Gamechangers: Games Through The Ages

For the Verve Christmas works do we headed to the wonderful Archie Brothers Cirque Electriq in Newmarket’s new Westfield where, along with old-school favourites like bowling, dodgems and racing car arcade games, awaits virtual reality experiences and a thrilling XD theatre where you can shoot demonic clowns as you ‘ride’ a rollercoaster’s twisting tracks. It’s certainly, a far cry from my very first video game console (a hand-me-down Atari Pong) and an even further cry from playing Guess Who with my cousin or countless rounds of noughts and crosses with my ever-patient nan.


Though three-row ‘board’ games have been found on tiles from Ancient Egypt, noughts and crosses (also known as tic-tac-toe) most closely resembles terni lapilli, one of the most popular pastimes of the Roman Empire, it required three to five pebbles to be placed in a row (now available to download as an app—more on those later).


Around 3,000BC, a form of draughts—or checkers—was born in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq), with backgammon established around the same time in nearby Persia (today’s Iran). But stretching all the way back to Egypt 3,500BC, Senet is the oldest board game, and though the exact rules are unknown, it’s considered a possible precursor to chess owing to its use of pawns on a multi-grid layout—and was even found in Tutankhamun’s tomb.


However, chess, too, has adopted many a different iteration throughout the eons, the modern version evolving from the seventh-century Indian game of chaturanga which is Sanskrit for ‘four arms’(once used to denote the four divisions of the army—infantry, cavalry, elephantry and chariotry—and now also the name of a yoga pose). India, too, gave the world snakes and ladders, which, rather charmingly, was invented around 200BC as a way of teaching children about morality—climbing up the ladders representing good behaviour and sliding down the snakes showing bad. It was introduced to Western countries following the British occupation.


Dice, crafted from clay, cubical stones and even bones, were created independently by numerous ancient cultures and first used for the purpose of gambling, it is thought, by the Ancient Greeks (though gambling was illegal at the time). While on the subject of gambling, most agree playing cards originated in the east, probably China, with mentions of paper tiles in Tang Dynasty scrolls. There is 14th-century European literature that refers to cards arriving from Arabia, and other writings concerning India’s tarot ones. The four classic suits of today originated in France, possibly representing classes of Medieval society (hearts for clergy, spades for military, diamonds for merchants and clubs for peasants), though, historians aren’t quite sure. Aces weren’t incorporated until the 18th century, jokers a century later.


Time is a game played beautifully by children” – Heraclitus


In 1889, a Japanese firm founded by Fusajiro Yamauchi also began selling playing cards. The company was called Nintendo.


In 1904, a US writer named Elizabeth Magie created a rudimentary board game called The Landlord’s Game to highlight social inequality, but soon discovered players took greater satisfaction from gathering piles of cash at the expense of their opponents instead. In 1933, the idea was picked up and tweaked for commercial sale by Pennsylvanian games designer Charles Darrow and within two years he became the world’s first board game millionaire. Darrow’s version was called Monopoly. The following few decades marked a golden age of boards games, spawning the likes of Scrabble, Risk, Yahtzee, Cluedo and Trivial Pursuit.


In 1958, William Higinbotham, a US physicist who helped develop the first atomic bomb, created the first interactive video game, called Tennis for Two—the precursor of Pong. Four years later, MIT researchers created Spacewars, the first computer-based video game, but, frustratingly, it costs so much to manufacture it would be years before it could be mass produced.


The first commercially sold arcade game, Computer Space, was created in 1971 by Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney and over the following 10 years came the first home console, Magnavox Odyssey; legendary video console company Atari, loaded with Pong, then changeable game cartridges; and then iconic arcade games like Space Invaders and Pac-Man.



The ‘80s gave rise to Nintendo starring Donkey Kong, Tetris and Super Mario Bros, while urban planning game SimCity was a surprise super-sensation. Sega arrived at the close of the decade, propelled by Sonic the Hedgehog. The ‘90s heralded the arrival the Sony PlayStation whose popularity eventually forced Sega to drop out of the video game arms race, but not before revolutionising the industry with the Dreamcast, the world’s first internet-ready offering. Sony’s answer, at the dawn of the new millennium, was the DVD-friendly PlayStation 2 whose graphics were superior to a computer. Microsoft entered the fray the following year with the Xbox marking the beginning of an ongoing Lionel Messi versus Cristiano Ronaldo-like battle over ultimate greatness. Nintendo piped up their Wii in 2006 to get gamers off the couch and smashing countless TV screens and windows as controllers slipped from frantic, sweaty palms.


Two years later another revolution arrived in the form of mobile gaming as Apple launched their App Store. Barely a decade passed before mobile gaming overtook consoles. In 2012, Angry Birds pulled in more than $300 million, with more than two billion downloads by 2014.


“Video game companies spent decades marketing blockbuster releases and pricey console hardware to a niche community of technology enthusiasts,” notes Business Insider’s Kevin Webb, “but the quality and accessibility of smartphone games have changed what it means to be a ‘gamer.’”


With the development of 5G, mobile users will enjoy faster speeds and even more spectacular viewing experiences that promises to re-revolutionise augmented reality gaming. (For those unsure of the difference between augmented and virtual realities, AR blends fantasy with the real-world environment—think Pokémon Go—usually via a mobile device to allow for actual exploration, while VR involves the wearing of a headset to insert static players into an imaginary world.)


By 2021, 200 million people—mainly in Asia and the US—are expected to have access to 5G, when millennials will be aged, on average, 34, the “prime gaming demographic”, according to San Fran tech website VentureBeat: “Combine this millennial ascension with the ever-increasing number of women playing games and you start to see how video games are set to take off.”


Ready to capitalise, tech giants such as Google and Apple are launching their own streaming platforms for gaming apps.


“The gaming industry is about to enter not only a new generation of consoles,” writes Tom Hoggins for The Telegraph, “but seemingly a new way to access games altogether in form of multiple, Netflix and Spotify-style subscriptions services.”


But ironically—and perhaps somewhat comfortingly—as gaming has become ever more fantastical, traditional tabletop games have experienced something of a renaissance; some have even labelled it another golden age. More than 5,000 board game cafes opened in the US in 2016, while Research and Markets predicts a nine percent growth in the global board game market between 2017-2023, reaching values of more than $18 billion.


Game on.