Playing games is hardwired into every individual at birth. The simple act of shaking keys lacks any rules or goal, but it’s a deeply engaging game for most toddlers. As we get older, our games get more complex but while computers have allowed for extremely complex games, they really haven’t changed “gaming” all that much.
There have always been role-playing games like Cowboys and Indians and Jedi and Sith. I imagine Egyptian children pretended to be Pharaohs and Slaves and Japanese children in the ninth century pretended to be Samurai roaming the countryside saving villages and defeating evil.
Casual gaming has been around since the first caveman obsessively kicked a pine cone around. Turn-based strategy games like chess and mahjong have roots that reach back to the 6th century and 500 BC respectively. Real-time strategy games are basically how every group of warriors has operated since one group of folks wanted to defeat another group of folks.
The games we play on computers have been with us as a species from our earliest days. What the computer has done is simply let us play those games in a different way—the games are the same, the method is different.
I think what most people mean when they claim computers have changed games is that computers have changed the way we play games with the implication being a bad one—”Kids don’t have imaginations because the computer does it all for them.”
A personal anecdote in response. My eight year old son Jacob loves TV and loves video games. The other night we watched The Last Airbender and Jacob was engrossed. Immediately after the film ended, Jacob jumped up and started mimicking the moves of the Airbenders, pretending to control the wind. Within an hour he claimed to be an excellent waterbender (seems he switched roles) and that he’d teach me how to do it if I wanted. He continues to waterbend with his little brother as they run through the house defeating the evil firebenders. This from a kid that can spend hours playing Mario Cart, an essentially mindless game.
Games are alive and well in many forms. So, let’s not ask ourselves, “Have computers changed games?” Instead let’s ask, “What new ways can we find to play games?” because personally I think games just keep getting better and better.