“Game: a universal form of recreation generally including any activity engaged in for diversion or amusement and often establishing a situation that involves a contest or rivalry,” Encyclopedia Britannica reveals
. In the following article, I will introduce you to the history of the game, from the favorite pastimes of our ancient forefathers to the modern day computer games. It is a tale of honor, love, rising legends and fallen heroes.
Although the description of the “game” is fairly simple, establishing its history is not such an easy task as one (such as myself) would believe. When I started writing about the history of the game I never thought that the simple means of relaxation we use today would have such a long and interesting back story.
Even if I attempt to keep a proper timeline, incursions into the present situation for one game or another will be made in order to further demonstrate its impact on history and, why not, humanity. I will also be referring to games that made an impact on a world-wide scale and not games that belong to one particular country or continent.
That being said, let’s start with the beginning, shall we? There is no commonly accepted game that could be called “the first” without stirring up quite a ruckus. The title of the “first game in recorded history” is being fought over by four very old but not dated games. But it is not my intent to set up a top four, so I will begin by describing them.The Chinese GO game
Invented in ancient China around 4000 years ago, the GO has a lot of legends attributed to it. The legend that I’ve come across the most is the one that claims GO was invented during the time of Emperor Yao (2337-2258). The Emperor, upset that his son was a little slow in his learning, asked a counselor named Shun to create a game that would help develop his son’s mental capacity. The game he created became so popular that, after reaching Japan in the VIIth century, it became one of the fundamental martial arts, along with kenjutsu (sword fighting), kyo-do (bow shooting) and battojutsu (fighting while on a horse).
GO is about respect. Opponents treat each other with respect and politeness, as if they were having a debate. Every piece that is put on the board represents a statement, to which the opponent must respond. This game is about strategic thinking, subtlety, thinking ahead of your opponent and planning your next turn. GO is a game of honor and skill, of the cunning mind and of rash decisions. There are so many paths that a game of GO may take that one is never certain he/she will be the victor until the game has ended.
But the Chinese are not the only to have invented a game for the mind and spirit. Their neighbors from India had a game of their own that would soon spread throughout the world. And that game would be named chess.Chess
The first official recordings say chess appeared around the VIth century AD but by the Xth century, it was already spreading from Asia to the Middle East and Europe. With the game’s increasing popularity among the noble classes of the time, it wouldn’t be long until Chess received its current nickname as “a game of kings.”
But how is the game played, what intricacies are offered and most importantly, what exactly makes chess a fan favorite after so much time has passed? Just like in the case of GO, it’s the simplicity of the game, yet the complicated variations that one’s mind can create that gives Chess its appeal. The game is played on a board with 64 squares arranged in an eight-by-eight grid, with both players starting from one side of the board with an equally matched number of pieces: one king, one queen, two rooks, two knights, two bishops and eight pawns.
The player’s goal: to checkmate the opponent’s king. Consider it a theatre of war reduced to a 64-square table. To checkmate the opponent’s king means to basically corner it so the opposing player has no moves left to perform. A simple task at first, yet very difficult to achieve thanks to the “random” factor of the human mind. Speaking of random encounters, there’s nothing more random than a game where winning or losing is a roll of the dice away. Said to have been invented by the Romans, our third contender is backgammon.Backgammon
A game where players move pieces on a board of table, backgammon is a race to the finish line, where your every move is controlled by the throw of a dice. Just like chess or GO, Backgammon is played by two persons. The board is comprised of four sections, each marked with six narrow wedges in two alternating colors. The board is divided in half by a vertical line that basically separates the “inner” and “outer” tables.
There are 15 white and 15 black pieces. Opposing pieces are moved from point to point in opposite directions around the board, the number of moves equaling the exact number of points shown on the dice. Like a king would position his troops. Notice the similarities between Backgammon and the other two. Similarities that you will also find in the fourth competing for the title of “world’s oldest game,” Mankala.The African Stone Game Mankala
Mankala is a game in which the player’s skill and strategy count more than sheer luck. The game is played on a large board with two rows of six cups (although you may adapt the game in a number of ways). Each of the cups is filled with four counters (or pieces, if you will), summing a total of 48 counters. Players then take turns to empty the cups in a counter clockwise manner.
Should the last counter land in the opponent’s side and the opponent has one or two counters already there, the player may capture the counters. When a player has captured more than half of the original 48 counters, the game ends.
