In Real Life
In Real Life by Cory Doctorow, art by Jen Wang. October, 2014. First Second, 192 p. $17.99 ISBN:9781596436589.
“Anda loves Coarsegold Online, the massively-multiplayer role playing game that she spends most of her free time on. It’s a place where she can be a leader, a fighter, a hero. It’s a place where she can meet people from all over the world, and make friends. Gaming is, for Anda, entirely a good thing.
But things become a lot more complicated when Anda befriends a gold farmer — a poor Chinese kid whose avatar in the game illegally collects valuable objects and then sells them to players from developed countries with money to burn. This behavior is strictly against the rules in Coarsegold, but Anda soon comes to realize that questions of right and wrong are a lot less straightforward when a real person’s real livelihood is at stake.
From acclaimed teen author Cory Doctorow and rising star cartoonist Jen Wang, In Real Life is a sensitive, thoughtful look at adolescence, gaming, poverty, and culture-clash.” — Publisher’s Description
“It is not gender, nor age, nor race, but your ability to work hard at what you love.” This is the overall theme of In Real Life, the new graphic novel by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang that takes us into a virtual world with sixteen-year-old Anda, a bit of an outcast in the real world, but a fierce warrior and leader in her online gaming world.
Anda is your stereotypical teenage “gamer girl”. She’s shown as a bit of an outcast, a little on the meek side, anerd, and a little chubby. She is recruited one day in school to join a new MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game), Coarsegold as a probationary member of an exclusive guild for girls only. To the consternation of her mother, Anda is allowed to subscribe to the game on the condition that she only plays with other girls her age and has no contact with others, as mom fears online predators. Soon, however, Anda discovers that there are people working illegally as “gold farmers” in the game. They work to earn virtual money that they then sell to other players for real world cash. Anda and her friend Lucy, who likes to be called “Sarge” are sent on missions to kill these gold farmers in return for payment into their PayPal accounts.
Things quickly change, however, when one day Anda meets Raymond, a Chinese gold farmer. They begin talking in the game and Anda finds out that he is her age, but works 12 hours a day in what amounts to a sweatshop earning gold for his company. when she learns that he has health problems and is often since, but cannot get medical treatment because of his company policy and nation’s laws, she tries to seek help. She finds loopholes in the law, and encourages Raymond to take a job action, similar to a strike, to seek better treatment at the same time displaying a leadership and confidence she hasn’t expressed in real life yet.
A wrench is thrown into Anda’s plans, and she loses her online access to the game for a time. At this juncture, she faces reality full force for the first time after meeting Raymond and learns that in most of the world, things are not fair nor what they seem to be and she works to find ways to right these wrongs.
In this graphic novel, Cory Doctorow brings together all those elements that make him such a wonderful teen author. There is a lot to get excited about here. — online gaming, a female protagonist who learns to grow strong, realistic interpersonal relations, and a dash of world economics and activism. Jen Wang’s artwork adds beautifully to the story and without it, the whole concept of In Real Life would fall flat. The depictions of Anda are perfect, both in here real life self and that of her online avatar. The real Anda is a little nerdy and is shown as a larger girl who tries to hide it under sweatshirts, but she is never seen as shamed or shameful and that’s brilliant. Her online avatar is the opposite, thin, lithe, a warrior with flowing bright red hair who fears nothing. In Real Life shows us that you can be anyone online, but that these online personas and feelings and friends can “cross over” into the real world as well. Anda’s growth as a young woman in real life through her actions and friendships in the game are very evident and refreshing.
The elements of world politics and economics, as well as class and culture addressed through the relationship of Anda and Raymond are well done. This is a short read, and as such, there isn’t much background provided as to the working conditions in China, nor the healthcare and treatment of workers but Doctorow is able to give a nice snapshot and overview of this as a means of helping bring some awareness to the issues while at the same time, using it as the primary driving force for change in his story. Anyone looking for a very strong statement or call to action may be disappointed with In Real Life, but there is an opportunity and plenty of information presented for readers to do as Anda did and research these topics on their own to spread awareness.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed In Real Life as a coming of age story with definite appeal to young adults who play online games, and especially girls who do so, as there are very few books that address them specifically and few role models for them to follow. A very quick read at a little under 200 pages, most can finish this in one sitting, as the action is fast paced and you will get lost very quickly in both worlds shown In Real Life.
Four out of five stars.
Many thanks to First Second, NetGalley, and Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang for the opportunity to read and review In Real Life early in exchange for an honest review. The final version will be released on October 14, 2014.
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