Gaming has always been part of the human experience. From the very first attempts of our ancient ancestors to the most recent console releases, we have, as a species, always tried to break up the tedium of everyday life by induing in games.
The term “gamer” might seem like a modern invention, but the reality is that gaming has been around since the Ancient Egyptians carved the first D20 and the first “gaming consoles” cropped up in 1891 when Sittman and Pitt invented the first one-armed bandit.
In this article, we’ll be constructing a short history of gaming, from its earliest roots to the inception of the modern video game age.
Say “ancient gaming” to someone and they will probably think it was all gladiators, the Olympics, and Ben Hur-style horse races. The reality is that we would instantly recognize many of the earliest gaming equipment, mainly because we are still using it today.
The earliest dice were created around 5,000 years ago and were discovered in an excavation in modern-day Iran. The excavation of the Bronze-Age city of Shahr-i Sokhta also tuned up possibly the oldest backgammon board.
The Ancient Egyptian were playing a board game known as “Senet” in around 3500 B.C. and were using polyhedral dice for gaming that would be instantly recognizable for any D&D player.
The Chinese invented a dominos-style tile game during the Song Dynasty around 2,900 years old. It took a little time for the west to catch up, but by around 400 B.C. the Scandinavian game Tafl, a forerunner of chess, was being widely produced and played
(Tafl, also called Hnefataf, was the progenitor of chess and probably descended from a Roman board game called Ludus Latrunculorum, or “the game of brigands”)
The Card is Invented
The playing card was most likely invented in Ancient China during the Tang Dynasty in around the 6th to 9th century A.D as an extension of their existing tile games. It took a while to make it down to Europe, not arriving until the 14th century.
The four-suit deck we all know and love was invented in France in 1480 and was originally used for divination. It took them until the 17th century to figure out that they could play Cribbage with it and another 200 years before they invested Bridge.
As we all know, these were the only two major advances in card-playing until ‘Magic! The Gathering’ was debuted in 1990.
Flipping the Table
Around the same time as the Bridge craze was sweeping the world, people started putting games on tables. The game Caroom, similar to shuffleboard, was expanded into pool, snooker, billiards, and roulette as people competed to see how many games you could make using only a table and some balls.
(Many of the world’s most beloved games came to us through consoles, but then again so did Superman 64 and Anthem, so it hasn’t been all plain sailing. )
The Video Game Revolution
You might think that there was quite a gap between the invention of pool and, let say the Master System. But, the first patent for what could reasonably be described as a video game was filed in 1947 for the snappily named “Cathode ray tube amusement device”.
The 1950s did also see the development of mainframe computers, which were capable of playing games like Pong. The downside to those was that you needed a room for full of hugely expensive cutting-edge magnetic reels in order to play it. Far beyond the reach of most people.
The first real and widely available games console was the Magnavox Odyssey, coming to us in 1972. The Magnavox’s success spurred the development of iconic arcade game such as Pacman and Space invaders.
Interesting, the console market in the use exploded during the 1980s, with a huge range of offerings on the market from many companies that nearly all went bankrupt during the great American gaming industry crush in 1983.
Console manufacturing moved to Japan, giving us, among other things, Nintendo and Sony Playstation and Sega.
A Bright Future
Many of the things we take for granted in modern gaming are in fact built on a huge history of invention and the evolution of gaming. We still play many of the games our ancient ancestors played, just in subtly different forms.
As gaming adapts to new technologies like AR and VR, we continue to build on that process to make games ever more immersive and entertaining. With affordable VR Headsets, such as Oculus, hitting the market, this trend is expanding to all gaming genres, and eSports is one of the examples of the booming industry.
By 2020, viewership of eSports finals is expected to reach 70 million people. To put that in context, that is more viewers than the U.S. professional baseball, soccer, and hockey finals. In 2019, viewers will have watched 3 billion hours of eSports, mean that games like League of Legends will have accounted for 10% of all sports viewing.
This huge surge in popularity is changing the way we approach sports from all angles. Participation, viewing and even betting on sports has changed from the physical activity to a digital one. This new digital world is one where you can be sponsored by top-flight football teams to play FIFA, become a sporting legend without ever touching a ball, and using online bookmaking pages to bet on anything from traditional horse racing to who will be the world’s best Starcraft 2 player.
Our perception of gaming has changed as we’ve moved from basic dice and tiles games, through table and card games that are still widely used, to the domination of the video game. That perception will continue to change as new technologies, like VR, and new gaming trends, like the popularity of eSports, continue to evolve the way we look at gaming.