Have a flick through any lifestyle magazine or website and you will see no shortage of article written about how our leisure habits are changing. Male or female, rich or poor, child or octogenarian, nothing is done today the way it was in the pre-online age, they tell us.
But is that really the case? For sure, the internet has changed how we engage in leisure activities, there’s no doubt about it. But is the what so different to 20 or 30 years ago? Streaming a movie might be quite different to waiting for one to come on TV at a scheduled time. But when you are sitting watching it, it’s still the same movie.
The same can be said about the games we play. Online gaming is a huge industry worth billions every year, and it has sprung up out of nowhere. But despite the screaming headlines that tell us the world has suddenly become obsessed with gaming to the exclusion of all else, it is again just a new way of accessing something that has been a popular pursuit for years.
Not convinced? Let’s take a look at one of the oldest forms of gaming in the world. Card games can trace their history back almost 500 years. They are as popular today as they ever were. In fact, as the following examples go to prove, some have been given a whole new lease of life thanks to the internet.
Poker is not just one of the most popular card games, it is also the best known, but at the same time the most misunderstood. Thanks to the many cultural references in movie and TV, everyone has half an idea about the rules, and that a Royal Flush beats three aces and so on, but for many that’s where the expertise comes to an end. Or at least, it was.
This is a game that has grown in popularity in the online age, simply because the internet has made it accessible to a wider range of people. That’s thanks to online guides and tutorials, not to mention the ability to win money playing different types of the game at online casinos. Yet at the same time, playing poker sitting around a table with real cards and assorted casino gadgets is as popular as ever. These card shufflers, chip holders, organizers and so on add that feeling of the real-world casino to proceedings when having a casual game with friends. The fact that a market exists for gadgets like these is testament to just how popular traditional poker is to this day.
To a certain extent, you can thank the World Series of Poker for that. This international pro-league has captured the imagination and built up a fanbase all over the world. TV coverage of games has led many to suggest it should be treated as a sport, and there has even been talk of poker being introduced as an Olympic event in 2020.
Whatever the variation, from three card stud to Texas Holdem to Jacks or Better on the video machines, poker is a card game that will never go out of fashion.
For our second game, we are still not straying far from the casino. Blackjack has a history almost as long as that of poker, and from a casual playing angle, is actually far more popular.
The thing about blackjack is that the rules are so simple, most of us learned to play on a rainy afternoon sitting with our parents when we were about five years old. Yet this seemingly simple game has a hidden depth to it, and that’s what keeps people coming back to play time and again.
The game is a mathematician’s dream. As the player is only up against the dealer, and the dealer has to hit or stand according to predetermined rules, there are only a finite number of possible outcomes depending on the cards dealt. The only “moving piece” in terms of decision making is you, the player. That means it is possible to calculate every possible outcome to every possible hand, and play in the way that will give you the best statistical chance of winning.
In essence, that is all basic blackjack strategy is about. The beauty of it is that you can either keep it very simple, with three or four basic rules on when to hit, stand, split etc, or you can go deep into the mathematics. The further down the rabbit hole you go, the better your win rate gets. No wonder this game is so popular with both beginners and seasoned experts the world over.
Also known as solitaire or patience, Klondike has been a staple among card enthusiasts for centuries. Probably invented in France in the middle ages, the game as it is known today has been common in the UK and USA since the late 1800s. However, it enjoyed an immense surge in popularity around the 1990s and turn of the millennium.
As laptop computers and mobile phones started to infiltrate our day to day lives, the designers and sellers were quick to understand that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Simple games were introduced on what today look like very basic handsets and PCs. Klondike was a popular choice, but proved to be only the beginning.
The online gaming phenomenon has led to an explosion in variations on conventional solitaire-style card games. Freecell is something that few had even heard of prior to 1990, but by 2000, everyone was playing it on their Nokia handsets or while sitting at work when the boss’s back was turned. Today, there are websites dedicated to solitaire, with new forms of the game appearing every day, and even bizarre crossovers like football solitaire.
Yet while some of these games are likely to be here today and gone tomorrow, the classics like Klondike, clock patience and pyramid solitaire will endure, and will almost certainly be as popular in 2119 as they were in 1919 and they are today. Perhaps, when it comes to some aspects of our leisure pursuits, things do not change quite as dramatically as the media would like to suggest.