on September 24, 2019
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Simon Pulse
By day, seventeen-year-old Kiera Johnson is an honors student, a math tutor, and one of the only Black kids at Jefferson Academy. But at home, she joins hundreds of thousands of Black gamers who duel worldwide as Nubian personas in the secret multiplayer online role-playing card game, SLAY. No one knows Kiera is the game developer, not her friends, her family, not even her boyfriend, Malcolm, who believes video games are partially responsible for the "downfall of the Black man."
But when a teen in Kansas City is murdered over a dispute in the SLAY world, news of the game reaches mainstream media, and SLAY is labeled a racist, exclusionist, violent hub for thugs and criminals. Even worse, an anonymous troll infiltrates the game, threatening to sue Kiera for "anti-white discrimination."
Driven to save the only world in which she can be herself, Kiera must preserve her secret identity and harness what it means to be unapologetically Black in a world intimidated by Blackness. But can she protect her game without losing herself in the process?
Slay is a great book if you are capable of massive suspension of disbelief.
I love the description of the game. The virtual reality world that this game exists in sounds absolutely amazing. I’d love to see video games like this. In the world of this book V.R. technology appears to be commonplace. It is much more technologically advanced than we are now but everything else besides gaming seems to be about the same level of technology.
Slay is a virtual world where people duel using powers granted to them by cards that they draw from a deck. The cards are based on aspects of black lives across the globe. Mom’s Macaroni and Cheese makes the ground your opponent is standing on gooey so they get stuck. The Afro card surrounds you in a protective bubble of hair. Other cards on based on famous people. I loved reading about the cards. The world building here was so inventive and funny. It was everything I love about fantastical worlds.
In order to play Slay you need to have a passcode from another player. It is understood but never explicitly stated that you have to be black to play. When a top player is murdered in real life because of a dispute about the game, the media finds out about the exclusivity of Slay. They start to debate about whether or not it is racist to limit play to black people.
There are great discussions about harassment of black videogamers and the importance of having spaces where you can be yourself. Who gets to decide what is black culture?
This part of the story is all good. The problems come if you think about the details too much.
Supposedly this game was built by a teenager. It has 500,000 players using virtual reality. Where is this being hosted? How is it being paid for? It is a free game with no apparent advertising. The murder was over people pooling resources in the game. It implies that there was money being spent on the game but she never seems to collect any money. How would a minor be able to set up a company that could do that alone? Somehow her family has never noticed that she is running a massive undertaking from her bedroom. She doesn’t really seem to do much but moderate some large duels. She talks about adding new features and about some glitches but she never seems to fix anything. She goes to school full time, has a boyfriend, tutors, does her homework, and goes to bed early. Nothing ever seems to crash or absolutely need her attention. Games need teams of people to keep them going but she checks in for a few hours a day when she can get away from her family? Not likely.
If you can let all that go and pretend that this is a totally self sustaining game, then you can enjoy the larger social issues brought up in the story.