Question 2

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The book is of course called The Player of Games. Did you get a sense of the feel of the games played in the book? In particular, did you get a feeling for what Azad might be like to play?

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    edited March 3

    Not being an active game player at present, I found the descriptions incredibly absorbing and vivid. I'm interested to hear what real players think...

    As an addendum, I was totally involved in Gurgeh's emotions at the several points where he knows that the game is actually over, but the other player(s) don't yet get it. "It was not finished, but it was over. A terrible sadness swamped him... He looked at Nicosar, but the Emperor hadn't seen it yet."

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    I've not actually read the book this month (I lent my copy to someone, and the reservation at the library hasn't come through yet...), but.

    One thing that struck me from my last read. Who is the "player" referred to in the title? What game are they playing?

    (I invite people to mull over question 4 and question 5 while they're thinking.)

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    @NeilNjae right, there's three levels I can think of here.

    There's Gurgeh, the game player extraordinaire. Who goes on to play Azad.

    There's Flere Imsaho playing Gurgeh.

    And then there's the Culture playing Gurgeh and the Empire of Azad. The game of benevolent interference, toppling an empire -- and you can't tell me the people and Minds in Special Circumstances don't get a buzz out of that for its own sake. It's just turned to (potentially) justifiable ends.

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    @RichardAbbott I really liked the Gurgeh vs Nicosar game, and the way Gurgeh felt a profound connection with Nicosar, like they were making art together - and Nicosar felt nothing of the kind.
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    @dr_mitch said:
    And then there's the Culture playing Gurgeh and the Empire of Azad. The game of benevolent interference, toppling an empire -- and you can't tell me the people and Minds in Special Circumstances don't get a buzz out of that for its own sake. It's just turned to (potentially) justifiable ends.

    That's the one I was thinking of. I think the times when the Mind tells Gurgeh to switch languages from Marain to Azad and back to Marain is the most obvious way it's manipulating him.

    And you can imagine the conversations between the SC Minds before this all started. "We should do something about Azad, but let's try to be elegant." "I can do it with one human, alone, and no weapons." "Ooh, that'll be wonderful if it works. Try it!"

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    @NeilNjae said:
    And you can imagine the conversations between the SC Minds before this all started. "We should do something about Azad, but let's try to be elegant." "I can do it with one human, alone, and no weapons." "Ooh, that'll be wonderful if it works. Try it!"

    Love it :)

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    Oho, that's superb!
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    Most of the games seemed a little light-weight, to me. More like games of chance, or like checkers - not all that compelling. Azad, though, I kept thinking was more like a role-playing game, or maybe more like Sid Meier's Civilization, which I thought was interesting.

    Definitely agree that there's a hierarchy of games being played, but all of them are Azad! While Gurgeh plays the formal game of Azad (which is modeled on life), the minds are playing the informal game of Azad, the Empire, which is named after the game (which is modeled on life).

    It's a clever concept.

    At first, I was wondering if this book was going to be a take on Herman Hesse's The Glass Bead Game, but it wasn't. The, through much of the middle of the book, I was wondering if it had a purpose at all. In the end, I found the 'big idea' to be pretty satisfying, though.

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    Of course the real games are being played by the minds. Humans can be fairly clever, for animals, but their only real purpose was to create the first minds, after which their noble purpose served, they could be allowed to die out frolicking about in their meadows.

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    edited March 7

    BTW, Azad was such an 80s game!

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    > @clash_bowley said:
    > BYW, Azad was such an 80s game!

    The book was first published 1988 so Banks was right up to the curve :)
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    @RichardAbbott said:

    @clash_bowley said:
    BYW, Azad was such an 80s game!

    The book was first published 1988 so Banks was right up to the curve :)

    Azad seems to be for those who found Phoenix Command to be for wusses...

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    @clash_bowley said:

    @RichardAbbott said:

    @clash_bowley said:
    BYW, Azad was such an 80s game!

