The roots of video gaming go deep into the longer history of games, puzzles, and play. Backyard games of cops and robbers predated first-person shooters. Puzzles existed long before designers incorporated them in video games. Pen and paper RPGs proved so exciting and immersive that programmers began creating electronic variations. To celebrate and explore this deep history of game playing and puzzle solving, The Strong has opened Game Time!, a permanent exhibit at the National Museum of Play.
My work with others on this exhibit for the past couple of years highlighted anew for me the many ways non-electronic forms of play have influenced video games.
Sometimes the physical forms of electronic games descend from their analog and electro-mechanical antecedents. The arcade cabinet, the form of electronic gaming that first introduced millions of people to video gaming, found a home in bars, restaurants, and arcades because people had already grown used to playing pinball in these settings. If you follow ICHEG’s Facebook page, you know we’ve been rapidly expanding our pinball collection, and the Game Time! exhibit provides guests with more opportunities to test their reflexes on these eye-catching, bumper-thumping machines.
The basic play mechanics of video games often descend from older, non-electronic antecedents as well. For example, one exhibit case of race games from the 19th-century to today illustrates race games long preceded Mario Kart or Gran Turismo. Similarly, electronic word games have often mimicked their analog predecessors. I enjoy playing Ruzzle on my phone, but it differs little from Boggle. Similarly, one of the most popular of all electronic games, Words with Friends, is essentially Scrabble ported to a screen. It’s a wonderful irony that Hasbro released a Words with Friends board game to entice players who have perhaps never played Scrabble but know its electronic cousin. Old-fashioned brain teasers and puzzles demonstrate a mainstay of computer gaming as well. Guests in the Game Time! exhibit might try their hand at pentominoes, the fiendishly-difficult shape sorting game that inspired Alexey Pajitnov to create Tetris.
Perhaps more than any other game, Dungeons and Dragons molded the basic structure of a significant number of video games. D&D introduced fundamental elements of game play such as experience points, fantasy settings, the level, the boss, non-player character, and much more. Many of the best-known game designers of all time, such as Richard Garriott, Don Daglow, and Lou Castle, began programming computer games because of their passion for D&D. Anyone interested in the history of role playing games will enjoy seeing the sections of Game Time! that explore the history of D&D. Most notable is the Dalluhn manuscript, a copy of what is possibly the earliest known version of Dungeons and Dragons, that predates the first published copy. ICHEG is grateful to game historian Jon Peterson for lending it to us for display.
Board games, card games, puzzles, and other forms of non-electronic play are, of course, not merely antecedents to their electronic counterparts. If you play a Euro game like Settlers of Catan or are part of BoardGameGeek, you know that non-electronic gaming is alive and thriving. In fact, I prefer analog games to video games for some styles of play. I haven’t seen an electronic jigsaw puzzle that matches the pleasure and sociability of putting together a traditional cardboard version. When I truly want to engage deeply with people at a party, I prefer a game like Pictionary or Telestration over even the most sociable video games like WarioWare. And while I love what Douglas Wilson and his colleagues have done at Der Gute Fabrik to create “Folk Games” like Johann Sebastian Joust, I still find pleasure in folding paper into a football and flicking it across the table.
So, if like me, you enjoy games of all varieties, come visit Game Time! and eGameRevolution and celebrate with us the wonderful history of games, puzzles, and play!
By Jon-Paul Dyson, Director, International Center for the History of Electronic Games and Vice President for Exhibits