Once upon a time, computer gaming was staring at a blurry black and white screen, and seeing a range of dots intersect, and you the player controlling one of those dots. Then, the dots became colour and the dots formed pictures. Then, they got sound. And if you are reading this, you probably know the rest of the story.
Online gaming surprisingly is almost as old as video games themselves. It begins in 1978, when the internet consisted of packet-based computer networking, the sort only used by Grateful Dead fans in Southern California to contact their heroes who had embraced computing. The first games were MUD, not anything to do when the then-popular British glam-rock band/Elvis tribute act but “Multi-User Dungeon”, a mix of RPG (heavily inspired by the then-current Dungeons and Dragons craze), interactive fiction, chatroom, hack and slash, etc, with people typing descriptions of rooms and making a small visual here and there. However, this was originally confined to an internal network before becoming connected to ARPANET packet switching network in 1980. It took until 1984 until the MUD “Island of Kesmai” became the first commercially released online game, followed two years later by “The Links” – Japanese Microsoft or MSX’s attempt to create an online gaming community with oddly titled games like “Girly Block”, “Daiva Dr. Amandora” and “Super Laydock”. The MUDs were the catalyst for everything from Everquest to Second Life, and the MUDs gave breaks to the likes of Ultima’s Raph Koster, Everquest’s Brad McQuaid and the Elder Scrolls’ Matt Firor. These later games of course introduced the controversial addition of paid downloadable content – or DLC – which leads neatly into online gaming.
Gambling and video games – now, that is slightly different. Games tended to be solitary, gambling by virtue isn’t. These things go hand in hand. Gaming online has changed the videogame landscape completely with MMORPGS ever-popular, but online gambling is booming, especially with so many new gambling and bingo sites in the UK.
Then there’s companies like Betfair, William Hill and more ambitious, less gambling, more game-y companies like the regularly copyright-baiting nutters at High 5 Games have pursued this quest since, in 1994, Antigua, of all places passed the Free Trade & Processing Act, allowing licences to be granted to those who wanted to open online casinos. The technology to create such pastime originates in of all places, the Isle of Man. Microgaming Software Systems Limited began their online casino in 1994, and since then have been leaders in the field, creating such groundbreaking software as the MPN online poker network, and the progressive slot Mega Moolah. Mega Moolah set a new world record for paying the largest online slot machine jackpot on 6 October 2015, with £13,209,300 (€17,879,645) going to 26-year-old soldier Jonathan Heywood from Crewe, Cheshire. Microgaming’s work enables some to live in a cyberpunk reality, even their latest invention reeks of William Gibson – Virtual Reality Roulette.
It’s not just traditional casino games – Paddy Power, Betfair, etc. have basically turned the art of bookmaking into an online paradise. No longer a place full of blokes in flat caps and sheepskin coats, it has diversified into somewhere a lot more glamorous and international than say your local bookie’s, where the stench of sleaze has never quite left, even though cigarettes are a thing of the past.
And then, there’s that other form of gambling popular with your gran – bingo. Online bingo is one of those things that takes up afternoon TV ad breaks, since the death of cigarette advertising and confectionery commercials before a certain time. There are literally hundreds of identikit companies, some with gimmicks, some that work, others that don’t. Surprisingly, many of them survive long after their TV ubiquity has ended. The once-unescapable Foxy Bingo, the pink safari-suited lovechild of Vernon Kay and Fox McCloud has been given a slightly more Michael Bublé-esque “modern-crooner” image, but still has a generic Northern English accent.
People don’t even have to put on a tux or glamorous dress anymore as we have casinos right at our finger tips at anytime. And in bingo lingo, it’s clickety-clicks, your gran doesn’t need to put on her best blue rinse to take her pick.