GO, chess, backgammon and Mankala. All games played by our ancient ancestors, all games that are played in about the same form even as I am writing this article. All games of honor, skill and respect for one’s opponent, that require so much concentration and ability that having more than one opponent would not be possible.
However, a number of competitions where more than two players would compete did exist sometime around that period. Competitions such as the Pythian Games at Delphi; the Nemean Games at Nemea; and the Isthmian Games, held near Corinth. But none survived, except for a competition named the Olympic Games.The Olympic Games
Appearing in myths and legends, written about by ancient historians and stirring a never-ending debate as to how far back in history this competition has been played, it is widely accepted that it first appeared in Greece around 3.000 years ago. Although initially a competition summing only one event, as the years passed, more and more events were added. Today, the Olympic Games cover 33 sports, 52 disciplines and nearly 400 events.
The best way to describe the Olympic Games is perhaps by describing their symbol: the five interlaced rings on a white background represent the five parts of the world that are joined together by the competition. After all, as Coubertin put it, “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to participate.”Football
Soccer as some call it, has been around in one form or another for centuries, perhaps even outdating the likes of GO or chess, seeing how evidence regarding this game has been found in the archeological history of many ancient civilizations such as the Chinese, the Greek, the Maya, and the Egyptians. Modern football originated in XIXth century Britain and was initially played between schools, each school having its own set of rules.
Professional football as we know it today didn’t arrive until 1904, when representatives from the football associations of Belgium, Denmark, France, The Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland founded the Federation Internationale de Football Association, or FIFA. The sport’s growing popularity has made football a favorite pastime of people around the world but the increasing amount of money and extensive marketing has somehow diluted its essence.
Football is played on a field that is usually 90–120 meters long and 45–90 meters wide, the objective being to maneuver the ball into the opposing team’s goal while protecting your own part of the field from the opposing team’s attacks. The players are allowed to use any parts of the body except the hands and arms and wear jerseys with numbers, shorts, and socks designating the team they are playing for.
The team’s manager chooses the first 11 players to go into the field, as well as the tactics used to try and win the game. Another game we all know and love is tennis.Tennis
Tennis is a game where two opposing players or pairs of players use rackets to hit a specific sized ball and over a net on a rectangular court. Points are awarded to a player or team whenever the opponent fails to correctly return the ball within the gaming area. Tennis is perhaps the most demanding game of them all, because players are required to make short sprints over a long period of time while maintaining perfect hand-eye coordination.
One mistake in a tennis match is enough to lose the fight. There are a lot of different styles and strikes as there are players, turning tennis into a game where the mind, as well as the body, has to continuously push beyond the normal limits in order to succeed. One gust of wind, one blink at the wrong time can make the difference between victory and defeat. There’s no surprise that tournaments offer large amounts of prize money annually.
This next game isn’t called a “man’s game” for nothing. Banned several times for its violent nature but also gaining a worldwide spread, it’s time I introduced rugby.Rugby
Believe it or not, rugby is a form of football (soccer) that is played with an oval ball by teams formed from 15 or 13 players. The origins of this game are highly disputed, although some say it originated in 1823, when William Webb Ellis, defying the conventions of the day, picked up the ball and ran with it, thus giving birth to what is today rugby.
Even if it has a totally different set of rules than soccer (with the ball in hand, players can run forward, pass the ball backward to teammates, or kick the ball forward), the main purpose is still scoring a goal and trying not to be caught off guard. Due to the game’s pretty rough nature, the players have to wear light protective gear. In the US, this sport gave birth to a sport called American football, which is basically rugby with the rules a little bit changed and more protective gear.
But no game, be it children’s game or international competition has changed the world as radically as the video game.Video Game
Not to be confused with computer games, the term “video game” refers to entertainment software that is projected onto television-type screens usually with the help of special game-playing computers called “consoles.”
As most of you already know, the first successful commercial game was Pong
, an electronic iteration of the basics behind tennis. Nolan Bushnell’s newly-founded Atari would generate the first Age of electronic video games, with Atari dominating the recently-formed electronic entertainment market.
With video games killing coin-operated games such as pinball, pinball company Midway Manufacturing decided to import Space Invaders, a hit coin-operated title from Japan. The game was a massive hit, and unleashed what would be called the Golden Arcade Age, a time when legendary titles such as Pac-Man, Asteroids, Frogger or Donkey Kong were created. The Golden Arcade Age lasted until around 1983.
