Seven Games: A Human History

Highbridge Audio. Jan. 2022. 9:11 hrs. ISBN 9781696607421. $24.99. GAMES
Though short on ancient history and favoring the last 100 years and interrelation of games and computer science, this audio summarizes the gaming impulse, or humans’ “lusory mind” back into antiquity and across cultures. Relating his own Scrabble and poker tournament experiences, Roeder explains the enduring attraction of games that are now far more competently played by computers, and for these personal vignettes the narration approaches playfully energetic. William Sarris’s reading is otherwise plainspoken, as though resignedly delivering bad news: not just Scrabble and poker, but six of the seven games profiled have passed from strictly human activities to a shared arena in which trained programs inevitably dominate. Going from most to fewest real-life skills exercised, Roeder argues that checkers, chess, Go, backgammon, and, finally, poker and Scrabble will one day be “solved” (if they haven’t been already) or a mathematical proof of the most optimal moves achieved. Yet we continue to play these solvable games while another, contract bridge, dependent on subtle communication, has resisted digital conversion but is dying out with its current generation of players.
VERDICT This melancholy yet intriguing assessment of parlor games’ role in shaping our past and AI’s future is an optional audio purchase.
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