Monday, July 12, 2010

Book Review: For the Win

For the Win
by Cory Doctorow

Multiplayer online games like World of Warcraft aren't just fun and games anymore; they're also serious business. There are enough people who are willing to pay for help in advancing in the games that an underground economy has developed around buying and selling game gold, items, and even characters, using real-world money. Some of this gold farming is done in sweatshops employing cheap labor in Asia and third-world countries around the world.

For the Win is a compelling story about some of these workers, young people lured by the promise of playing games for money, but who find themselves toiling long hours in poor working conditions. Matthew Fong is a talented gamer in China; when he tries to go independent, his boss sends goons to beat him. Mala leads an army in the slums of Mumbai, India. A talented strategist, she comes to be known as General Robotwalla. The money she earns allows her to bring her family out of poverty, and at first her situation seems like paradise, but Mala soon learns that everything comes with a price. In Singapore, Big Sister Nor works to organize the gold farming workers around the world into a union to protect their rights. But the bosses will do anything to stop her, and Big Sister Nor and her lieutenants are in grave danger.

As these and other young people work both online and offline to organize the workers and bring them together, the forces of big business work to stop them, and all of them are in real, physical danger. People are beaten, tortured, and even killed. But they have an advantage that no other union has ever had; they have the power of the Internet to bring people together, and they know better than anyone else how to use it.

Like Doctorow's Little Brother, For the Win is set in a near future, close enough to the present to be frighteningly real. And like Little Brother, it breaks some of the "rules" of good writing. There are multiple protagonists and multiple stories; some of the characters who are important early on become secondary characters later, and other main characters are introduced late in the book. There are expository digressions from the story, explaining various economic principles.

These things could be a detriment to the novel. But Cory Doctorow knows how to write a good story, and For the Win is a damn good read. Even the lessons on economics are fascinating, and I learned more about economics from this book than I did in college. With interesting young characters, a global perspective, a look at other cultures, and a battle against injustice, For the Win is a book that oozes teen appeal.

My only real complaint about the book is the cover. I personally don't think that the U.S. cover is very appealing. If I hadn't already wanted to read this book, I don't think that the cover would have done anything to interest me. I think that the cover will especially be a turnoff to girls, which is a shame, because I think that many girls would enjoy the book as well as boys, especially since it includes several strong female protagonists among its main characters. Yet how many girls will look at the picture of police in riot gear, and decide that the book isn't for them?

FTC required disclosure: Review copy obtained at Book Expo America for the purpose of writing a review. The links above are Amazon Associate links, and I earn a very small percentage of any sales made through the links. Neither of these things influenced my review.

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