... illuminating ... a fascinating group biography of some of the most popular games of all time. In doing so, he offers powerful insights into why we play games and what we can learn from them ... Like the games it profiles, Seven Games is accessible, enjoyable and ultimately quite challenging. It raises provocative and sometimes unsettling questions about the nature of intelligence and the unintended consequences when machines play better than we do. Roeder makes lots of sage observations but doesn’t offer answers, just philosophical paths to follow. If you are intrigued by this rare opportunity to pull back the curtain on how humans and computers learn, then you will be richly rewarded. You might also improve your game.
The subtitle of Mr. Roeder’s book—'A Human History'—has a whiff of end-resigned melancholy, implicitly contrasting with a computer-dominated future. In point of fact, Mr. Roeder doesn’t concentrate much on the purely human history of his seven games ... The focus of Seven Games is, instead, on more recent history and the application of so-called 'artificial intelligence' to games, as well as its influence on their competitive cultures. Here is where the book’s rich human interest—and comedy—really lie ... In pleasingly gonzo style, the author enters the North American Scrabble Championship as well as the World Series of Poker, drawing delightful pen-portraits of his adversaries while entertainingly evoking his own emotional roller-coaster ... Such gems of human prose style, not yet imitable by AI, are implicitly set against the worry—expressed throughout—that computer amanuenses are everywhere sucking the fun out of things ... But games, in the meantime, make us happy because they need no 'why' at all. The best furnish an arena for learning, the pleasurable exercise of skill and a cathartic burst of consequence-free conflict.
He begins with the long history of games, going back 5,000 years to prehistoric Mesoamerican settlements, and asks: Why does almost every society engage in games and why have certain games survived for centuries? His suggested answers range from the simple — because we’re bored — to the complex ... But this book...is not truly a philosophical inquiry. Nor is it a deep consideration of any of the games or their star players ... Each of the primary sections of this book reads like a tragedy, a repeating myth of hubris told with different characters but the same ending, so that by the third or fourth telling you start to dread what you know is coming ... Oddly, the only game yet to be conquered by computers is contract bridge, and my sense of relief at this lone holdout from the onslaught of A.I. was extinguished when Roeder let us know that the game, a relatively recent addition to the pantheon of pastimes, is now dying out, its players trending older and smaller in number.