Review of FOR THE WIN by Cory Doctorow
Tor Teen, May 2010
All over the world, teens are playing multiplayer games. In India and China, many of these players are "gold miners," paid by local businessmen to play the game, turning over any treasures found for sale to rich American players who want to level up without actually going through the work of beating bosses or completing quests. Work conditions are horrible, and many of these young workers are beaten if they don't perform or if they threaten to go into business for themselves.
According to author Cory Doctorow (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of science fiction by Doctorow), these games, and the electronic treasures they drop, constitute several of the world's top economies, which means that exploiting Asian teens is big business. Because they play over the Internet, though, these exploited workers are able to communicate and one of them, Big Sister Nor, comes up with the idea a new version of the 'one big union' (the IWW or Wobblies). A union makes sense--although any small group of these players can be replaced, all of them together are a force greater than any single boss. Fortunately for the workers, the game managers themselves aren't really invested in allowing exploitation.
Doctorow has a knack for looking at the world and seeing interesting potentials. I remember reading a Wall Street Journal article about Asian gold miners and thinking 'isn't that interesting.' Doctorow ran with the idea and came up with a novel. In my reading experience, Doctorow usually doesn't quite live up to the potential of his story. His writing is unexceptional, his characters tend to be flat, and sometimes wonderful solutions sort of fall out of nowhere. There's some of this in FOR THE WIN. I had a hard time believing in a teen who taught himself Mandarin so he could on-line chat with fellow game players (who already spoke English). In this book, though, Doctorow stepped up his story-telling. He did a great job describing the exploitation of the game workers, the environments that they work in, the factory world of China where everyone is illegal and where the police seem to exist to back up exploiting bosses. In general, I think Doctorow is an important author for SF fans (and writers) to read but that his books aren't always enjoyable. FOR THE WIN was both important and enjoyable.
Too generous? Too stingy. Or did I miss the whole point? Send your comments to email@example.com. I'll publish the best letters I get so let me know if I can use your name.
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