The Player of Games

Book cover of The Player of Games.
Book 2 of the Culture series


The Player of Games is the second novel in Iain M. Banks’s Culture series. It tells the story of Jernau Morat Gurgeh, a master game player who is recruited to play Azad, an incredibly complex game that serves as the basis for the Empire of Azad’s entire government.

The Player of Games is set in the same universe as Consider Phlebas, but is otherwise unconnected. In fact, the two books could not be more different. The Player of Games is in key ways the opposite of Consider Phlebas: While Phlebas focuses on the futility of individual action, Games explores how one person can have an outsized impact. Phlebas is told from the perspective of a “barbarian” encountering the Culture, whereas Games presents the Culture’s viewpoint as it encounters a more primitive civilization.

I appreciated how Gurgeh’s Azad play improved as he internalized the Empire’s culture, but it was seeing the cracks in the Empire, and finally fully rejecting their philosophy and embracing his Culture roots that allowed him to dominate.

Banks’s sadism, as seen in Consider Phlebas, reappears in The Player of Games but in a more controlled manner. Rather than gratuitous, it serves to shape the reader’s (and Gurgeh’s) view of the Azadian Empire and pushes Gurgeh to reject their influence.

Overall a fantastic story I could hardly put down, and the Culture book I wish I had started with.