Lowdown: Gamers of the world unite to fight for their rights.
I have been following Cory Doctorow’s adventures over the web for a while now. Since we first met at his blog Boing Boing (a blog that happens to be one of the world’s most popular), Doctorow has quickly established himself as a guy that thinks like me and happens to think about many of the things I find myself pondering about. It was just a question of time before I got to read one of his books, and that time came when I finally put my hands on an ebook reader. Why is that? Simply because Doctorow stands up to his words of criticism concerning copyright laws and offers electronic copies of all his books, for free (under a Creative Commons license), on his website here. Of his books, I chose the young adult (YA, as in older teens) title For the Win to start my Doctorow career with for the sole reason it is his latest.
For the Win fits its YA aspirations like a gas pedal fits a Formula 1 car. It is a book about gamers, and it tells a fictional story that could take place as of tomorrow on how individual gamers from all over the world and under all sorts of circumstances unite in order to fight for their rights, rights which a collection of oppressors hold back from them through sheer greed. Our heroes range from game miners in China, playing to make a living, through groups of kids in India for whom gaming was ticket out of the mundane miseries of slum life, to what we would normally call spoiled teens in the USA who consider gaming a legitimate future career. On the other side are their oppressors: greedy bosses, game running companies oblivious or indifferent to the injustices committed in their domain, and governments that don’t care much about the rights of their people when those rights might clash with productivity.
I found For the Win very cleverly written for its target audience. It’s an extremely thrilling read, for a start; one of those books I found myself totally immersed in and hard to let go of when duty (or sleep) called. It’s well written, too: Characters are well developed, they fade in and out of the story smoothly. Overall, this is not a romantic book but rather a realistic one, a quality that is sadly missing from most of the work aimed at young adults. Second, it touches on many things that would be dear to contemporary teens: video games, finding their own place in the world, dealing with adults. Third, For the Win is not just an exciting read, it is also a valuable teaching tool: Doctorow uses the premises of gaming money to expand the discussion into the workings of the global financial market. He does so to quite a detailed level, providing explanations in a manner that is easy to understand given the complexity of the subject matter. I have found the tutoring element of For the Win to be exceptionally good, so much so that I can say it added a lot to my own understanding of world finances (and I haven’t been a young adult for a long time now). For the Win is worth reading for its educational benefits alone, especially if you do not consider yourself an authority on matters of finance.
There are disadvantages to Doctorow’s appeal to younger audiences, though. Language wise, For the Win is very simple. Although it mixes lots of foreign phrases into its melting pot, as suits a book taking place all over the world, this book is no sophisticated poetry. Usually, I complain about books that are too hard to understand; this time around I will complain that the book’s language made me yearn for something a bit more poetic.
Doctorow goes one step further with his youth appeal. He uses what I would consider cheap tricks to stand characters out: his cooler characters, unlike their parents, don’t wear watches; they just use the mobile phones they carry on them anyway. Fair enough, but I’ve seen this trick used before, so by the time For the Win presented it to me trying to make a character sound cool by telling me it doesn’t wear a watch was decidedly uncool.
I’m digressing here, though. The most important thing about For the Win, other than its economy lessons, is the agenda it pushes into its reader like a bulldozer with its pedal on the metal. This agenda is developed slowly; at first Doctorow explains through his characters why the virtual world with its virtual money matters in the real world. As we move on to the inevitable conclusion that the web gamers of the world should unite in order to make their stand in the global world of finances, Doctorow’s very left wing and liberal agendas become crystal clear. The feeling of togetherness you get when reading a book involving heroes from different backgrounds coming at you from all over the world certainly helps establish that left wing solidarity. And you know what? I so totally agree with the guy I could give him a metaphorical kiss. I can only feel sorry for myself not having encountered a writer like Doctorow and books like For the Win when I was a young adult, back in my ancient past, because having such a book at my disposal would have meant the formalization of the opinions I now hold concerning world politics could have taken place through a much easier process and much earlier than it did. I can hear right wingers and addicted capitalists out there complaining that Doctorow uses brainwashing techniques, but such arguments are easily countered: it is very clear Doctorow deals with facts and not speculation, and the biggest evidence is on his side – the GFC.
If there is one thing I have established with regards to Cory Doctorow by now is that he is going to play a major role in my life as I know it. Just like Richard Dawkins is helping me learn more about science through his books and helps me formalize my views on matters such as religion, Cory Doctorow is there to acquaint me with the world of politics while helping me formalize my opinions on matters of civil libertinism. In my book, such services are amongst the most important services a person can provide. Yes, you could say I hold Cory Doctorow in the highest regard.
Overall: For the Win is the beginning of a beautiful friendship between Doctorow and I. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Closing anecdote: I met Cory Doctorow at the recent AussieCon4 science fiction conference in Melbourne. I used the opportunity to purchase a physical copy of another book of his just so he could sign it (things were so hectic he actually signed it with a personal dedication before I was even remotely close to paying for the book). That meeting took place a day after I received my Kindle, and my experience thus far indicates that physical copy would remain unread. I will continue reading Doctorow through downloaded ebooks instead.