It’s easy to see the appeal of gaming. While video games and eSports are part of the modern entertainment industry, games have been around for millennia. Ancient Egyptians in higher social statuses would have spent time playing Senet, while their contemporaries in Ancient Babylonia would have preferred the Royal Game of Ur.
These games both involved rolling the dice and advancing across a board. The Egyptian Senet was a bit more focused on spirituality and the afterlife, while the Royal Game of Ur was used more squarely as a military campaign game. Fast forward to today and these types of games remain popular. Henry Cavill, for example, is busy working on a Warhammer 40,000 adaptation, attempting to flip the tabletop war game into a Hollywood-calibre script.
The appeal of gaming across the ages has remained largely the same: players seek to win, have fun, and push their analytical skills to new levels. But some games, both digital and analog, make it more of a sport to win. Rather than unwinding, these titles are focused on challenging the mind.
Poker is one of the most ubiquitous card games in the world. Players today can gather virtually to compete with one another in online home games, compete in tournaments, and even advance to in-person events. But casual players who want to go pro must have incredible strategic chops, a lengthy understanding of how to read opponents and the table, and an ability to remain in control of their emotions.
Players who succeed in one avenue often struggle in another. For example, a pro player like Phill Hellmuth has displayed incredible analytical and tactical knowledge in his games, helping earn him a reputation as a top player. But it’s his emotional tilts that have prevented him from staying at the top of the player field over time.
Staying in analog, let’s cover another storied game. Go is much older than poker, believed to be played first around the 5th century BCE. This makes it the oldest continuously played board game in the world. It was originally developed to help teach nobility in Ancient China deduction and critical thinking skills.
Players must surround enemy pieces on a gridded board. The challenge in this game lies in its complexity and dynamism. There isn’t one way to win—in fact, there are almost infinite ways to enact a winning strategy. Games tend to go on for longer and with a greater scope of play than comparable titles like chess.
Let’s shift far away from board games like Go and card games like poker. Elden Ring is a 2022 RPG, open-world game that builds off the Demon’s Soul franchise before it. Though RPGs like this dark, combat game are popular, Elden Ring takes things in a purposefully difficult (if not outright masochistic) direction.
Players must develop combat skills and build a weapons repertoire quickly if they want to defeat even basic-level enemies. Though there are plenty of combat options to choose from, the game very quickly advances into expert territory. For example, players must even learn which opponents they can’t defeat and must instead learn to avoid at all costs.
Cuphead & Super Meat Boy
To finish off this list, let’s cover two video games that offer the same challenge. Super Meat Boy (2010) and Cuphead (2017) are side-scrolling games that require players to move at lightning speed. Super Meat Boy is a darker, dungeon-based adventure that sees one character, Meat Boy, attempt to save his beloved Bandage Girl. In Cuphead, players must collect souls for the devil, having already sold their soul to do his dark bidding.
Kitschy premises (and unique graphic approaches) aside, both games require players to move at lightning speed to advance. In Cuphead, they’ll also need to kick butt in a few boss battles. But the core challenge remains the same: move faster at every single level or be obliterated by a brand new set of obstacles. Though players have infinite lives to continue the journey, not everyone is able to keep up the pace.