Upcoming Event

Kelly Clancy at Harvard Book Store


Playing With Reality: How Games Have Shaped Our World 

in conversation with Christopher Robichaud


August 12, 2024
7:00 PM ET


Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138


This event is free; no tickets are required.

Harvard Book Store welcomes KELLY CLANCY—neuroscientist and physicist—for a discussion of her new book Playing With Reality: How Games Have Shaped Our World. She will be joined in conversation by Christopher Robichaud—Senior Lecturer in Ethics and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

About Playing With Reality

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.

Praise for Playing with Reality

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.

Masking Policy

Masks are encouraged but not required for this event.

Christopher Robichaud
Christopher Robichaud

Christopher Robichaud

Christopher Robichaud is Senior Lecturer in Ethics and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and Director of Pedagogical Innovation at the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics. Robichaud often draws upon popular culture, movies, TV shows, and graphic novels to teach philosophical concepts, as with his Smithsonian course exploring philosophy and superheroes. He designs interactive, customized tabletop games to simulate real-time leadership and policy decision-making in times of crises or disaster. 

Kelly Clancy
Kelly Clancy

Kelly Clancy

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.

Photo Credit: Nancy Rothstein

Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138

Walking from the Harvard Square T station: 2 minutes

As you exit the station, reverse your direction and walk east along Mass. Ave. in front of the Cambridge Savings Bank. Cross Dunster St. and proceed along Mass. Ave for three more blocks. You will pass Au Bon Pain, JP Licks, and TD Bank. Harvard Book Store is located at the corner of Mass. Ave. and Plympton St.

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