The God Game
By Danny Tobey
- The God Game
Author: Danny Tobey
- Publisher: Gollancz
- ISBN: 978-1473224476
- Published: January 2020
- Pages: 449
- Format reviewed: Hardback
- Review date: 09/01/2020
- Language: English
What if God was one of us? Just an Artificial Intelligence like one of us. Just a stranger on the internet, trying to wreak our lives. Anyone with a passing knowledge of the Bible will know that God can be a little tricksy. If that God can flood the world or demand you sacrifice your child, what would an AI version released onto the internet do? If the internet has taught us anything its that it is full of trolls – so do we get a Troll God?
The members of The Vindicators are a group of outsider students who don’t really fit in with any of the other cliques. They gather in the computer lab, do a little coding and partake in a prank or two. When they come across an online AI that purports to be God they think it would be fun to start playing the God Game. This is an augmented reality game that takes place online and in the real world. Perhaps they should have taken better notice of the warning – if you win you get everything you ever wanted. Lose and you die.
The concept of the Game is not a new one, but by throwing in the concept of an AI that thinks it is God, Danny Tobey is tackling it from a different angle. What or who is God? It is a hard question for a human to ponder so an AI can get trapped in a loop. If this AI thinks it is omnipotent, can you reason with a device that can not perceive that it is ever wrong? This is the trap that the members of The Vindicators find themselves in. The playthings of a fickle intelligence.
Set in Austin, Texas in a State School, God Game begins a little like a teenage angst fable. The Game is about status, who fancies who etc. All small-beans for readers of a mature age – not that enthralling. You must travel back to your younger self to try and remember how hung up you where with status at school. It was never a huge issue for me, so I found some of the actions that Charlie and his friends took a little alien. Having teenagers as protagonists is great for moving a book forwards as they can be impatient and impulsive, but also a little annoying.
I need not have fretted as the book progresses, so does the game and the stakes involved. We move from simple social pressures into life and death. Here the book becomes a page turner. Tobey hints at a previous God Game twenty years earlier in which not all the players survived. This gives the book a real sense of jeopardy as you are not convinced that anyone will live long enough to enjoy the fruits of their toil.
It is not always the action of the individuals in The Vindicators that make for the best parts of the book. The exploration of the AI and the Game itself are very interesting. Tobey does not lay all the cards on the table but teases out knowledge through the book. Almost as if you the reader is part of a game of discovery. The idea that The Game is not just being played by five children in a school, but players all over the world. All these people being manipulated against one another.
It is a struggle making an online presence seem menacing to the real world, but Tobey pulls it off. The likes of Lynda La Plante’s Killer Net and Daniel Suarez’s Daemon tackle it from a late 1990s and early 2010s perspective. The idea of the internet reaching out felt clunky then, but in an era of smart technology being prevalent and augmented reality games like Pokémon Go becoming the norm, it is not so farfetched now. The section where Charlie and his friends map the world using their phones and make a wireframe existence photo realistic feels possible.
God Game touches on some interesting philosophical concepts over God and AI, but at its core this is a thriller and should be enjoyed as such. With younger protagonists the angst that they feel is more likely to chime with readers of that age group, but older readers will feel themselves grow into the story as the action ramps up. By the time The Vindicators realise they are trapped, the book becomes a true page turner as you rattle through the story to discover whether the players can avoid a terminal Game Over.
Written on 9th January 2020 by Sam Tyler .