The God Game by Danny Tobey

January 10, 2020

“Come inside and play with G.O.D.

Bring your friends!

It’s fun!

But remember the rules. Win and ALL YOUR DREAMS COME TRUE.™ Lose, you die!”

With those words, Charlie and his friends enter the G.O.D. Game, a video game run by underground hackers and controlled by a mysterious AI that believes it’s God. Through their phone-screens and high-tech glasses, the teens’ realities blur with a virtual world of creeping vines, smoldering torches, runes, glyphs, gods, and mythical creatures. When they accomplish a mission, the game rewards them with expensive tech, revenge on high-school tormentors, and cash flowing from ATMs. Slaying a hydra and drawing a bloody pentagram as payment to a Greek god seem harmless at first. Fun even.

But then the threatening messages start. Worship me. Obey me. Complete a mission, however cruel, or the game reveals their secrets and crushes their dreams. Tasks that seemed harmless at first take on deadly consequences. Mysterious packages show up at their homes. Shadowy figures start following them, appearing around corners, attacking them in parking garages. Who else is playing this game, and how far will they go to win?

And what of the game’s first promise: win, win big, lose, you die? Dying in a virtual world doesn’t really mean death in real life—does it?

As Charlie and his friends try to find a way out of the game, they realize they’ve been manipulated into a bigger web they can’t escape: an AI that learned its cruelty from watching us.

God is always watching, and He says when the game is done.

Happy New Year internet book chums! After a much-needed break, The Eloquent Page returns for its first review of 2020. To kick things off, I’m taking a look at The God Game by Danny Tobey.

When Charlie initially discovers G.O.D. it feels like the answer to all his prayers. A family bereavement has left him emotionally and psychologically battered, and he needs some way to escape. High school, where he once excelled, seems like a pointless exercise and all his relationships have become strained. The opportunity to regain a sense of control in his existence is too strong a draw to resist.

Starting small, the initial challenges the game sets appear to be innocuous. It soon becomes evident however that the virtual deity is working towards a much larger design on a far grander scale. Events start to spiral as other members of the local student populace start playing. Some embrace the chaos allowing the game to determine their every move, while others are far more wary. Who is in charge? Does G.O.D. control the players, or do the players control G.O.D? Is the game dishing out its own form of righteous justice, or has everyone become a victim?

Where the novel excels is the way the author perfectly captures the insecurities that eat away at Charlie and the other people in his life. Much like the rest of us, he is a jumble of conflicting emotions and uncertainties.  The other members of the Vindicators, the group of geeks Charlie hangs out with, are just as well observed. There is a character called Alex who will resonate with anyone who has ever felt like they don’t belong.

I’m thoroughly ancient but I can just about remember how horrific it was sometimes to be a teenager. There is that expectation to conform, to fit in somewhere. It strikes me that in the 21st century this pressure has been amplified significantly by the rise of social media. Teens no longer have the luxury of being able to go home, close a door, and step away from the outside world. They are bombarded by opinion, by all the latest trends and “must haves” twenty-four seven. Cliques and peer pressure have gone viral. Tobey’s insightful writing deftly picks apart the many pitfalls of the modern teen experience*.

 The God Game explores the darker corners of human morality. How far you are willing to go to get what you want? Would you be prepared for others to suffer in order to achieve your goals? It’s bound to promote an amount of introspection from any reader. How could it not, this is Big Brother on steroids and then some. I certainly found myself pondering how/if I would be able to cope. 

As ever, I like to suggest some musical type sounds that you can enjoy whilst devouring the plot of a book and this case is no exception. In keeping with the neo-tech/hacker related theme of the story, my recommendation is the soundtrack to Deep Web by Pedro Bromfman. The tracks on the album are just the right side of sinister to perfectly dovetail with the novel’s gleefully intense plot.

The God Game is published by Gollancz and is available from 9th January 2020.

*I cannot begin to describe to you how happy it makes me knowing that I am so far beyond this chapter of my life. Social media and growing pains at the same time must be hell. 


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