Images, items and iconography of gaming, part 1 – photography of play

August 19th is World Photography Day. What better reason to gather together a load of awesome photos of people enjoying life by playing games together?

The featured image for this article shows a game of ‘draughts‘ (or ‘checkers‘). Like many of the games shown below, the history of draughts spans across many centuries, countries and cultures: ultimately, I hope these photos serve to demonstrate the universal importance of play to civilisation, and how (most) humans have an impulse to engage each other in game-playing.

Tribesmen play a version of rock, paper, scissors
Men dressed as Kalahari ‘bushmen’ play one of the many variants of ‘rock, paper, scissors‘ that have developed around the world and across many cultures. Source.

An image from the early days of photography showing two of Lewis Carroll’s aunts playing ‘chess‘. Perhaps the most globally famous of all board games, chess is one of numerous games that blurs the boundary with sport. Source.

Chinese chess in the streets
Men gather on the streets to play ‘Xiangqi’ (‘Chinese chess‘). Just as with chess in many Western countries (perhaps even more so), the game is often played in open-air public places. Source.

‘Go’ is one of the oldest and most complex board games. Created in Ancient China, it is played across many Asian countries and made its way West at the turn of the 20th century. However, perhaps due to its complexity, it lacks the culturally visibility of its strategy board game counterparts. Source.

British soldiers play a game of cards whilst stationed in France during the First World War. Another game form of possible Chinese origin, the now ubiquitous card designs have their origins in Late Medieval Europe. Source.

Playing backgammonA man prepares to roll in a game of ‘backgammon‘. Originating in ancient Persia – making it one of a few games that might be older than Go – in more recent centuries it became a staple of many British drinking establishments. Source.

playing dominoesThough perhaps more associated with constructing elaborate chain-reactions, ‘dominoes’ provide players with an array of simple game forms. It’s yet another on this list that likely originated in China many centuries ago. Source.

Perhaps (modern) China’s most internationally famous game – partly due to a recent proliferation of apps and online games – ‘Mahjong‘ is tile-based and plays somewhat like a more elaborate version of various Western strategic card games. Source.

Playing shogi
Dressed as samurai, these Japanese people are playing their home country’s most revered game: ‘shogi’. Belonging to the same family of strategy games as chess and xiangqi, for many shogi is a way of life, and within Japan its status as a ‘mind-sport’ is highly developed and professionalised. Source.

Cosplay viking playing taflAn aptly dressed costume-player ponders a move in a form of ‘tafl‘ (literally ‘table’) game, commonly referred to as the ‘viking game‘. Unlike the aforementioned strategy games, this game features asymmetrical design: one of the players essentially attempts to besiege the other. Source.

family-playing-monopoly-vintageThe marmite of the board game world, ‘Monopoly’ preceded Mario Kart as the family divider and friendship killer. One of the newer entities on the list, the property-trading game was invented in the US at the turn of the 20th century. Source.

Playing ScrabbleFriends begin the battle of words that is ‘Scrabble‘, in this case the travel edition. An example of a letter arrangement game, the level of depth to its gameplay has helped afford it greater recognition than all other word-based board games. Source.

Gyan_chaupar snakes and laddersThe children’s classic ‘Snakes and Ladders’ evolved from ancient Indian games such ‘Gyan Chauper’. These older versions were based on Indian philosophical ideas relating to morality, with the ladders and snakes symbolising virtues and vices respectively, and the players’ ascent representing enlightenment. Source.

Playing conkersSchoolboys engaging in the classic British pastime of ‘conkers‘. Collecting the fallen conkers, varnishing them, obliterating those of your opponents or watching your prized ‘fiver’ finally succumb to a well placed shot… happy times! Source.

Playing JengaCreated by board game designer Leslie Scott, ‘Jenga’ (meaning ‘build’ in Swahili) has become a deceptively tricky family favourite in both its standard indoor form and its larger outdoor variant. Source.

Playing marblesPlayed with since at least Roman times, ‘marbles‘ – like Pokémon cards after them – provide an element of collectability as well as affording several game forms. Source.

Hopscotch 2Hopscotch‘ can also be traced back to Rome, and is popular with young children the world over. First known in English as ‘Scotch-hop’ (or ‘Peevers’, ‘Peeverals’ or ‘Pabats’ across the North and Scotland), it’s perhaps one of the most physically challenging schoolyard games (though as in the photo it can be played elsewhere). Source.

Kids plat noughts and crossesTwo kids attempt to outmanoeuvre one another in what is typically most people’s introduction to strategy based games: ‘noughts and crosses‘ (or ‘tic-tac-toe‘ as it’s known in the US). Source.

Playing skittles
A man chucks a ball towards the wooden pins in a game of pub ‘skittles‘, a predecessor to the North American pastime of ten-pin bowling. Source.

Mario Hanafuda
Hanafuda‘, or ‘flower cards‘, are a Japanese variety of playing cards divided into twelve suits corresponding to the months. Like many Japanese cultural artefacts, they are aesthetically influenced by nature. Above are shown a set of Nintendo themed cards, released as a customer-loyalty reward to commemorate Nintendo’s storied history: the company started life in the 19th century as a producer of hand-made hanafuda. Source.

Mum plays GB
In this photo, a mum is allegedly helping one of her children complete a particularly hard level of Super Mario Land (1989) on the original Gameboy. I say allegedly because to me that looks more like the cartridge for Tetris (1989). This photo speaks to the fascinating sociality that single player games can possess which has given rise to the likes of Twitch, the premier streaming service for video game playing: often, watching someone play a great solo game can be as entertaining as playing yourself (or more so). Source.


2 thoughts on “Images, items and iconography of gaming, part 1 – photography of play

    1. There were several that I’d wanted to include but left out because it was hard to find good photos of people actually playing them, such as Bagatelle and Cluedo (or Clue as you might know it). Mahjong and the early Snakes and Ladders made the cut because I felt their images were interesting enough despite lacking people. The hanafuda got in on the Nintendo connection!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s