Published by First Second on October 14th, 2014
Genres: contemporary, graphic novel, young adult
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Anda loves Coarsegold Online, the massively-multiplayer role-playing game where she spends most of her free time. 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.
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 (Little Brother, For the Win) and Boing Boing editor Cory Doctorow and Koko Be Good creator Jen Wang, In Real Life is a perceptive and high-stakes look at adolescence, gaming, poverty, and culture clash.
I added this graphic novel on my wish list after reading some wonderful reviews. Kara was kind enough to give me this one for the holidays.
The book was wonderful – hooray for awesome comics!
Three key concepts make the theme of this graphic novel come to life: female representation in the gaming world, power-hungry gamers, and the treatment of workers in other countries and how to solve the inequality while addressing in-game violations. For a short, sugary-looking novel, it packs quite a bit into a small amount of space.
First, the issue of females in the gaming world is a matter that is highly important during this phase of gaming growth. This discussion has been a bickering point in the industry for a while, as female leads and characters coming across as prizes or beautiful landscaping. However, female gamers are currently facing a heated battle against sexism in the hobby, and as a previous read graphic novel, The Cute Girl Network, pointed out, a male-dominated hobby is not always a welcoming place for girls wanting to come in on the scene. This comic addresses this and creates an all-female gaming network, while the MC embraces her own interest in the hobby, while correcting some of the misconceptions and concerns by her well-meaning mother.
The next point, cyber-power and how it affects players, is another major topic for gaming. A sadly darker side of the pastime does include a few individuals who use their power and their status as a way to display superiority over others, often creating intimating, unsafe environments for others. The novel tackles this issue, and while the resolution was a bit too warm and fuzzy to reflect the real issue, I like how the author sets out to empower gaming girls while still tackling a major issue for any gender.
The last major theme was an issue that I was not aware of until recently it came to light. Gold farming is currently a growing issue and major concern abroad for the gaming industry. It is flat out cheating, and creates an unbalanced, unfair angle for those who put in time and hard work. However, this practice does bring in a steady income for disadvantaged workers in other countries. In this situation, it was China under fire. Anda quickly learns that not all things are balanced in life, and reporting someone for illegal activity would result in a dire situation for a family needing the income. Does it excuse the practice? I’m certainly not advocating for gold farmers and other in-game hackings for monetary gain, but it isn’t as simple as “Turn in bad guy, save the world.”
I liked that this point was brought up, allowing the MC to further explore how to offer a better solution to remedy the issue. The best way to combat the problem is finding another way for these people who are desperate. I also found it enjoyable that the author even went so far to explore humanitarian issues, such as schooling for the underprivileged and the debate surrounding medical coverage and access for low caste workers.
The cute, brightly lit comic is a contradiction to the tone of the novel, which has a few darker themes. It really brings out the theme well by using cute eyecatching coloring to portray a real situation that still plagues most of the gaming world at the moment.This seemingly light and fluffy novel delivers some powerful messages regarding the fantasy and real world issues. This book bridges a generation and cultural gap to help educate and entertain all at once. Graphic novels are often overlooked as serious literature, and this one is a shining example of how to blend the two genres into one.