom on your Xbox One or kicking a ball from just outside the box to win the football match, every move you make is the result of thousands of years of evolving, adapting, and improving.
Some people live for the game, but all games live for the people.