For the Win
|11 May 2010|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback) & e-book & unabridged audiobook|
|Pages||480 pp (Hardback edition)|
|ISBN||978-0-7653-2216-6 (Hardback edition)|
For the Win is the second young adult science fiction novel by Canadian author Cory Doctorow. It was released in May 2010. The novel is available free on the author's website as a Creative Commons download, and is also published in traditional paper form by Tor Books.
The book is centered on massively multiplayer online role-playing games. Even though the novel is targeted toward young adults, it takes on significant concepts such as macroeconomics and labor rights. It covers the new and fast evolving concept of virtual economy. It also deals with MMORPG specific topics like gold farming and power-leveling.
Part 1: The gamers and their games, the workers at their work
Matthew Fong lives in Shenzhen, China. He's very talented at gold-farming and is able to find the optimal way to earn virtual gold in a dungeon in minimal time. Together with a couple of friends he lives on that, after they left Boss Wing, a man employing boys to gold-farm for him but keeping most of the profits. Matthew finds a place in the game of Svartalfaheim Warriors where it is possible to earn a lot in short time, and exploiting this discovery with his team is able to make a month's living in a single night before the administrators of the game discover and block them. However, Boss Wing has Matthew's home raided and him beaten because he wants his most talented gold-farmer back; they agree that Matthew can work on his own but has to surrender 60% of his income to Boss Wing, who handles turning game-gold into real money for him in turn.
Leonard Goldberg is a well-situated American boy in Los Angeles. His father built up a big shipping company, but Leonard is mostly interested in playing games with his guildies in China. He taught himself Mandarin and favors being called "Wei Dong" (meaning "Strength of the East"). In his team, they have an appointment helping an American boy level up his avatar in the game of Savage Wonderland for money. Following a mistake of their customer, they nearly fail but Wei-Dong is able to save them with a lot of luck. His father discovers him playing during night-time (because of time differences to) and since he regards games as a waste of time, decides to send his son off to a boarding school (Martindale Academy) for better discipline. On the way off, they have a car accident and in the confusion caused by it, Wei-Dong manages to run off. He makes it to Santee Alley, where he rents a cheap room and starts to live on his own, making money as Mechanical Turk (a player who slips into NPCs when other players trigger something not implemented in the game's AI) for Coca-Cola Games, who runs some of the biggest virtual worlds. The payment is not much, but he is able to live on it and enjoys playing as well as his new freedom.
Mala moved together with her mother and little brother from a small village in India to Mumbai, where her mother hoped to earn a better living. She ended up in a plastic recycling factory in Dharavi. Mala plays a game called Zombie Mecha in Mrs Dibyendu's internet cafe after school for fun together with her friend Yasmin Gardez, but since she's very good at tactics and leading battles, soon she gathers a group of admirers around her who call her "General Robotwallah", being her army. Soon, she is approached by a man called Mr Banerjee and employed by him to attack other players, who are business rivals. This employment earns her whole family a better living, so they can soon rent a new, bigger flat and her mother is no longer forced to work in the plastic factory. One day, her army gets defeated by a mysterious opposing army; its leader identifies herself to Mala as "Big Sister Nor". She tells her that they are trying to recruit and organize game-workers all over the world into the IWWWW (Industrial Workers of the World Wide Web, a pun on IWW). The members of the IWWWW call themselves "Webblies", which is again a pun on Wobblies and the web. In game-space, no borders or separate countries exist; and while companies may move their production from one country to another whenever powerful unions arise, online, there will always be a chance to reach the replacement workers and have them join the union, too. Mala does not like the idea at first, however, thinking others are just being envious of her career.
Part 2: Hard work at play
Connor Prikkel, while on a PhD program on economics in Stanford University, develops a model for predicting values of virtual goods in games based on how much fun the game is. With this discovery (which he calls "Prikkel equations"), he quits his studies and begins speculating on in-game items. At first, he nearly bankrupts himself, but in the very last moment finally makes big wins. In the end, his equations and understanding of the game economies earn him the leader's post in Coca-Cola Games Command Central.
Boss Wing declares a lock-in, after one of his boys discovered a way to earn gold quickly, so that he can exploit it to a maximum until the game administrators will shut it down. Angry at that, the boys working for him in Shenzhen go on a wildcat strike, breaking out of the internet cafes, cutting their network connections and protesting in the street out front. Big Sister Nor supports them together with her two co-organizers, The Mighty Krang and Justbob. They talk to the media and spread the word about the strike to all the other Webblies. In addition, the Webblies extend the strike to the online worlds of Mushroom Kingdom, where they use their game characters to fight off any players attempting to earn gold in-game, so that Boss Wing is not able to use replacement players for his gold-farming. This has them attacked in the virtual world by Pinkerton players, and both parties fight a huge virtual battle. This fight is watched with interest also by Conner and his colleagues (who even bet on the battle outcome), until they eventually block all the involved player accounts.
During that fight, the hide-out of Nor and her companions is attacked also in the real world by a group of hired bullies that beat them up and wound them seriously. Furthermore, police raids the strikers in Shenzhen, too. Matthew is arrested and sent to a labour camp for three months, while one of his co-workers, Lu, manages to escape. He briefly talks to Wei-Dong, who is one of his guildies in gamespace, and gets to know from him that videos of the strike and subsequent police raid are going viral in the online-world and he in Los Angeles just saw Lu being beaten by police. At Shenzhen Railway Station, Lu is recognized as one of the strikers by Jiandi, a girl who broadcasts a dissident radio show online with a huge following of millions of Chinese factory girls. From advertisements on her show (for other illegal movements like Falun Gong) she earns quite a lot of money, which allows her to stay ahead of the police and escape arrest while advising her listeners on how to organize against their bosses. She takes Lu into her custody, interviews him on her show, and eventually, they start a romantic relationship and travel around together.
