Slay by Brittney Morris (323 pages)
Video Game Developer Kiera Must Fight to Keep Her Virtual and Real Worlds Separate
With the rise in popularity of gaming novels like Ready Player One and Warcross, Slay by Brittney Morris offers a more intimate look at the creators of these beloved games. Kiera is a star student at her prestigious private high school; she is also one of the very few Black students. Her current experiences at school and her past experiences with massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) led her to create SLAY. SLAY is Kiera’s own MMORPG that she built herself and maintains with just a few other moderators. SLAY is a card-based game that celebrates Black culture not only from a Western point of view but also in a way that honours the entire African diaspora. When the novel opens, SLAY is still invite-only and almost entirely underground.
All of this changes drastically when a young player of Kiera’s game is murdered in real life over an in-game dispute. SLAY is suddenly all over national headlines and newscasters, many of which are white, question whether or not the game itself is racist given its exclusivity. Not only does Kiera need to grapple with the pain of a teen boy dying because of her game, but she must also navigate legal and racial waters that are quite murky. Through conversations with her game friends, real-world friends, trusted adults, and herself, Kiera comes to terms with what her game truly means for Black culture.
A Video Game Novel with a Message about Race Relations
Slay encompasses many complex issues and Morris balances them fairly well. First, Kiera is a strong-willed and intelligent female STEM-minded protagonist, a character type that is difficult to come by. Kiera has to carefully navigate the stressors of keeping her identity as SLAY’s creator secret from her friends, family, and eventually, the entire world. Kiera builds and maintains SLAY–and somehow affords the expensive equipment to do so–all while keeping it a secret from her parents. This may seem a bit unrealistic, but the growth she experiences is worth suspending your belief. Also, Kiera explains that the reason she created SLAY was to combat the often overtly racist and sometimes hostile environments of other MMORPGs by creating both a safe and celebratory space for Black gamers. While some of the race issues that are brought up are not entirely solved, the discussions among characters and the “media” within the novel are both enlightening and worthwhile.
The Bottom Line: 4/5 Brookie Stars
I truly enjoyed this novel for several reasons. First, sci-fi is my bread and butter so I was thrilled to find another entertaining video game novel that also had some cultural heft to it. As a high school teacher, I’m also always looking for novels with strong female characters and Kiera’s proclivity for STEM is an added bonus. I found, however, that I was often pulled out of the story by some of the structural and plot choices. Overall though, this is a great read and I look forward to reading more of Morris’s work.
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Rachel Gomes is a 30-something high school English teacher who lives with her high school sweetheart-turned-husband and their son. Rachel is a voracious reader who loves to learn and has her doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction. She’s happiest listening to podcasts and talking to friends about the latest news in nerd culture.
Favourite book: Don’t make me choose between A Song of Ice and Fire and Harry Potter
Favourite brunch spot: The Farmer’s Table