"For the Win" is the sixth novel by the acclaimed journalist and science-fiction writer Cory Doctorow, and his second for young adults. Set in the not-too-distant future, it takes as its subject the phenomenon of massively-multiplayer online roleplaying games (MMORPGs). In Doctorow's vision, these games - the successors to titles such as World of Warcraft - have grown to the extent that they have become fully-fledged economies in themselves, with sweatshop-workers in India and China employed by villainous bosses to "farm" the game-worlds for prestige items that can be sold to players in return for real-world cash. The novel follows some of those workers as they try to overturn the system and bring about fair conditions and pay for all.
An interesting premise, perhaps, but there is little that is especially original or ground-breaking about it. In fact the majority of the action takes place in the real world, not the virtual one, and aside from a few brief glimpses at the beginning of the novel, we see remarkably little of the games described - which would not only have been enlightening to less informed readers but might have provided a useful counterpoint to the real world. At the same time, there is little attempt to explore the psychology of the gamers themselves, which might have helped bring the characters to life, and establish greater sympathy for them. It would have been interesting to gain some insight into what attracts players to MMORPGs, and why they invest so much time and effort in them.
Certainly there are some exciting moments - many of the characters are on the run from the authorities, utilising their computing expertise to deliver illicit night-time broadcasts to workers worldwide - but on the whole the plot fails to deliver much drama. The narrative is weighed down by large sections of exposition on economic theory, which demonstrates the depth of Doctorow's research and the extent of his passion, but which is largely unnecessary, quickly becoming tiresome and repetitive while also hindering the pace. The conclusion, too, is strangely anticlimactic, leaving the reader to wonder what ultimately is the novel's message.
This is not to say that Doctorow doesn't present some interesting ideas about both the future of online gaming and of global economics. Nevertheless, in the end "For the Win" remains a long-winded and frustrating novel which never quite manages to live up to its potential.