This Is Not a Game

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This is Not a Game is a 2009 thriller written by American science fiction author Walter Jon Williams. It is the first book in his "Dagmar Shaw" series; the second novel is Deep State, and the third is The Fourth Wall. Each novel has subplots involving the superiority of crowdsourcing to conventional corporate action, with the main plots involving alternate reality games (ARGs) and their interplay with real life.

Diamonds from Tequila, a short story centered on Sean Makin, the main character in The Fourth Wall. was published in 2014.


The novel is set in the near future where Dagmar Shaw works as a producer of alternate reality games (ARGs) for the company Great Big Idea which is run by her college friend Charlie, a software millionaire, and is financed by another college friend Austin Katanyan, a wealthy venture capitalist. Dagmar, Charlie, Austin, and another friend BJ, had all been friends and role playing enthusiasts in college. After college Charlie and BJ had started a software company together but Charlie had forced BJ out and the latter now works a dead end job at a computer help line.

At the beginning of the novel Dagmar has just completed a successful ARG and heads to Jakarta to take some time off. Instead she gets caught in the chaos of a revolution as a currency collapse, blamed on Chinese traders, causes the city to erupt in violence. After escaping, Dagmar returns home to LA where she is scheduled to begin a new ARG to promote an MMORPG in which Charlie is invested. Soon after the game gets started she sees her friend Austin gunned down in front of Great Big Idea's offices. With Charlie in hiding and the police apparently stymied, Dagmar writes Austin's death into the game, hoping that the thousands of players will act as a human flesh search engine and discover the killer. The players do in fact discover the killer's identity, a Russian hitman who works for the mob. As the police try to track him down Dagmar becomes more discontented at Charlie as he forces her to make clumsy rewrites to her game in order to promote several products including cryptography software and a water testing device. Partly to piss off Charlie, Dagmar brings in BJ as a writer for the game. BJ explains how their company nearly failed but that at the last minute Charlie came up with a mysterious bunch of financial backers who saved them. Dagmar becomes suspicious that these backers are the Russian mob, or at least that Charlie is involved in illegal activity.

With news that the Argentine currency is in crisis, Dagmar confronts Charlie with her suspicions and he confesses to the truth: Back during the early days of his company he and BJ had created self replicating bots which were supposed to play the financial markets. As the company was collapsing, Charlie released them onto the internet, hoping they might do something. In a few months the bots had made enough money playing the markets to save Charlie's company. Due to fears that BJ might find out, or that he would sabotage something, Charlie forced him out. Now, however, the bots have grown too powerful to control. Somewhere along the line they had stolen some money from an account controlled by the Russian mob, who shot Austin in retaliation. The bots have amassed a fortune of twelve billion dollars for Charlie but they were also responsible for the Indonesian currency collapse and the instability of the Argentine currency. Charlie is worried that the bots will eventually cause an even more massive financial crisis, such as attacking the dollar. He and Dagmar set out to stop them by using the players in their ARG to distribute a patch to the various servers where the bots are located. Before it can be completed though Charlie is killed when a bomb explodes at the hotel he is hiding at. Dagmar realizes with horror that she mentioned Charlies location in front of BJ and that the later is responsible for Charlie's death. She also realizes that BJ had sent out messages to players of the ARG, who he used to deliver the bomb to Charlie and that BJ has hacked into Great Big Idea's system and has created a patch which will make the bots loyal to him. Dagmar, after undoing BJs software patch, discovers a bomb intended for her and instead places it in BJ's car. When he goes to detonate it he ends up killing himself.

See also[edit]

Halting State, a 2007 novel by Charles Stross centered on ARGs.