Published by First Second on October 14th, 2014
Genres: graphic novel
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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 and digerati bigwig Cory Doctorow and rising star cartoonist Jen Wang, In Real Life is a sensitive, thoughtful look at adolescence, gaming, poverty, and culture-clash.
I am a World of Warcraft addict. A somewhat recent one, as a matter of fact. It makes me sad, actually, because I think of all the years I missed playing because I was too afraid I wouldn’t like it. I picked it up in 2012 and played on and off until this summer when I started playing permanently. The reason it’s different now than it was in 2012? I have in-game friends that I can play with, that help me, that enrich the experience. There are days when I just want to solo content and do my own thing, but mostly, now I love to share the experience with others. It’s funny how people try to rush me through the content that they have had years to play. “No, I will not hurry through a zone to get to level 90! This is ALL new to me.”
Anyway, the only reason any of this is relevant is because it has a lot to do with my personal opinions on the book I am reviewing here. I totally understand why some reviewers found content in the book problematic. It makes sense to me. But for me, this was a perfect book, only because I found the gaming aspects truly realistic. I found the human actions and motivations the same.
I had no idea gold farming was a real thing. (It is, isn’t it? Many on the internet and in reviews for this book have said it is. I’ve never noticed it in WOW but I am sure it’s there.) I’m conflicted though. Because of how the book made me feel. In-game. gold farming is terribly wrong. It messes up game economics, and it gives an unfair advantage to those with money. And yet, I would be remiss if I did not mention that gold farming is the way many from impoverished countries make a living, at least in Coarsegold Online. So it’s not black or white, but shades of gray.
And you know, I get that a white girl helping a Chinese boy who has a bad back and can hardly work to get health insurance seems like White Savior Syndrome, but I do feel like we saw Raymond’s side of the cultural divide, though we could have seen more. And I don’t think it was Anda that actually saved him, she gave him ideas. But I believe that they worked together to find a solution. So I guess I see it differently, but then again, maybe I am seeing it through my privilege.
The feminist parts of the book were brilliant. Having a guild of just female gamers is a fabulous thing, and I wish there was a way to do this in WOW but I know skeevy men would try to infiltrate it because a lot of in-game men are super creepy. Sorry if I am being judgey but I have been hit on multiple times in the last month just because they found out I was a girl. Like you don’t even know what I look like, but because I am a girl and I have a vagina, that’s enough for you? It’s very tough to be a girl gamer sometimes. And then when you discuss this with guys in-game, they will treat you like it’s your fault for whining. So I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut, which is pretty sad, because I shouldn’t have to. I should be able to make my voice heard. My opinions matter. But in this book, it’s all about female empowerment, and I loved that. I also loved how the women were normal, realistic, and all shapes, sizes, and appearances.
I couldn’t end this review without mentioning the art–it is a graphic novel after all. And I loved it. I mentioned that I liked the way the women were drawn in the last paragraph, and it’s true. Looking at those girls made me feel okay with myself. It gave me self-esteem and made me feel beautiful even though my looks are not perfect. And I imagine that would be inspiring to teen girls as well, which in the end, I think is who this book is mostly written for.
I hope it makes more girls get into gaming. Lord knows we need them.