    The book was first published 1988 so Banks was right up to the curve :)

    Azad seems to be for those who found Phoenix Command to be for wusses...

    I was thinking of this one... Campaign for North Africa... not that I've ever played it (Axis and Allies was quite enough for me)

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    @RichardAbbott said:
    I was thinking of this one... Campaign for North Africa... not that I've ever played it (Axis and Allies was quite enough for me)

    YIKES! I have/had a number of SPI wargames from the era - I got into wargames as a kid, and it was the other thing I spent a lot of time and money on besides music... I used to mod and design wargames in fact! - but never anything like that! What a monster! So Azad is basically Campaign for North Africa-plex! :p

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    I really enjoyed the descriptions of the games, particularly the way Banks is able to describe the feel of gameplay without getting into any of the actual rules. The alliances, betrayals, feints and attacks are all so vivid, because I’ve done those general type of things in different games, so I can map my emotional memories of that only Gurgeh’s situation.

    I also thought it was funny that we start the book in the middle of a high-tech LARP and then our main character is just like “Nope. Fake risk is not for me!”

    One of the details about the game of Azad that I really liked was the bit where some of the pieces are bio-mechanical and they change capability and disposition at later parts of the game. It was introduced relatively early, on the Limiting Factor, and I was waiting and waiting for that to come back as a plot point once they got to the empire, but it never did.

    But thinking about @NeilNjae’s excellent point that the Minds are essentially playing Gurgeh like a gamepiece, and using the languages of Marain and Azadian (among other things, like the trip to the slums) to change Gurgeh’s skills and mental state, I realized that it’s a thematic parallel, not a plot point. Great stuff.

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    @Michael_S_Miller said:
    But thinking about @NeilNjae’s excellent point that the Minds are essentially playing Gurgeh like a gamepiece, and using the languages of Marain and Azadian (among other things, like the trip to the slums) to change Gurgeh’s skills and mental state, I realized that it’s a thematic parallel, not a plot point. Great stuff.

    It turns out, this isn't such a great insight, as Banks tells us, near the beginning of the book, that Gurgeh will be played by Contact.

    An early chapter, before the game of Stricken, before Gurgeh is contacted by Concact, while Gurgeh is expressing his ennui to Chamlis:

    Iain Banks said:
    'Contact uses individuals,' Chamlis pointed out. 'It puts people into younger societies who have a dramatic and decisive effect on the fates of entire meta-civilisations. They're usually "mercenaries", not Culture, but they're human, they're people.'
    'They're selected and used. Like game-pieces. They don't count.' Gurgeh sounded impatient [...]. 'Besides, I'm not one of them.'
    [...]
    'Well,' [Chamils] said slowly, 'if it's novelty value you want, Contact—never mind SC—ar the people to go to.'
    'I have no intention of applying to join Contact,' Gurgeh said [...] 'Being cooped up in a GCU with a bunch of gung-ho do-gooders searching for barbarians to teach is not my idea of either enjoyment or fulfilment.'
    'I didn't mean that. I meant that Contact had the best Minds, the most information. They might be able to come up with some ideas. Any time I've ever been involved with them they've got things done. It's a last resort, mind you.'
    'Why?'
    'Because they're tricky. Devious. They're gamblers, too; and used to winning.'

    (My copy of the book has just appeared from the library.)

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    edited March 7
    It has only just occurred to me that Flere-Imsaho as Mawrik-Skel on the Orbital was potentially already working for Contact and performed the blackmail as a way to recruit Gurgeh not for his own ends, but with the story of being booted out a cover so Gurgeh didn't suspect that Contact itself blackmailed him.
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    @dr_mitch said:
    It has only just occurred to me that Flere-Imsaho as Mawrik-Skel on the Orbital was potentially already working for Contact and performed the blackmail as a way to recruit Gurgeh not for his own ends, but with the story of being booted out a cover so Gurgeh didn't suspect that Contact itself blackmailed him.

