FTW: Freedom to Workers; For the World

Cory Doctorow. For the Win. New York, New York; Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, 2010.


Recently the popularity of MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games), with games such as World of Warcraft, Tibia and Minecraft, has grown exponentially with millions of players worldwide logging in daily, spending countless hours in a virtual world and economy. These games, mainly populated by players from rich countries, who spend a good sum of money on virtual items and gold in order to gain status and respect in the in-game economy, have spawned a new type of slavery throughout the world’s poorest countries. “Gold farmers” sign unfair contracts and gruel countless hours in sweatshops everyday without rest to collect this precious gold in the online communities, only to receive horrible wages and for their bosses to take most, if not all, the profit. Three kids from different walks of life, and many of their friends, fates intertwine and come together to fight for the international rights of all laborers, both in the real world and the virtual world, in countries where striking is illegal and where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

Enter Matthew Fong, a gold farming 17 year old boy from Shenzhen, China, quits Boss Wing’s operations and starts up his own in Svartalfaheim Warriors (a fantasy MMORPG only existing in For the Win), where he uses his mathematical genius to maximize his gold profit in the shortest amount of time, gaining “4,400 gold for twenty minutes, or 13,200 gold per hour—which, at the day’s exchange, was worth about $30.” (10) $90 dollars an hour isn’t too bad for a 17 year old, that is unless you’re a former employee of Boss Wing’s operation. Boss Wing sends his men to send Matthew a lesson, by smashing his eight monitors and roughing him up quite good. Though no longer employed by him, Boss Wing will not let Matthew make a living unless under his watch, with no exceptions. Boss Wing claims that Matthew cannot use the skills he learned under Boss Wing’s operation unless employed by Boss Wing, but is this just? What can Matthew do to fight for his rights in a country that prohibits strikes?

Leonard Goldberg, better known as Wei-Dong by his online friends from China, is a 16 year old American kid from Orange County in California. He spends his free time out of school playing with his oversea friends, getting paid by rich American players to run instances for them and the Americans “got to keep the gold, the weapons, the prestige items, all of it—and all for the low, low cost of $75.” (20) But what Wei-Dong and his friends did in their online adventures were illegal and they had to be careful who their customers were and how they did, otherwise they’d lose all the money they had put into the game from getting banned. These big game companies have a monopoly on their virtual economies, forcing players to pay to play the game, but the players do not own any of the pixels that they may have in their possession in the virtual world. Only the company could sell gold, items, and whatever else the game offered. Other players could not sell their own possessions in the game. Is it just for online gaming companies to control powerful virtual world economies by monopoly?

Mala is a 15 year old girl from Mumbai, India, but is unlike many of the girls her age. Mala frequented games-café with the few rupees she had to spare every week, but “most of the girls at the games-café came in and played little games with cute animals and traded for hearts and jewels. But for Mala, the action was in the awesome carnage of the multiplayer war games.” (30) Mala was an expert strategist and understood the tactics behind the online games unlike many of her counterparts, who mainly played for the carnage and destruction. Mala was better at one particular game, Zombie Mecha, where she was better than any girl or boy, no matter their age. Soon, she gathered a following of her comrades in Mrs. Dotta’s cafe and soon they began calling her “General Robotwallah”. But her comrades weren’t the only ones who noticed her great skill; Mr. Banerjee came one do, a mysterious man, offering Mala a job to take out other online players. Of course, Mr. Banerjee would pay Mala “a lakh of rupees every month” (35). Ultimately, Mala finds out that these players she takes out in Zombie Mecha are actually “gold farmers” from competing companies from Mr. Banerjee’s company. Mala pays no attention to this though, and because a pawn to Mr. Banerjee and his bosses due to the amounts of rupees she receives every week doing this work in the online world. Mala is blinded by the money and it tears her away from her family and her best friend, Yasmin, who ultimately leaves General Robotwallah’s army and goes on to join a rebellion group, a group that Mala is paid to fight against.

Their three fates ultimately intertwine when an uprising against unfair and unjust employers and bad working conditions is started from the IWWWW, the acronym for Industrial Workers of the World Wide Web, its members better known as Webblies, a spin off from Wobblies. Started by Big Sister Nor, she starts the Webblies to fight for the rights of workers in the poor countries by created the first online union. Big Sister Nor brings the three talented kids from different parts of the world to fight for the rights of all workers, not matter if they’re gold farmers, women factory workers in China, or if they are merely a player provided one service to another player. For the Win is a great novel that demonstrates the right workers should have in the workplace and the power unionized strikes can have if work conditions are abysmal. It shows students the power of globalization, as well as giving its readers a taste of other cultures and their differences. On top of all of these, it gives students a basic example of economics and the power of money, touching such topics, in student-friendly language, such and inflation and deflation and how currency works. The language of the book is very “gamerish” with many terms used by the online gaming community and many passages of economics are giving examples of simplified economies in the online games. It connects greatly with many high school students who play MMORPGs and is a great read from start to finish. Cory Doctorow does it again, just like in his book Little Brother, showing the possible power of the 99 percent and they government should be run by its people, not by dictators. In the final words of Big Sister Nora to all the Webblies "You lead yourselves" (469), meaning that the power of the people comes from the people and only from the people.

