The God Game
Written by: Danny Tobey
Reviewed by: Joe Bones
Genre: Science-Fiction / Thriller
The God Game, Danny Tobey’s sophomore novel, is an intense thriller and a compelling character study. Five high school seniors, who call their group of friends the Vindicators, spend their time coding, programming, and playing video games. They stumble upon a mysterious virtual reality computer game. This God Game is supposedly run by an artificial intelligence called G.O.D. The AI is rumored to be an amalgamation of all the world’s religious texts and doctrine, turned into an algorithm and fed through a chat bot. Winning the game can make all of a player’s dreams come true, but losing the game might mean losing one’s life. As the Vindicators get further along in the game, their tech skills and friendships are put to the test as they’re tasked with doing increasingly worse things in order to stay in the game.
This novel is most assuredly a thriller, but it also contains an examination of morality through its character development. All of the Vindicators are social misfits, and each has their own problems at home. Yet they feel like real people and their issues, though familiar, never feel cliché. The Vindicators is a diverse group of teens, relatable to a variety of different readers. Peter is the rebellious rich kid, but he disdains the popular crowd in favor of his outcast friends. Vanhi is a nerdy lesbian, who also happens to be a genius and plays bass in a punk band. Kenny comes from a very strict religious family. He’s the least tech savvy of his group of friends, but he brings a wealth of theological knowledge to the table as they play through the game. Alex is an oddball among social outcasts. He’s the group’s wildcard. Finally, there’s Charlie. He’s the group’s leader and conscience. The narrative shifts perspective between the Vindicators, a few of their classmates, and occasionally even their teachers and parents. Tobey weaves all these perspectives together to create a story that keeps the reader engaged until the very last pages.
Tobey also does a great job of giving just enough detail about G.O.D. and the game’s mechanics so the reader has context. Then he keeps certain things vague as he introduces side characters and develops the main characters. There’s an associated air of mystery and suspense as the reader waits to find out more about the game. Tobey draws the reader in, hinting at a detail soon to come. Then by the time that detail is revealed, there are several other teased details the reader is ready to discover. G.O.D.’s purpose is also slowly revealed. With each piece revealed to the reader, G.O.D. becomes more sinister but also begins to make a frightening amount of sense.
The story features a lot of small details that stood out to me. The Vindicators wear special VR specs called Aziteks, that look like regular glasses. The Aziteks allow the Vindicators to see the Gamescape superimposed over reality. This Gamescape is described very intricately. Even though I was just reading text, I could really see what was being described in my mind’s eye. There are several text conversations throughout the book. The formatting in the novel makes it easy for the reader to follow which characters are communicating with one another in this way. I also thought Tobey did a great job on Charlie’s character development. Specifically, Charlie’s interactions with Mary, his love interest in the story. This romantic sub-plot is kept very realistic. It’s a plot line that could easily become cheesy, but Tobey keeps it nuanced and relatable.
The God Game is the definition of a page turner. After finishing the novel, I did still have a few questions. Specifically, there were details I wanted further explained. However, these details were not necessary to the main narrative, which Tobey wraps up nicely. So even though I was left with some unanswered questions, that just means the novel left me hungry for more. I should also mention that some of the philosophy and tech talk was a bit over my head. Lucky for me, that just added to the overall sense of mystery. The God Game is a great book for people who love thrillers. Its story is exciting and original, and the Sci-Fi theme sets it apart from similar books.