1985 is probably the year that would change video games forever. Nintendo introduced its 8 bit Nintendo Entertainment System (or NES) in the United States and revitalized the market. Titles such as Legend of Zelda or Super Mario Bros were instant hits. Companies like SEGA outclassed Nintendo along the year but didn’t outlive the Nintendo.
Today’s most predominant console manufacturers are Nintendo (current generation console codenamed Wii), Sony (PlayStation3) and Microsoft (Xbox 360). Competition has never been stronger and never has gaming been so serious.
I guess it’s high time I told you a thing or two about the peak of gaming history: computer games.Computer Games
Although consoles have been especially created to handle video games, it’s the flexibility of computers that has always pushed the gaming industry forward. The fact that computers could store data (whereas in the case of first generation consoles such as the Atari 2600, players had to start the game from the beginning) and their ever changing architecture led to a Golden Age of computer gaming that started around 1984 and continued until the early 2000s.
For around 16 years, computer games set the standard for gaming. Companies such as Sierra or LucasArts created wonderful tales filled with humor and adventure in point and click
classics such as the Quest For Glory series, King’s Quest series, Broken Sword series or the Indiana Jones series.
and city or real life simulators such as EA’s FIFA series or the Sim series from Maxis were launched. Chess lovers got their own game and went even beyond with real time strategies
such as Blizzard’s Starcraft and Warcraft games or Westwood’s Command and Conquer franchise and turn based strategies
such as Sid Meyer's Civilization Series or 3DOs Heroes Of Might And Magic.
In the 1980s and early in the 1990s, a board game/pen and paper game called Dungeons And Dragons
had already spread around the world. The game mechanics involved players creating characters that they would control with the roll of a dice in an imaginary world full of magic and mystical creatures.
Because the game relied on random rolls of the dice, and a good background story, it wasn't so long before the game was digitized and turned into a successful series of D&D computer games. From the early Bard's Tale and Neverwinter Nights games to the incredibly well designed Baldur's Gate series, the role playing game
genre was born.
Since I decided to give you a quick description for the most important genres of computer gaming, I couldn't omit the first person shooter
genre and the game that started it all: Doom.
In 1993, id Software created a game that would revolutionize gaming and the adjacent segment of the industry for years to come. In Doom, you play a marine who was deported to Mars because he assaulted an officer. Upon reaching Mars, he is enlisted in the Union Aerospace Corporation, a corporation that secretly conducted experiments with teleportation between the two moons of Mars. As you can probably guess, the experiments go terribly wrong and... that's where you come in.
Since the game was released in 1993, the technology didn't allow for very advanced storytelling, therefore the developer relied on the background story written in the manual (which I have just resumed) in order to pump the player up.
Although not the first (Maze War was the first of the genre), its great engine and multiplayer support made Doom the most important title in FPS history. Another revolutionary FPS was Half-Life, which also revolutionized the genre in 1998, by introducing a story that was told not through cutscenes or other simpler means but revolved around the main character through a series of incredibly well scripted sequences and well written dialogue.
As we were nearing the year 2000, consoles had advanced in technology to a level that could rival computers, companies that were once making “games by gamers for gamers” were now more concerned with the financial aspect of the industry and the computer gaming industry's Golden Age had ended.
A war would break loose. A war of commercial gaming, in which companies tried their best to outclass consoles and their manufacturers started. None of the two industries have yet recovered, with titles tending to be more and more commercial and less gamer-oriented. Of course, there are exceptions but not enough to change the situation.
Even if there are plenty of other titles that have marked the history of gaming from Ancient times to the present day, we live in an age of high-speed; thus, my article has to be as compact as possible. In the end, I will try and make an honorable mention list of titles that should have made it into the history of gaming but didn't due to lack of space.
The honorable mention goes to: Billiards and all of its forms, different forms of tennis such as Badminton and Ping Pong, Swimming, Extreme sports, every other video and computer game that marked history such as Carmageddon, Resident Evil franchise, Silent Hill franchise, Need For Speed series, Fallout, Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, World of Warcraft and many others.
From ancient game of honor and respect to international competitions and commercial titles, THE GAME has indeed an interesting history with a lot of pages that have yet to be written.
Even though I have done extensive research regarding this subject (seeing how I grew up an evolved around gaming) and I have attempted a fair classification of the most important games that have left their marks on history, it is impossible to write a complete and correct history of gaming in just a few pages. One thing you can be sure of is that those that haven’t been mentioned today will be featured in a future article.