For the Win, by Cory Doctorow

Four stars, read in September 2011.

There’s an emotional cycle I go through every time I read one of Cory Doctorow’s books, similar to the cycle I go through when I think about politics, or human rights, or the corporatizing of the world. First is shock, as I start learning about whatever new despicable thing it is I’m reading about. Then comes indignation, followed by a combination of fury and frustration and fear that things will only get worse, not better. Thankfully, with Cory Doctorow I get the resolution that I never get in real life.

For the Win is pretty freakin’ intense. The story is that online games like World of Warcraft (which is mentioned disparagingly as being from “the dawn of time”) have become actual world economies—something like eight of the twenty largest in the world, actually. There are people called gold farmers who play the game for a living, harvesting gold and turning it over to their bosses, who sell it for real money. The gold farmers, of course, are child laborers, mostly teenagers from impoverished countries like China and India. The bosses are ruthless, corrupt men whose goons keep the children in line through physical abuse and beat them into the hospital when they stray—mouthing off, for example, or asking for a break after being forced to play for 22 hours straight. And then Big Sister Nor shows up, roaming the game worlds and telling players that it doesn’t have to be this way.

This book includes all the standard elements of any good Cory Doctorow novel: a thrilling story, a cast of technological prodigies (teenagers for the YA books), rebellion against the corrupt establishment, terrifying semi-futuristic plotlines that don’t sound all that futuristic, and the occasional surprisingly-understandable explanation of concepts that are really hard for me to get—in this case, economics. (Short version: the stock market is nothing but ridiculously-high-stakes gambling which, for some reason, is respected where regular gambling is looked down on.) You don’t have to be looking for anything more than an exciting and dramatic story to enjoy this book—and if you are looking for something more, well, there’s plenty of that too.

As usual, the book is available for free on the author’s website; if you’re on the fence, download it and read the first chapter. If you’re like me, you’ll be hooked by page ten.

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