Wednesday, May 26, 2010

For The Win - Cory Doctorow

Title: For The Win
Author: Cory Doctorow
Publisher: Tor Teen, 2010 (Hardcover)
Length: 475 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Science Fiction
Started: May 21, 2010
Finished: May 26, 2010


In the virtual future, you must organize to survive.

At any hour of the day or night, millions of people around the globe are engrossed in multiplayer online games, questing and battling to win virtual “gold,” jewels, and precious artifacts. Meanwhile, others seek to exploit this vast shadow economy, running electronic sweatshops in the world’s poorest countries, where countless “gold farmers,” bound to their work by abusive contracts and physical threats, harvest virtual treasure for their employers to sell to First World gamers who are willing to spend real money to skip straight to higher-level gameplay.

Mala is a brilliant 15-year-old from rural India whose leadership skills in virtual combat have earned her the title of “General Robotwalla.” In Shenzen, heart of China’s industrial boom, Matthew is defying his former bosses to build his own successful gold-farming team. Leonard, who calls himself Wei-Dong, lives in Southern California, but spends his nights fighting virtual battles alongside his buddies in Asia, a world away. All of these young people, and more, will become entangled with the mysterious young woman called Big Sister Nor, who will use her experience, her knowledge of history, and her connections with real-world organizers to build them into a movement that can challenge the status quo.

The ruthless forces arrayed against them are willing to use any means to protect their power—including blackmail, extortion, infiltration, violence, and even murder. To survive, Big Sister’s people must out-think the system. This will lead them to devise a plan to crash the economy of every virtual world at once—a Ponzi scheme combined with a brilliant hack that ends up being the biggest, funnest game of all.

Imbued with the same lively, subversive spirit and thrilling storytelling that made LITTLE BROTHER an international sensation, FOR THE WIN is a prophetic and inspiring call-to-arms for a new generation.

After the stellar release of Little Brother and finding out that the author was writing another young adult book, this time about video gamers and MMORPGs, I knew picking this up was a no-brainer.

For The Win definitely has a different feel from Little Brother, that much is evident. Whereas Little Brother was about hacker kids and personal rights and freedoms in a world gone mad with paranoia about terrorism, For The Win deals mainly with MMORPG game players, economics, and unions. For those that don't know, MMORPGs are otherwise known as massively multiplayer online role playing games, games like World of Warcraft and all those annoying Facebook games we always see updates for on our news feeds. If you've ever played one of these games before, you know how much of a time-suck they can be. Almost everyone knows someone who's abandoned their real life in exchange for a virtual one, leveling up their character and accumulating in-game wealth and items. Some players don't have the patience for this level of dedication, so there are people that exist now that will play through the games and sell virtual money and items to these players in exchange for real money. For The Win calls these people Gold Farmers, and they are the main characters. Matthew, Mala, Yasmin, Wei-Dong, and Lu are all young gold farmers that work in various areas all over the world (mainly China and India). In a world where Coca Cola owns and operates some of the biggest economies in the world, and all of those are MMORPGs, people are making an insane amount of money off of the sale of virtual items (that's the first thing to wrap your head around, making a fortune on the sale of things that aren't even real). So like all businesses, they're contracted out to the Third World, paying teenagers piddling amounts of money to play all day in internet cafes. Sound like a good deal? Otherwise poverty-stricken children getting paid something to play computer games all day...sounds pretty good until their bosses start locking them inside the buildings until a high demand for a certain item is met, holding back their pay when they wish to leave the job, not getting paid at all when shady bosses take off, or getting raped by your higher-ups and not being able to say anything for fear of losing your job and being worse off than you were before.

For The Win takes place in just such a world.

The book begins with showcasing the lives of Matthew, Mala, and Wei-Dong (aka Leonard), and what they do as gold farmers and how they became involved in it. Part two shows all the characters becoming disillusioned with their jobs and being contacted by Big Sister Nor and being asked to help organize a massive worker strike to negotiate better pay and working conditions not just for the game workers, who call themselves Webblies, but for all workers everywhere. Part three shows how the strike is executed.

This author's young adult books are very interesting because although they're science fiction-y, they aren't really, because all the technology in the books is available now, just perhaps not employed in the same manner. The only way we know For The Win takes place in the near-distant future is because a reference is made at one point to World of Warcraft being the predecessor for all the games mentioned in the book. Just like Little Brother explains all its techie and hacker concepts so all readers can understand, For The Win explains all the economic concepts in a way that anyone can understand, which is good for me because though I can follow things pretty well, some of the economic stuff got way over my head at times. The book is a lot to wrap your head around, but not necessarily in a bad way, there was just a lot of characters and experiences and concepts to process, not the kind of thing to read if you aren't in the mood to or can't concentrate.

Unlike Little Brother where Marcus' views were contrasted with his parents' views, I felt that For The Win was very pro-union with not a lot of voices contrasting that idea. Granted, in my opinion unions sometimes cause more trouble than they solve, but given the context of the book and the areas of the world where everything take place, the one-sided pro-union message is appropriate. Parents and teachers should be prepared to explain the first world view of unions and how sometimes our reactions to them would be different than someone in India and China.

Just as with Little Brother, if you're looking for a must-read book for boys, or if you're a geeky, techie adult, read this! Even if you're neither of those things, For The Win transcends boundaries for readers, so I think everyone can enjoy this. In other words, For The Win FTW (yes, I couldn't resist putting that in).

Thoughts on the cover:
This cover is much improved over the one for Little Brother. I love the black and gold colour scheme and the image is very fitting.

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