Gaming began 5000 years ago. Why is it still appealing today?

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The earliest games emerged some 5,000 years ago. They were about risk and chance, and had religious or spiritual components. Photo by Shutterstock.

Board games have been with mankind longer than the written word. What is it about gameplaying that endures, even in the age of smartphones and instant gratification? What do we know about the origins of games, and why we started to play? 

The earliest games began to emerge 5,000 years ago. They were often simple games of chance with a religious or spiritual component. Ancient Egyptians played Senet, while chess gained traction around the world. That’s all according to Tristan Donovan, author of "It’s All a Game: The History of Board Games from Monopoly to Settlers of Catan" and “Replay: The History of Video Games.”

“Probability is quite a recent concept … but for most of humanity's existence, it [dice] wasn't something that produced random numbers. There was some spiritual force deciding the outcome of those dice, and we still have it today,” says Donovan. 

Now in 2022, people come together over games and their rules/parameters, and we can experience victory, defeat, and the simple satisfaction of figuring out a problem, Donovan adds. 

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Andrea Brody