First Video Game & Hidden Subplot of 2001: A Space Odyssey

Years before the Magnavox Odyssey Stanley Kubrick showed the world what video games would look like in his groundbreaking film, 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Bound for Jupiter aboard the spaceship Discovery Astronaut Frank Poole passes the time by playing a friendly game of chess with super computer HAL 9000.  Space being limited the game pieces and board have cleverly been replaced with a video screen. This was an amazing concept for the moviegoers of 1968. 

But the drama is much deeper than it might appear.   The game depicted is  Roesch vs. Schlage played in tournament in Hamburg Germany in 1910.  HAL says with smug confidence, “I’m sorry Frank, I think you missed it,” and goes on to explain mate in two.  To this the hapless Poole replies “Yeah, looks like you’re right.  I resign.”  However HAL was being less than completely truthful.  A deeper analysis of the game reveals that Poole could have staved off checkmate for another four moves rather than the two HAL specified.   

So what can we infer from this?  It would seem that HAL was testing not only the astronaut’s cognitive ability but also his incredulity and tenacity.  Poole didn’t question the truthfulness of HAL’s assertion and he didn’t attempt to reason his way out of a seemingly hopeless predicament.  Had Poole been a little less willing to trust HAL and a little less willing to accept defeat perhaps he wouldn’t have gotten himself run over by that space pod.

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