Games have been an important facet of human socialisation and entertainment since time immemorial. They have always helped people come together in a battle of wits, strategy and skill, often for the amusement of an audience. It is now reported that there are over 3 billion gamers worldwide – and that’s just video games. Think how many more members of the global population play offline. It’s a lot.
Though gaming can also be a solo activity, or one which takes place amongst a small group of friends, it has reached a level of cultural importance which makes it significant to society. With this in mind, let’s examine the history of several of the world’s favourite games. We will cover ancient prototypes, casino classics and modern video games in a quest to discover what it is that makes gaming such a universal success.
Chess has its roots in ancient India and the game of chaturanga. Although it has undergone some structural changes since the 7th century CE, the game is still recognisably the same one. There have been similar strategy games the world over for hundreds of years, from shatranj or chatrang in Persia (Iran), to xiangqi in China, and shogi in Japan. However, it wasn’t until the 19th century that a global standard was set for modern chess. It continues to be one of the most popular and widely played games in the world, from outdoor tables in the parks of New York to gaming halls in South Korea. Online chess has also proved popular, particularly on the gaming platform Chess.com, where multiple different varieties can be played against real life competitors.
The table game of roulette may look modern in comparison to the ancient origins of chess, but it was actually invented way back in the 17th century. Mathematician Blaise Pascal was hoping to create a perpetual motion machine but instead happened upon the design for a roulette wheel. By the 18th century, the game had taken off in its native country of France. It then spread to the casinos and gaming halls across the rest of Europe, the UK, America and the world. Although the core elements of roulette remain the same, developers and providers have sometimes implemented their own twist over the years, leading to a number of different variants. American has an extra 00 pocket, whereas European or French retains just one single 0; High Roller has higher min. and max. limits, whereas Premium may have a higher RTP rate.
Legend of Zelda
Now for a significant jump forward in time to one of the most successful video gaming franchises we have ever seen. Originally released as The Legend of Zelda for the Famicom Disk System in 1986, Nintendo subsequently adapted it to be played on the NES, Game Boy Advance, Game Cube, Wii and Switch. And that’s just the first title in the series. There have now been 20 main game releases, culminating in 2023’s Tears of the Kingdom, which received rave reviews across the board and became the fastest selling Zelda title of all time. The appeal of Hyrule and its population of heroes, villains, monsters and dragons, comes from the masterful storytelling, beautiful visuals and ever-improving gameplay dynamics involved in its production.
Although the most recent Zelda titles still follow a traditional video game format, Fortnite was one of the first breakthrough games to introduce freemium, multiplayer-only, online play. Originally released in 2017, it’s gone from strength to strength since then, becoming its own phenomenon. Available across almost all gaming platforms, including PC, console and mobile, there are currently 500 million registered users, almost half of which are active on a monthly basis. The format of the game is a battle royale, with the aim to defend and defeat the other 99 players and emerge victorious. It’s one example of how the ancient format of 1-to-1 battle games such as chess has been updated and improved for the modern gamer.