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Book Review: "For the Win" by Cory Doctorow
By Rick Hoar
June 9, 2010

Just finished pouring over the latest geek book from BoingBoing.net’s own Cory Doctorow. For the Win is a thought-provoking story set in the near-present amidst the backdrop of the international underground gold farming industry. If you’ve ever encountered a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (e.g., World of Warcraft), you should know that there are those who take the virtual world far more seriously than others.

I’m not just talking about LARPers that dress the part on weekends to do battle with foam swords and imaginary spells, but instead about devoted people who spend their days amassing power and wealth in these Internet gamelands – to tangible ends IRL! Yes, thanks to the age of eBay and PayPal, astute gamers have figured out how to sell their sweat equity to more casual enthusiasts for actual money (all to the bemusement of system administrators and basic Terms of Service, of course).

An all-too-common scenario is that a player wants to compete socially with his buddies in the kewlest new online game, but that pesky job and night life prevent him from clicking and dragging for hours a day to attain noble rank and prestigious toys for his or her character. So, with a few nefarious dealings behind-the-scenes, an arrangement to pay money into an anonymous account in exchange for the delivery of game gold (or virtual weapons or experience points) is made. Technically against the rules, but too difficult for the game companies to track and defeat effectively, so the practice largely goes on ignored.

Now cut to the third world, where a new breed of gang has realized the earning potential of setting up factories of street rat kids in ubiquitous Internet cafes throughout Indonesia and China. They are set to work in the usual grueling conditions, not manufacturing cheap exports, but “farming” virtual goods and wealth for their bosses to redistribute on the black market.

For the Win takes a look at what happens when this already budding industry reaches critical mass, and a workers revolution breaks out across the globe. Union workers will no doubt love the prospect of a unified labor movement, defying borders and governments as it seeks to overthrow corruption in the cause of the working man. Yet, the story does paint an interesting picture of how technology and social networking have the potential to destabilize authoritarianism and classism in the third world, and it’s ultimately just ironic that the next big Communist revolution would be born in self-proclaimed Communist China!

While I may not agree with Doctorow’s particular brand of altruism, his concept of new technologies empowering a rapid destabilization of the status-quo definitely merits thought. And, while I still firmly believe free-market capitalism and democracy are the true hallmarks of a utopia, this yarn does well to highlight just how far from that end we are throughout the world today.

For the Win is an awesome page-turner that definitely stands apart from much of today's fiction literature. It's a must for any gamer, economist or technology enthusiast, and it's available now in print from Tor Books, and as an AudioBook or a FREE text/PDF download from Doctorow's site, craphound.com/ftw.