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Literature: For the Win

Gold. It's all about gold.

Svartalfheim Warriors. Zombie Mecha. Clankers. Mushroom Kingdom. Savage Wonderland. And more, and more.

An undefined period into the future, World of Warcraft is ancient history. Eight of the 20 largest economies in the world are virtual, including three run by Coca-Cola. Nine million people — Chinese, Indian, Malay, Vietnamese, even some Americans — make their livings through them, including uncountable gold farmers. Whenever it's more fun to have virtual gold than to not have it, there'll be money to make by gathering it.

Just one thing: Most of that money isn't being made by the gold farmers themselves, the players who work 12 or 18 hours a shift for a pittance and know the games inside out, know exactly where and how to wring the most gold out of them. Most of the money goes to their bosses. Want better conditions? You're fired and replaced with someone else who wants your job. Try to strike out on your own? Your boss sends his goons.

These problems have been faced by laborers before, in the 20th century. The solution they came up with was unions. If one worker wants more money, he can be replaced. If all of them want more money, suddenly the boss's position is much more precarious. Of course, most of these workers are in countries without strong labor rights laws — some countries prohibit all unions. And there's the matter of globalization — if you unionize gold farmers in China, their bosses will just replace them with Indonesians; after all, the companies that own the games sell subscriptions around the world. Really, any job has the same problems, even the ones involving production of physical goods. They can be outsourced to anywhere factories can be built and container ships can be docked.

Funny thing about globalization, though: When it comes to MMOGs, it works both ways. If you're a union recruiter operating in Mushroom Kingdom, it makes no difference whether the workers are down the street or three thousand miles away. They're all in the same virtual worlds. Anywhere the bosses move the jobs, the recruiters can follow. And why stop at gold farmers? You could unionize Mechanical Turks, girls working in brick-and-mortar factories — everyone. But that'd take someone either very reckless or very, very clever...

Cory Doctorow's For the Win differs from his previous young adult novel, Little Brother, in the lack of a single protagonist providing the sole perspective. Instead, there are several viewpoint characters, including:

  • Big Sister Nor, the former textile worker who started the Industrial Workers of the World Wide Web (the "Webblies").
  • Justbob and The Mighty Krang, BSN's lieutenants.
  • Mala, aka General Robotwallah, one of the most brilliant Zombie Mecha players around, who at age 14 earns more than fifteen times the rest of her family's income enforcing a gold-farming monopoly.
  • Yasmin, General Robotwallah's right-hand woman, also 14, who has been having second thoughts.
  • Matthew Fong, a 17-year-old master gold farmer who aims to run his own business, despite the displeasure it earns from Boss Wing.
  • Leonard "Wei-Dong" Goldberg, who farms gold with his friends across the Pacific and sees the fragility of the world better than his father can.
  • Lu, former security guard, tank guildmate of Wei-Dong, employee of Boss Wing, and employee of Matthew — in that order.
  • Conner Prikkel, chief economist for Coca-Cola's games division, who struck it rich when he devised equations that showed when virtual money and items were over- or undervalued.
  • Ashok, an economist sympathetic to the Webblies.

As always, the novel can be found on Doctorow's site for free or in traditional bookstores and libraries.

This novel provides examples of:

  • Action Girl: Mala, Yasmin, Big Sister Nor, and especially Justbob all prove that they are badasses both in-game and out. Apparently before meeting Big Sister Nor, Justbob ran one of the most successful female gangs in Southeast Asia
  • Anyone Can Die: Lu is shot by the police, and Big Sister Nor is locked inside her building, which is set on fire
  • Author Filibuster: While they're not particularly long, the book contains frequent diversions talking about economics and the financial industry.
  • Big Good: Big Sister Nor, with The Might Krang and Justbob as her Number Twos
  • Bittersweet Ending: Big Sister Nor, Lu, and at least 42 Webblies are dead, the riots/protests in Shenzhen that broke out in sympathy with the Webblies strike were brutally put down. The Mechanical Turks which signed Wei-Dong's letter will probably get fired—although Conner is sympathetic. On the other hand, Coca Cola Games (or at least Conner Prikkel) agree in principle to work with the Webblies in the future, and it is implied that the extremely bad press the Chinese police got over their conduct during the riots/protests has weakened their ability to put down further protests
  • Defeat Means Friendship: Between Yasmin and Mala, although it's more like "Defeat Means Resumption of Friendship"
    • In the last scene of the book Conner seems fairly friendly towards the Webblies, who have lost him several thousand dollars and essentially held his company ransom to get their demands considered
  • Eyepatch of Power: Justbob gains one after being beaten up by thugs early on in the book
  • Four Lines, All Waiting: They all get tied together eventually, but there are quite a few concurrent plotlines.
  • Gender-Blender Name: Justbob is a pretty Tamil girl
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Connor observes that envy — the thought that somebody might be getting rich and you aren't — can be even more powerful than greed.
  • Handicapped Badass: Mala after Yasmin breaks her leg has to walk with a cane for the rest of the book, and it doesn't diminish how terrifying she can be in the least. In fact, it now means she has a very heavy cane with a silver skull on the end that she can hit people with, possibly making her even more intimidating
    • The same can be said of Justbob after her eye is ruined by an attack by hired thugs, causing her to wear an Eyepatch of Power. She starts removing it to scratch the scars around her eye when she wants to win an argument with The Mighty Krang.
  • Leeroy Jenkins: Wei-Dong's team's customer early in the book plays the trope completely straight, charging recklessly into the boss chamber and ruining the team's careful plans.
  • Massive Multiplayer Scam: The Webblies organize a massive pyramid scheme.
  • Multinational Team: The Webblies have a presence in 12 countries, including China, India, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Indonesia, with Wei-Dong's recruitment of Mechanical Turks even spreading the union to the US. The main characters are American (Wei-Dong, Connor Prikkel), Indian (Mala, Ashok, Yasmin), Chinese (Matthew, Lu, Jie), and Singaporean (Justbob, The Mighty Krang—although his accent is described as Taiwanese at one point, Big Sister Nor—although her backstory indicates that she's Malaysian and at one point she claims to be Indonesian).
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Justbob and The Mighty Krang. Big Sister Nor would count, except that she does mention her actual name at one point (of which "Nor" is the first part).
  • Real Money Trade
  • Sociopathic Hero: Justbob is implied to be one, brought into the Webblies because of her loyalty to Big Sister Nor and a love of fighting
  • The Con: Discussed
  • Too Dumb to Fool: Discussed when Ashok explains the principles of The Con. It's actually easier to run a lot of cons on smart people, because they can follow whatever convoluted logic you're using, than on dumb people who'll get lost mid-explanation.
  • Twenty Minutes into the Future: Pinning down a timeframe is even trickier than with Little Brother. One of the most concrete clues is that Big Sister Nor has played Theater of War VII "since she was a little girl."
    • A minor character is described as being not really a gamer because the last game he played was World of Warcraft, in a way that implies that WOW is now thought of like Pac Man or Pong
  • Voice of the Resistance: Jie, whose radio show encourages factory girls to stand up against oppression and who later uses it as a way of supporting the Webblies
    Creator/Cory Doctorow    
The Forever WarScience Fiction LiteratureFor Your Safety
Fort HopeLiterature of the 2010sFor Your Safety

alternative title(s): For The Win
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