For The Win Book Review FTW!

[[image:ftw-doctorow.jpg:For The Win:right:0]]I had not read one synopsis nor any reviews of Cory Doctorow’s novel For The Win when I started reading it. I barely knew what it was going to be about. All I knew was that it was a science fiction novel.

The novel follows the lives for several young people in various locations in the world, from California to Mumbai to Shenzen to Singapore. Oonline gaming (of the Massively Multi-player Online Role Playing kind) is an important part of their lives in one way or another. However, their lives become intertwined with gold farming, greedy and violent thugs, disapproving parents and an indifferent game company.

When I started reading I was waiting for the science fiction part to kick in but it never seemed to. All the technology featured were modern information and computer technology at work. No cyborg technology. No artificial intelligence. Most certainly, no spaceships, aliens and energy beams. It was like reading unrelated vignettes about what happens in the local internet cafes down the street filled with teenagers playing online games furiously clicking on mouse buttons and screaming into their microphones. Some chapters even appeared to be non-fictional accounts of how the MMORPGs’ virtual economies work and how they were exploited by players.

However, there soon came a point when everything began to fall into place. Each character’s account added with the technical explanations were all building into one whole compelling storyline, and before long I could not put the book down.

Then I realized that the science fiction part was speculative fiction on how gold farming had been institutionalized in the city slums of developing countries without labour laws to help them – and how it affected the lives of the young people who played the games to farm gold for their employers, what effects it had on their families and especially on each other. In the face of entities determined to take advantage of their affinity for online gaming, they unite using various internet and modern communication tools available and knowledge of macroeconomics to turn the tables on the adversary.

Ultimately events transpire – but not without cost – to unite these culturally disparate characters and they attempt to improve their quality of life.

Technology featured in the book is common internet technology. Thanks to economic forces and youth culture worldwide, a young person in a developing nation would be regularly exposed to VOIP use, or taking and uploading photos to the internet, or just simply posting on an online bulletin board using a computer or a smartphone – interacting and sharing information across the planet with ease at any time of the day.

A final point: As a Malaysian and a science fiction fan, this is the first novel where there the characters are a mix of Caucasian, Chinese, Indian and Malay. It’s almost like the equivalent of walking down a street in central Kuala Lumpur. In Mumbai, there were both Hindu and Muslim gamers. And the primary Malay character even has the same informal name many people in this here parts – even my sister-in-law.

Bottom line: For The Win is a very compelling novel that explores internet culture – especially the gaming subculture – across diverse cultures. Even if you’re not an ardent online gamer like myself, it wont be difficult for the reader to enjoy the story and learn a thing or two about virtual economies from it. 

For The Win by Cory Doctorow is distributed under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike license and is made available to download for free at his website.

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Khairul Hisham J. is a tabletop RPG artist, writer, proofreader, translator, teacher, grad student and learner-in-general.

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