For the Win by Cory Doctorow
I am grateful to Cory Doctorow for providing me an insider’s view into a world I didn’t know. I am a gamer, but prefer the Wii environment to the MMORPG environment. So the events and issues in For the Win, which describe the macroeconomics of the international gaming environment, were news to me. It is also a young-adult novel, but its events and language never made me feel that I was reading a young-adult novel.
The story IS a polemic, which Doctorow is using to alert readers to the exploitation and human rights violations that occur when players from developing world slums have to turn game play into underpaid work to make a living. But then, what novels are NOT polemics? Every story has an ideological message, some more obvious than others. The ideological message in For the Win is very obvious, but this is because the ideologies of the story’s events underpin its plot. I.e., For the Win is not as much about gamers in developed and developing countries as it is about the economic dynamics between them and the communications technologies that connect them.
What most compelled me was the explanations of the cyberspaces that allowed disparate people to play the same games, experience common exploitation, join forces to fight oppression, and express their anger and disappointments so efficiently and quickly. I knew that sweatshops exist where people earn virtual prizes that they surrender to brokers who sell them to affluent—usually North American—players who are too lazy or untalented to win them for themselves. What fascinated me was the ways that these cyber environments are becoming workplaces not unlike those that produce clothing and shoes, with the same level of mark-up and human rights violations.
I also admired the ways in which Doctorow was able to orchestrate the multiple narrative threads of people leading seemingly distinct lives into a crescendo of political and economic activism. His characters are believable, their actions are sometimes tragically human, and his outcome romantic but worthy.
For the Win would make a great high school novel, especially for students disaffected from studying works by dead Englishmen. Its literary merits are admirable. And its value-added quality is that students can relate its events to current developments in gaming and economics. Although it might present itself as science fiction, it is true and recent enough to invite research and response.
The novel can be purchased as a book or downloaded free from craphound.com/ftw/Cory_Doctorow_-_For_the_Win.htm
For more information on Cory Doctorow and For the Win, there are podcasts, blogs and numerous YouTube videos.