Author: Brittney Morris
Page Count: 323
Publishing Date/Publisher: September 24, 2019 by Simon Pulse
Review: I liked the concept of this book, but unfortunately the execution just didn’t work for me. I know little to nothing about VR and video games, so I did a little Googling to get a better idea of what creating a VR game would entail. Although it is fully plausible that two young women could create a VR game, it seems to me that building and maintaining a game of the caliber described in this book would take a team of elite developers years and $100,000s, if not millions, of dollars. Even if I were to remove these factors, it seems unlikely that a teen would be able to almost single-handedly maintain this game (including regular updates) while still maintaining a high GPA, a tutoring job, and a social life (including a long-term boyfriend). What made it even more implausible was that this game, which supposedly took up a huge portion of her free time, was a secret from everyone in her life. This confused me largely because these people would have to be super unobservant to not have even have an inkling of what she is working on. I was also confused that she would not even mention her vast coding knowledge on her college applications. Women of color are unfortunately still a huge minority in the gaming industry, and it seems a shame that Kiera doesn’t even seem interested in pursing it as a career path. Colleges would be chomping at the bit to get a student as talented as Kiera into their programs. She would probably be offered scholarships, internships, and possibly even have jobs lined up well before she graduated.
As for the premise of the game, it sounded fun and awesome, but was still a bit problematic for me. The idea of “safe spaces” for minority groups is not inherently bad, but it is certainly a slippery slope to create a game that completely excludes people of other races. Although Kiera personally designed the game to be inclusive of all people who identify as Black, it sadly still leaves the door open for discrimination. The passcode system lets people ultimately decide who is Black enough to play. This is addressed to an extent when Cicada makes her “confession” to Kiera about her mixed heritage, but it was not addressed to my satisfaction. Much of the conflict in the book surrounds the fact that this game is specifically excluding Whites, but it is never mentioned that other minority groups, who may very well be experiencing similar discrimination in mainstream games, are excluded as well.
I was also not a big fan of Kiera’s relationship with her boyfriend, Malcolm. He is very radicalized, manipulative, and aggressive. Kiera repeatedly states that she is with him because she feels like he is the only one who she can truly be herself with, yet she is constantly lying to him and editing her behaviors because she is afraid of how he will react. For someone who claims that SLAY is such an integral part of who she is, it seems contradictory to completely hide that part of herself from the man she claims to want to share her future with. I have other issues with Malcolm’s character, but I don’t want to say too much more for fear of giving away spoilers.
Despite my heavy criticism, there are certainly things to applaud about this book. It has a strong, female heroine who kicks butt at coding, it celebrates Black cultures around the world, it brings light to the issue of discrimination and non-inclusivity of people of color in mainstream video games, and the cover art is stunning.