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Playing with Reality: How Games Have Shaped Our World (Hardcover)

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A wide-ranging intellectual history that reveals how important games have been to human progress, and what’s at stake when we forget what games we’re really playing.

We play games to learn about the world, to understand our minds and the minds of others, and to make predictions about the future. Games are an essential aspect of humanity and a powerful tool for modeling reality. They’re also a lot of fun. But games can be dangerous, especially when we mistake the model worlds of games for reality itself and let gamification co-opt human decision making.

Playing with Reality explores the riveting history of games since the Enlightenment, weaving an unexpected path through military theory, political science, evolutionary biology, the development of computers and AI, cutting-edge neuroscience, and cognitive psychology. Neuroscientist and physicist Kelly Clancy shows how intertwined games have been with the arc of history. War games shaped the outcomes of real wars in nineteenth and twentieth century Europe. Game theory warped our understanding of human behavior and brought us to the brink of annihilation—yet still underlies basic assumptions in economics, politics, and technology design. We used games to teach computers how to learn for themselves, and now we are designing games that will determine the shape of society and future of democracy.

In this revelatory new work, Clancy makes the bold argument that the human fascination with games is the key to understanding our nature and our actions.

About the Author

Kelly Clancy is a neuroscientist and physicist who has held research positions at MIT, Berkeley, University College London and the AI company DeepMind. Her research focuses on uncovering the principles of intelligence, and she has invented novel brain-computer interfaces to investigate the biological underpinnings of agency. Her essays on neuroscience and AI have appeared in Wired, Harper's and The New Yorker. She spent her childhood stuck on the first level of the video game Myst, and being repeatedly murdered by her younger sister in GoldenEye 007.

Praise For…

Praise for Playing with Reality:

“Absorbing. . . . A revealing look at the hidden role that games have played in human development for centuries.” —Kirkus
“A sweeping investigation. . . . The history fascinates, and Clancy’s sophisticated analysis highlights the dangers of overgeneralizing from games to reality. . . . Readers won’t want to put this down.” —Publishers Weekly

“Playing With Reality is as surprising, and as delightful, as the many games it analyzes. From ancient games of chance to the latest advances in AI, Kelly Clancy has written the definitive account of how we—as individuals and as a society—learn through play.” —Steven Johnson, author of Everything Bad Is Good for You and Wonderland
“With the blazing mind of a scientist and the keen eye of a poet, Clancy emerges as one of the most important new writers of her generation.” —David Eagleman, Stanford neuroscientist and author of Incognito and Livewired
“A gripping narrative that reveals why games matter and just how powerful they can be. It should be required reading for anyone who develops games and everyone who plays them.” —Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari, Inc.
“A book to get the neurons firing. As a passionate game player I loved reading a neuroscientist’s perspective on the role games have played in humanity’s attempts to navigate the game of life. A dopamine hit on every page.” —Marcus du Sautoy, author of Around the World in 80 Games
“Playing with Reality is the critical history of games I've been waiting for. Fast-paced and enjoyable, you'll never look at a pair of dice—or your smartphone—the same again.” —Malcolm Harris, author of Palo Alto
“Life is full of games but if we don't know we're playing, there's every chance games are playing us. Whether they are the games hidden in politics, war, business—or in everyday work and play—Clancy will have you asking who set the rules—and who stands to benefit. Playing with Reality is as addictive and engrossing as the games Clancy lucidly describes.”Ananyo Bhattacharya, author of The Man from the Future

Product Details
ISBN: 9780593538180
ISBN-10: 0593538188
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Publication Date: June 18th, 2024
Pages: 368
Language: English