With this article we would like to leave the topic of semiotics and visual design rest for a while (in order to get back to it with more insights and fresh information, of course) and get to look at another topic which interests us a lot, and that is game design, or more precisely, to the ancient profession of game designers. The term gamification, or simply the use of game design techniques and mechanics to solve problems and make technology more engaging (more on that here ) has been winning popularity all over the world and is often used by experience and service designers. Game makers have suddenly turned from nerds into the new superheroes of the creative industry.
So is game design as new as non-gamers perceive it? The answer is, of course, no. What suddenly dawned upon everyone is that the game mechanics that have been developed by humans for thousands and thousands of years could be applied to other areas of life.
Game design has always been a predominantly male industry, or at least until rather recently games were designed mostly by men and for men. And that is quite logical since play is a learning activity (which can also be found among mammals), and ancient men needed to learn to compete with each other or with other species in order to survive – compete in throwing rocks, compete in hunting or getting a female, therefore most our games have competition and fighting as their essential components ( for more information on that see an amazing lecture ‘Phylogeny of Play’ by Cris Crawford).
So what were they, the games of the past, and who were their designers? During our research on this topic we were astonished to find out that according to greek myths the creator of one of the first known ball games, was, supposedly, a WOMAN.Her name was Nausicaa, in Greek myths she was the daughter of King Alcinous and Queen Arete of Phaeacia, she was also a character in Homer‘s Odyssey.
Homer decribes how Nausicaa is playing a ball game called Phaininda before finding Odyssey, and according to some sources she was also the inventor of the game.
The approximate time when the game was invented was around 2000 BC. Desipte supposedly being invented by a woman, the game was mostly played by men.The early Phaininda was later adopted by the Romans, who renamed it into Harpastum (“the small ball game”) and it remained popular for around 800 years in the Roman Empire. It was played by 5-12 players on a rectangular field marked by boundary lines and split by a center line. Each team had to keep the ball in their own half for as song as they can, while their opponents tried to steal it and get it over to their own side.
Emperor Julius Caesar used Harpastum to maintain the physical fitness of his soldiers and keep them battle ready.
According to Plutarch, Alexander the Great was also a huge fan of Harpastum. It is said that when Alexander took over from his father in 336BC the Persian emperor Darius III sent him a golden ball with the message that he should confine himself to the sport and leave the business of war to those better adapted to it.
So despite the fact that games are perceived by us as something innovative, it is more than two 2000 year old and rather traditional male-driven discipline mostly used to teach men compete with each other in order to prepare them for real-life battles and fights. Only recently it started trying to open itself up to the female audience and, since 2000 years is a long time compared to some decades or even centuries, it has a long way to go.