Games are some of the oldest pastimes in human history. Archaeologists have found evidence that points to board games dating back to Ancient Egypt and Ancient Mesopotamia. Some of these pieces date back to 2000 BCE, including rudimentary dice and boards.
Senet comes from Egypt, while the Royal Game of Ur comes from Mesopotamia. Both are strategy games that required players to move pieces across a board, taking up territory in an archaic type of war game (more on this below). Thousands of years later, humans are still entertained by similar games.
However, they may not realize where their favorite games come from. In fact, from centuries-old games of chance to some of the most popular digital games in existence, we’re surrounded by games with unique origins. In some cases, they’re even based on hardboiled fields of academia—even if modern players have no idea.
Roulette & the Perpetual Motion Machine
Roulette is known for its spinning wheel and spread of black-and-red numbered squares. Even as online roulette slowly overtakes its traditional model, the game is known for excitement and waiting with bated breath as the croupier sends the wheel and ball into motion.
But not many players realize that roulette originates in a perpetual motion machine, created by one of the 17th century’s greatest mathematical thinkers. Meet Blaise Pascal, father of modern roulette—though he’s normally known for his contributions to philosophy and physics.
In the 1600s, Pascal was tinkering away with his physics and mathematics formulas (amongst other pursuits). One of his primary interests was in creating a perpetual motion machine based on newfound principles in physics. Pascal failed in his attempts. However, his abandoned perpetual motion machine quickly found favor with revelers in Paris. By the 1700s, roulette was one of the city’s most popular games—with an origin in probability theory and projected geometry.
Tetris & Russian Science Bunkers
Almost everyone has tried their hand at Tetris—or they know someone who has. This arcade game is immortalized today in mobile games and other digital versions. However, not many people realize that the game was invented by a Soviet software engineer named Alexey Pajitnov.
Back in the 1980s, Pajitnov was working as a speech recognition researcher for a Soviet computer center. He enjoyed tinkering with his Electronika 60, the computer model that he was charged with researching. He created multiple games on the Electronika 60, including an attempt to remake his favorite game from childhood: pentominoes.
Just like Pascal, Pajitnov failed to recreate the magic of pentominoes. However, in doing so, he reimagined the game—and Tetris was born. The game got its name from tetra, which means ‘four’, and his favorite sport tennis. The number four was based on the number of different pieces in the original game.
Dungeons & Dragons is a tabletop role-playing game. And even though pop culture has treated DnD as a niche interest, it has a global following. In fact, there are over 13 million tabletop DnD players around the world—and even more if digital variations are being counted. Given the game’s emphasis on imagination and strategy, it’s no surprise that it has its origins in wargaming.
But what is wargaming? Wargaming is a type of game that requires two or more players to strategically simulate an armed conflict. They’re usually based on air, land, or sea tactics. Within wargaming, miniature wargaming took off (think: plastic toy soldiers). Eventually, these interests spawned a game called Chainmail, which was launched in 1971.
Chainmail was the brainchild of a gaming group located in Wisconsin. The group specialized in wargaming but wanted to create large-scale multiplayer modes for mass combat. As Chainmail evolved, DnD slowly became a fantasy-based offshoot. Rather than wield military formations, players could craft their own characters, adventures, and followers.
Rather than overtake the enemy in an air, sea, or land battle, players instead delve into highly creative settings and plots. Additionally, the game incorporates non-playing characters (NPCs), along with other features like experience points (XP).