I finally recently finished a book I have been trying to finish for some time now (a full review is coming soon, stay tuned) Ivory Vikings, about the Lewis Chessmen. I was inspired by some of the content as well as the overall concept of the book to draw a comparison between the past and the present regarding games and gamers. This pastime is not only a modern historical phenomenon.
Teens and young adults all over the world today now identify as ‘gamers’. Much spare time and birthday money are now spent on games of all sorts. Identifying as a nerd or a geek, is now in style. Console games, board games, computer games, virtual reality simulations, etc. Games for smart phones, and games for tablets- they have them all.
I personally, find that video games have become too challenging for myself, and I do not have the time or patience to ‘level up’ my skills so to speak. However, when I moved to the UK for my undergraduate degree, I became friends with an individual who dragged me into her world of board games. Big time. My boyfriend and I have now amassed an impressive collection of board games of all sorts that we enjoy playing with friends and family.
The National Museums Scotland held an exhibition last year called Game Masters, which touched on the evolution of games from the 70s to now, Scottish contributions, indie pioneers, and more. Visitors could play games, and interact with a brightly colored and fun exhibition. I really enjoyed it myself! Click here to be taken to the NMS page with more information.While it is awesome that museums are identifying and capitalizing on this ever-growing societal trend, I would love to draw your attention to the fact that people have been playing games for centuries. Some of these games are not so different from the ones that we still play today.
One game called Hnefatafl, was mentioned numerous times in the Icelandic sagas. It was a checkerboard-based game that used nobs and Kings to simulate a raid strategy based game. We do not know exactly how I was played, but similarities have been drawn to other games and sets from archaeological sites have helped gamers reconstruct what they think the rules may have been. Both game boards and pieces have been found throughout Scandinavia, the UK, and Iceland submerged in bogs and uncovered on archaeological sites being excavated. This game and its pieces can be bought online and enjoyed today. How novel.
Some believe that some of the Lewis chessmen were carved to be used to play Hnefatafl, although this theory cannot in reality be proved or disproved at the moment. Much of what books and academics theorize about them is constantly under debate. Regardless of where they came from or who they were intended for (which is mainly what people are arguing about), someone spent a great deal of time creating these beautiful pieces to use and enjoy. They wanted the set to be different and more elaborate than the average set of pieces. Maybe they wanted to wow their acquaintances or the recipient of the pieces, who knows!
If after reading this blog you went to Google and searched ‘ancient board games’, so many results with information spanning Africa, Asia, and the Americas would be available for you to read. It is remarkable to think that after all of this time, we still have not come up with that many new ideas- just new variations, that like video games, have just become more complicated.
As I mentioned, I have a close friend who introduced me to the world of board games. Many times I have sat in her living room with my head down after a long day, a glass of wine and a slice of pizza in hand, trying to learn the rules of a new game she had picked for us to play. I can imagine people across the world centuries ago doing the same thing. A traveler comes into port, ready to trade his goods. After the business is done, someone breaks out a game to play from their homeland, while they eat bread and drink beer with each other by firelight. Fathers and sons play chess today just as they did in India where it originated in the 6th century. We are so predictable!
Ancient or modern, being a ‘gamer’, or simply a ‘player of games’ is nothing new. I hope that this may inspire you to look further into some of your favorite games, or perhaps to discover some new ones. Right now, my boyfriend and I have been enjoying a board game showed to us by friends called Betrayal at House on the Hill.
Live long and prosper.