For the Win, by Cory Doctorow

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Author’s website
Publication date – May 11, 2010

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) 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.

Thoughts: If somebody walked up to me and said, “I have a book I know you’re going to love. It’s all about economics, labour unions, and the unfair working conditions in developping countries,” I might suspect this person doesn’t know my reading tastes very well. Such a book might appeal to those with specific interests, but me, well, that’s not my thing.

And then this person would hand me For the Win, and I’d be intrigued because it involves gaming, something I’m familiar with. And then I’d read it, and be blown away.

That’s Doctorow’s genius in this book. He can take all of the above concepts and make them not only interesting, but make them into something that anyone can relate to, especially today’s game-happy youth culture. He can take economics and break them down into the simply complex and absurd things that they are, and make it comprehensible. He makes the legnths that some companies go to to control virtual wealth seem like what it is: ridiculous and yet incredibly valuable. This book makes you look at the world, see it in a different light, and get outraged that it isn’t better. It’s hard-hitting, heartbreaking, and like the games it talks about, endlessly entertaining.

The characters are, above all else, wonderfully human. There are sides of right and wrong, and the lines are clearly drawn, but the people on the side of good are still flawed, violent and angry and they make mistakes, and sometimes those mistakes end up fatal. These are people you could pass on the street, could see at school; they don’t have to be half a world away in some poorly-ventilated sweatshop, and that just seeks to underscore the message of labour equality that’s the main focus of the novel. “There are no Chinese workers. There are just workers.”

If you think this books comes across as being a bit preachy, you’d be right. But when your characters are fighting for the right to refuse 22-hour shifts without being beaten, fighting for the right to not be raped in order to hang onto their jobs, I think a little preachiness is allowed.

This book came to me highly recommended, and it leaves my hands in the same state. Go, pick up this book, read it and learn things that you may not have even thought about before. And I dare you to tell me that at the end of it, you didn’t feel your moral centre being tugged at, even just a little.

3 comments on “For the Win, by Cory Doctorow

  1. This book sounds fascinating! I'm particularly intrigued that it apparently explores work conditions so disgusting that most people prefer not to even acknowledge they exist.

  2. I was so excited when I started this book right after it came out, but I couldn't finish. It wasn't that I disliked it, but there were so many characters that I stopped being able to keep them straight. I gave up finally.

  3. For the Win is SUCH a good book! I'm so happy you enjoyed it, Docotorw is one of my favorite authors and too many people have never heard of him.

    You're right, the story does eventually get very one sided and preachy. but you know what? I'm totally fine with preachyness when it involves the right to be treated like a human being.

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