Books

Cory Doctorow Keeps Up a Driving Pace, Full of Action and Violence

Image (partial) found on China Daily.com

The complex economies of online gaming and the tragic reality of third-world sweatshops come crashing together in Cory Doctorow's new novel.


For the Win

Publisher: TOR
Length: 480 pages
Author: Cory Doctorow
Price: $17.99
Format: Hardcover
Publication Date: 2010-05
Amazon

The complex economies of online gaming and the tragic reality of third-world sweatshops come crashing together in Cory Doctorow's new novel, For the Win.

Working the threads of stories taking place in multiple online worlds, in multiple countries, Doctorow shows us the sinister side of gaming. In India and China, workers play to win virtual gold that they then turn over to their bosses, earning more in local currency than their families have ever had, but enduring horrible conditions. And if the workers in India get too dissatisfied, the bosses simply recruit more workers in China.

In For the Win, the workers get organized, and set up a worldwide virtual union, determined to work together to demand fair pay and better conditions. The juxtaposition of physical and game-based violence makes Doctorow's novel a page-turner. Doctorow juggles dialects and gamer slang to make the story more convincing. Even for readers who aren't avidly connected to the gaming world, the economic implications of buying and selling futures in virtual goods is fascinating: "When lots of people believe something is valuable, it becomes valuable. So if you're selling game gold and people think game gold is valuable, they buy it."

Until the price of a fancy pixelated sword gets too high and that little voice in the back of the player's head says, Wait a minute! These are virtual swords, and why I am paying so much money for them? If the price stays low enough or the player thinks he can sell the sword on to someone else, he'll ignore the little voice for as long as possible. When the little voice becomes the voice of the fat lady, it all comes crashing down.

Doctorow's focus is on what's fair in an information society. What else would you expect from one of the lead editors of the popular tech/culture blog Boing Boing? Access to information and the Internet can level the playing field of equality for workers all over. The important thing is teamwork. Joining together and using everyone's skills to get the job done means that those nasty bosses, the ones who spit and punch and yell, can be beat. Because they don't know how to play the game. And they're certainly not organized.

If anyone can set up a free voicecall to anyone else in the world, using the net, then we can all communicate with the same ease that's standard for the high and mighty. If anyone can create and sell virtual wealth in a game, then we're all in the same economic shoes as the multinational megacorps that start the games.

On one side there are the workers, largely based on Asia's Pacific rim, skilled at playing games in various worlds. The workers are generally under the thumb of local bosses who work for bigger local bosses, all getting rich from the sale of virtual gold to wealthy players based in the West. In the book, an American economist employed by the world's largest game-running company spent his PhD time at Stanford working out equations to represent the value of fun in the gaming world. Newsweek's Daniel Lyons recently wrote about 'the serious business of pretend products' ("Money for Nothing", Newsweek, 19 March 2010), noting just as the novel's economist does, that in a virtual world, an economist can experiment with market forces in ways not possible in the physical world.

When the workers, known as Webblies, take over several of the most major games on the planet, virtual economies larger than actual physical countries (eg, Portugal) start to wobble and shift.

The world's economy is a runaway train, the driver dead at the switch, the passengers clinging on for dear life as their possessions go flying off the freight-cars and out the windows, and each curve in the tracks threatens to take it off the rails altogether.

The game running companies are forced to take notice. Doctorow peppers the narrative with lessons in crooked information-age economics. How do you run a scam? Find someone who thinks they can't be tricked, and fool them completely. Then do it again, because they'll be too embarrassed to admit they screwed up in the first place. If it sounds too good to be true ...

Doctorow keeps up a driving pace, full of action and violence both inside the games and in the real world as the union efforts heat up. With the popularity of online gaming today, it's certainly easy to believe that the stakes are high for the players and companies, as well as the workers. Access to information, net neutrality, and fair use of the work of others are all issues that come into play in For the Win, set in the game context and mixed up with a global labor movement. It just might be that the author is describing a not-so-distant future.

7

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

Ahead of Offa Rex's Newport Folk Festival set, Olivia Chaney talked about the collaboration with the Decemberists.

I was lucky enough to catch two of Offa Rex's performances this past summer, having been instantaneously won over by the lead single and title track from the record, The Queen of Hearts. The melodious harmonium intro on the track is so entrancing, I didn't want to miss their brief tour. The band had only scheduled a few dates due in part to other commitments and perhaps limited by their already busy schedules, the Decemberists are actively touring and had their own festival in the summer while and their friend, "sublime English vocalist" Olivia Chaney, had arrived from across the pond.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image