    Perhaps we should read a le Carré / Smiley book soon, as a comparison on how to portray espionage? And perhaps a Flemming / Bond book as a contrast?

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    > @NeilNjae said:
    > (Quote)
    > Perhaps we should read a le Carré / Smiley book soon, as a comparison on how to portray espionage? And perhaps a Flemming / Bond book as a contrast?

    That's a good idea. Another option is one of Alistair McLean's later books, like Bear Island or something - the later ones because he tended to have more ordinary people as central characters rather than paratroopers or whatever
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    I like the idea of a spy novel. I also really like the idea of a monthly book spinning out from a previous monthly book (Brave New World made me want to offer the Culture as a contrast/antidote).
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    @dr_mitch said:
    It has only just occurred to me that Flere-Imsaho as Mawrik-Skel on the Orbital was potentially already working for Contact and performed the blackmail as a way to recruit Gurgeh not for his own ends, but with the story of being booted out a cover so Gurgeh didn't suspect that Contact itself blackmailed him.

    I think that is absolutely the case. Particularly at the very end, the sign-off has Flere-Imsaho's full name, with ("Mahrin-Skel") after it in both quotation marks and parentheses, which indicate, to me at least, that it is a completely false name, a cover identity.

    Like I mentioned in another thread, the particularly creepy part from me is how Chamlis to help manipulate Gurgeh, even though it has been a friend to Gurgeh's family for generations. Chamlis is the one who suggests that Contact can cure his ennui, makes the connections, and verifies certain aspects of Mahrin-Skel's story. He's the "good cop" to Mahrin-Skel's "bad cop." Or the straight man in a con. He even takes away the evidence at the end.

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    Yes, if Mahrin Skel was a set-up, Chamlis is complicit. I don't want to think that as I quite liked Chamlis, but the conclusion is inescapable.
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    Still churning my way through my re-read, and something I'd not noticed before, and may add to the symbolism of the game playing... Gurgeh is dark-skinned. The Azadians are light-skinned and racist, to the extent that the expectation is that any dark-skinned Azadian babies are killed at birth.

    Is this something else to destabilise Azad? A deliberate ploy by Contact, or a lucky co-incidence?

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    @NeilNjae - neat! I hadn't noticed that Gurgeh was dark skinned until near the end of the book, so I missed connecting those two things! Subtle and deft! My already high respect for the author is raised again!

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    Well, I think in this book I don't believe in coincidences any more. A fine point that I hadn't thought of.
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    Banks doesn't let coincidences happen... :P

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    Still catching up with the book, but I'm somewhat surprised that no-one's mentioned the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Several times, the game of Azad is described as a language, with Gurgeh communicating with other players through it. The most striking example is during the game/conversation/debate with Nicosar. But there are also comments that languages have philosophical and ethical positions embedded in them, and using a language changes your worldview. Contact seems to exploit this by controlling which language Gurgeh speaks at different times.

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    @Michael_S_Miller said:

    Like I mentioned in another thread, the particularly creepy part from me is how Chamlis to help manipulate Gurgeh, even though it has been a friend to Gurgeh's family for generations. Chamlis is the one who suggests that Contact can cure his ennui, makes the connections, and verifies certain aspects of Mahrin-Skel's story. He's the "good cop" to Mahrin-Skel's "bad cop." Or the straight man in a con. He even takes away the evidence at the end.

    Perhaps I'm reading too much into it, but isn't it a happy coincidence that Gurgeh's ennui comes to a head just in time for the grand Azad tournament? Just how long ago did Contact start playing this game?

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    Excellent point, @NeilNjae I don't recall any drones during the pick up game on the train that primes Gurgeh to later cheat against the young upstart, but maybe I missed them?
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    I don't think Gurgeh's ennui was being stoked. But it was certainly observed, which made him especially suitable. He probably wasn't the only game player being observed by a long way.

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