Charlie and his friends are in a club. They call themselves the “vindicators”, but it is mostly a gag. They mostly get together to play games (video and tabletop), and have fun with small pranks. It is not too serious: friends with similar interests hanging out and getting into a little teenage mischief. No big deal.
However, when they are invited to play The God Game, everything changes. As the group completes tasks, getting deeper and deeper in The Game, the AI with a god complex demands they each give more, to bend (and sometimes break) the rules to complete more complex and dangerous tasks. Relationships become strained, secrets are exposed, and lives are changed – permanently. How far will they go to win?
Because in The God Game, there is only one rule: Win, and all your dreams come true. Lose, you die!
The God Game is billed as a psychological thriller, and it certainly lives up to that description. When the group begins playing The God Game, they are having fun viewing this fantasy world superimposed on the real world through their phones (think Pokemon Go), completing small tasks around the neighborhood and school, and earning rewards. But the more they play, the more the game tests them, demanding they perform dangerous and morally ambiguous challenges. When they refuse, it threatens them (and sometimes their friends and family) with exposing a secret, financial consequences, and sometimes violence. The story is really intriguing, as the reader is asked to play along with the characters. How far would you go if you were offered a way out of your shitty life? What would I be willing to do if my family was being blackmailed? There are no easy answers to these hard questions, and this book will make you examine your own values on every page.
The God Game was the quintessential I-can’t-put-it-down book, and that is attributable to Danny Tobey’s writing. Once the group gets into The Game, which happens in the first few pages of the book, it is nonstop. The characters are in a constant state of anguish, and the reader can feel that in every scene. Every decision is a difficult one, and as a reader I struggled along with them: first- and second-guessing, trying to plan three moves ahead, looking for a way out. It was gut-wrenching, at times.
The format of the writing contributes to the pace, as well. Each chapter is written from several perspectives, often give each character only a few paragraphs. This way of writing, flipping back-and-forth between POVs, is perfect for this story because the reader feels as though they are in a video game where they can switch views and modes, play with different characters, and explore different areas of the game world. Never once did I feel like I was taken out of the story. I was constantly immersed and engaged, at times my heart beating fast and my brain going a mile-a-minute.
This book had one major flaw, to me: the adult characters. While the teenagers were very well-written, whenever the adults made an appearance in the story I questioned their actions. They just did not seem very believable. The good news is, adults play a very small role in the story directly; thus, they are not much of a concern.
Overall, The God Game is a really good psychological thriller. I recommend it for fans of fantasy, sci-fi, and especially those who enjoy technology and/or video games as a plot device.
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