For the Win, Cory Doctorow’s new novel, is out today (in bookstores and also as a free download). And it’s about gaming, and its consequences.
Now, you know I am biased, because not only is Cory a friend, but I even supplied a blurb for the book’s back cover. I also reviewed the manuscript for him and supplied gaming advice. That said, this is a book that people into MMOs and virtual worlds should read.
Why? Because it isn’t about what happens inside the worlds, it’s about what repercussions they have outside them. The story is sort of a large-scale version of his short story “Anda’s Game” (which was collected in Overclocked: Stories of the Future Present and also published on Salon.com), in which guilds are organized on multiple sides of the gold farming wars: a guild to kill gold farmers to protect the game, a guild to defend them so that they can earn their subsistence wage…
In For The Win all this is taken to a larger scale. Essentially, it extrapolates gold farming into a multinational corporate phenomenon, and looks at what this means for the lives of the people on the front lines — kids, usually, living in India or China, looking to make money but finding that the act of grinding gold “for the man” becomes all too literal in sweatshops. And the upshot is that they organize. As in unions.
As in unions modeled explicitly on the Wobblies, in fact. The novel wears its politics on its sleeve, certainly, and that may be a turnoff for those who don’t see unions as a natural stage in the evolution from free-for-all robber-baron economics to a more mature model. That said, the book comes down pretty hard on all forms of totalitarianism
The in-game stuff is dead-on. But as I said, the book is more about the ripples the games cause, than about the games themselves, because that is where the real psychological action is. It is more about the relationship between a gamer kid in San Diego and his parents who don’t understand his hobby, than it is about the stuff he does inside the game (which does include a pretty awesome boss battle near the beginning). It’s about the ways in which running a guild teaches a girl who barely has any education how to organize large groups of people in real life. In the end, the book argues a point similar to Bartle’s Designing Virtual Worlds: the characters come to know themselves better because of their hobby, and it enables them to take real steps into adulthood.