Monday, April 4, 2022

Seven Games: A Human History (Oliver Roeder)

The games of Chess, checkers, Go, Scrabble, poker, backgammon, and bridge have been played by billions of people over the centuries. From novices playing for fun to professionals playing for money to computer programs playing for a quest of perfection, the games have societal importance. Oliver Roeder’s Seven Games: A Human History charts the origins of these games, their historical importance, and how technology has been used to not only compete against humans but also to help improve humans in their gameplay against each other.

Seven Games introduces us to more than just the games themselves; we also get to know the cast of characters involved in them. These characters include poker players at the World Series of Poker, an IBM engineer creating a program for backgammon, and a man who lost only three games of checkers in 40 years. These stories fuel Seven Games to be more than just a history of games. Roeder’s use of personal stories is augmented by showing the reader how technology has impacted each of these games in various ways, like Scrabble (computers can help players figure out “bingo” words) and even bridge, a game whose popularity is on the wane.

Roeder’s book is a wonderful exploration into play, competition, risk-taking, and how technology is fueling how humans can take risks more effectively in these games.