17 June 2023

Gaming Underground: The Biggest Hits & Their Strange Origins

The gaming industry is one of the world’s most expansive in the entertainment sector. Over the last twenty years, the approach to gaming has changed. First and foremost, the hardware has diversified, allowing gamers to play from smartphones, iPads, PCs and consoles alike. Second, the proliferation of eSports has also turned the industry into a spectator sport.

This has led to a ‘golden era’ in gaming, where virtually everyone in the world has a preferred title. Even if its digital backgammon, an educational game for students or a casual title like Candy Crush Saga, there’s a game for just about every interest and skill level. Unsurprisingly, this has led to a proliferation of new and imaginative titles.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few obvious favorites. For example, even though Super Mario has been around since the early 1980s, the character and world created by Nintendo remain super popular. In fact, the recent The Super Mario Bros. Movie proves just how popular the world and characters are.

But what about other classic hits? Not all were born from the arcade era, after all. In fact, many have downright strange origins. Let’s dive in, starting with a classic table game.

Roulette & Physics

Roulette is considered one of the most exciting casino titles. But anyone who has studied up on the roulette board layout has probably noticed there are quite a few ways to place a bet—or multiple bets. In other words, the game involves quite a bit of probability-based and mathematical thinking. 

This focus on hard numbers actually points back to the origin of the game. Back in the late 1600s, French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal was working to redefine certain laws of motion within physics. To prove his theory, he sought to create a machine that would remain in perpetual motion. Though he failed, the spinning wheel he’d created found a new life beyond the world of science.

By the 1700s, Pascal’s failed experiment had become a critical component of the game of roulette and it had found its way into gaming halls across Paris.

VR & Sword of Damocles

Let’s be clear about one thing: VR has multiple origin stories. We’re going to focus on the Sword of Damocles, the very first head-mounted display that included tracking capabilities, patented in 1968. This early VR display came from a group of computer scientists at MIT who dubbed their creation with its strange moniker.

The early technology required a large display system, which included head tracking. To accomplish this, developers created an ‘arm’ that was suspended from the ceiling, following the player around to track head movements and create visuals. This element led to the game’s name, which comes from a biblical story about the burden of kings. In it, one king had a sword mounted above his throne to remind him of the perils of wielding great power—a callback to the headset’s hefty mechanical arm.

The Hobbyist Hits: Tetris & Minecraft

Both roulette and modern VR were the results of influential thinking, tied to huge goals related to physics and digital technology. But not all gaming hits come from people who were intentionally hoping to innovate. Instead, two of the world’s most popular titles were the results of hobbyist tinkering.

During the Soviet Era, a computer engineer named Alexey Pajitnov was going a bit stir-crazy while at work. To pass the time in 1985, he created a digital variation of two of his favorite games. The result was Tetris, which has since become one of the world’s most ubiquitous games. It’s offered on over 65 platforms—which makes it the most ported game in the world. 

Fast forward three decades and another computer programmer, Sweden’s Markus Persson, decided to create his own game using Javascript. In 2009, he decided to turn his hobby into an actual video game, which he titled Minecraft. The open-world game has since become the world’s highest-selling video game of all time as of 2021. To this day, it retains a monthly user rate of around 140 million players.