While Mala does not want to side with the Webblies, Yasmin decides to join them; for this decision, she gets thrown out of Mala's army. She gets contacted by Ashok Balgangadhar Tilak, mentioning that Nor asked him to meet Yasmin. He's an economist in Mumbai who joined the Webblies for their cause, and they go together to Andheri where Ashok has scheduled a meeting with Indian union leaders. He hopes to get support for the Webblies from them, and Yasmin tells them about their work as gold-farmers and gamers. However, the union leaders do not take them seriously and decline to provide money or other support. When they arrive back in Dharavi, Mala and her army are already waiting for them and attack them. Mala wants to use a petrol bomb, but Yasmin manages to bring her down and wounds her. This experience brings the old friends together again, and from then on, Mala and her army support the Webblies as double-agents with Mr Banerjee.
When Wei-Dong turns 18, he restores contact with his mother (since then, his parents can't force him to go home any longer). She tells him that his father is in hospital, and Wei-Dong decides to come home and visit him; but too late. When Wei-Dong comes home, his father already died. From then on, he again lives at home with his mother, and becomes part-owner of their shipping company.
Part 3: Ponzi
Wei-Dong also comes into contact with the Webblies, and partly because of desire for adventure he decides to help them. Abusing his position as part-owner of his family's shipping company, he changes a shipping container into a kind of flat and smuggles himself this way into China. With him, he brings boxes full of prepaid cards for games valid on US servers so the Webblies can then distribute and use the codes for their online activities.
After three months in the camp, Matthew gets released and rejoins Lu and Jiandi in Shenzhen. There also Wei-Dong joins them, who was able to carry out his plan without getting caught. Together with lots of Webbly boys, they live in Jiandi's spare flats, and since that takes up more and more of them, Jiandi is tempted to air her show more than once in a row from the same location. This however gets them the police on their track, and one night, the building in which she sleeps together with Lu, Wei-Dong and other Webblies is raided. Jiandi and Lu have a prepared secret exit, while all the Webbly boys are arrested when they exit via the front door. Wei-Dong follows Jiandi and Lu, but the three are not fast enough and with police on their heels, Lu gets shot while Jiandi and Wei-Dong can escape. Also the boys are shot after being arrested, when one of them has an epileptic fit and police feels attacked by them.
As their "chief economist", Ashok (working at the backroom of Mrs Dibyendu's cafe) devises a plan to destabilize the in-game economies. There are multiple references to Ponzi schemes in the plot, but it is not entirely clear how the plan works. One day, Ashok, Mala and her army find the cafe locked and Mrs Dibyendu gone. In her stead, a gang hired by Mr Banerjee is there and denies them access; but Mala and her group are able to drive them off. When Mr Banerjee comes back with more thugs, Ashok gets help from the union leaders, who finally can be persuaded to side with them, and they can again defend themselves and keep the cafe to continue their work.
In the end, via a lot of detours Ashok is able to set up bad financial assets based on game values and has the control to let the internal economies crash on his behalf. With that power in their hands, the Webblies blackmail Connor and his colleagues - demanding Coca-Cola Games' official admission for their workers to farm gold and sell it to players, in exchange for saving the game economies. Connor and the other game-runners are especially vulnerable to Ashok's threats to game economy - they all use their insider knowledge to build considerable wealth in form of game assets. So in the end, they accept the proposal of the Webblies and Connor works together with Ashok on re-stabilizing the game economy. Mala gets kidnapped by Banerjee and he denies to set her free after Yasmin paid him ransom. But when Connor tampers with his in-game assets after Ashok asked him for this favour, Banerjee finally releases Mala.
Big Sister Nor and her two friends are also raided by police in Hong Kong, but already changed their house and continue to work from an apartment above a massage parlor. But also that new place is attacked in the night by arsonists, and Big Sister Nor dies in the fire. The Mighty Krang and Justbob can escape and tell the other Webblies what happened. Nor's last words where "You all lead yourselves.", and that encourages all to keep up their work which has just begun to succeed for them.
Wei-Dong, Jiandi and others escape from China again in a shipping container on a ship of Wei-Dong's company to Mumbai, where they meet Ashok, Yasmin and Mala. For them as a surprise, even Connor joins them; he had his security department hack into their mail accounts to find out when they meet and decided to be there, too, so they could see each other face-to-face once. There the narrative ends.
Reception of the novel has been mixed; some reviews praised its righteous message, but others said that this didacticism may detract from the novel for those who are not interested. One review from Kirkus praised the novel's coverage of social issues: “His story spans the globe and exposes levels of exploitation running from Ponzi schemes to sweatshop thuggery.” However, the same publication also criticized the novel's moralizing, explaining that “it is shot through with economics lectures; regularly, the focus shifts from the large cast of characters to a gentle exposition on union history or social contracts or some other complex economic idea. Fans, future bankers and future gametechs will be in heaven; those without interest will skim or give up by the halfway mark.”
- Read by George Newbern. Audiobook site: http://craphound.com/ftw/for-the-win-audiobook/
-  Cory Doctorow's interview with New Scientist
- "For the Win". Kirkus Reviews. Kirkus Media, LLC. 78 (7): 305. 1 April 2010. Retrieved 12 May 2012.
- "For the Win". Kirkus Reviews. Kirkus Media, LLC. 78 (10): 16. 15 May 2010. Retrieved 12 May 2012.
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