Recommendations for Teachers

For the Win by Cory Doctorow includes young teenaged characters from across the world (California, India, and China), that are able to communicate through an online gaming experience. A great topic for discussion could be global communication through the use of the web. Teachers could have their students write to online pen-pals from all over the world. Discussion questions could include:

*If you could write to a pen pal, what would you ask them? What would you want to know about their lives?

*Have you ever communicated with someone from a different culture or country through the use of the Internet? What was that communication like?

*How is communication through the internet different from talking to someone face to face? This question will hopefully bring about the idea that people can sometimes be more honest with strangers than their own friends or family. This is evident as Wei-Dong felt more comfortable talking to his Chinese friends online, as opposed to his own parents. The internet also offers a sense of anonymity, thus people are much quicker to say cruel things because they know that there will not be consequences.

The students could research another culture and come up with a script of what an online pen-pal/chat room conversation would look like. The students could come up with their own questions, and then research the answers or actually write to a pen-pal from that culture.

This is a great opportunity for teachers to also discuss the dangers of online communication with strangers. Teachers can discuss online privacy and warning signs to look for when communicating with people through video games or online chat rooms.

For the Win is a great book for students that are into video games and technology. Discussion questions that involve online video games can stir up interest in the students, as well as anything web-related since the book is all about using the web to expand communication and learn about other cultures. The book also deals with the hard reality of sweatshops and corporate greed. The cafes in which the main characters play their video games are actually sweatshops. Having a discussion on the horrors of sweatshops and the obesssion with earning money at the expense of innocent workers could garner a great deal of conversation amongst students. Questions could include:
*Have you, or anyone in your family, ever been mistreated by a boss or company for which you work? How did this make you, or that family member, feel?
*What is more important for a large company- earning as much money as possible despite the ramifications on workers, or ensuring the best possible environment for workers but in turn not earning as much money as possible?

About Cory Doctorow

Cory Doctorow is a science fiction novelist and blogger who participates in contributions to many newspapers, magazines, and websites. Doctorow was born in 1971 in Ontario, Canada. Cory is the co-editor of a popular blog site called boingboing.net. Many of his novels have been translated in different languages then published by Tor Books and HarperCollinsUK while also being released on the web under a Creative Commons license, allowing anyone who wishes to re-use or share the material to do so. Doctorow's young adult novels have been nominated and won numerous awards throughout his writing career. Little Brother has one awards such as the Ontario Library White Pine Award, the Prometheus Award as well as the Indienet Award for bestselling young adult novel in America's top 1000 independent bookstores in 2008.

Doctorow is an activist who is extremely knowledgeable in the field of computers and technology. He believes the Internet should be a place without government interference and he was giving speeches against SOPA back in 2011, before most people even knew the bill existed. He does his best to keep up to date on a technological level, and he also tries to keep the public aware of copyright laws and controversy through speeches and his blog. He blogs on a daily basis, and on January 16, he warned that though SOPA has been slowed "It's evil Senate twin, PIPA, is still steaming forward."

Cory Doctorow has written many science fiction novels such as Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, Eastern Standard Tribe, Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, Little Brother, Makers, and For the Win.
Doctorow also has numerous collections of short stories such as Ownz0red, Truncat, A Place So Foreign and Eight More, I, Robot, Overclocked: Stories of the Future Present, Scroogled, True Names, There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow / Now is the Best Time of Your Life, and With A Little Help,

Doctorow's Craphound Bio
Doctorow's Wikipedia Bio

Multimedia (Video or Audio)
Cory Doctorow's take on his novel, For the Win.

Big man in "Gold Farming Industry" tells all.

Doctorow reading from For the Win then answering questions.

Additional Resources

boingboing.net - Cory Doctorow is the co-editor of this popular blogging website.
craphound.com - Cory Doctorow's website that he shares information about his works as well as the works for free download using a Creative Commons License.
The Ethics of Gold Farming - A blog post about ethics in the current state of "gold farming."
Trion against Gold Farming - An article from Trion World Studios that states how gold farming can hurt developers as well as players.
The Guardian - An article about labor camps that have their prisoners work hard labor by day and gold farm by night.
The Life of a Chinese Gold Farmer - An article by the New York Times about the life of a Chinese Gold Farmer
Occupy Wall Street - A site dedicated to taking power away from the top 1% and giving it back to the people
Online Slang - A site dedicated to the language used by gamers all over the Internet, commonly used in MMORPGs. Handy for readers who aren't internet slang literate!

This review has been brought to you by:
Dann Bell
Todd Bush
Nathon Meulenberg
Tim Simmons

Reviews also done by this group:
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card