Title: In Real Life
Story: Cory Doctorow
Art and Adaptation: Jen Wang
Publisher/Date: First Second, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings Limited Partnership, c2014 (Adapted from a story by Cory Doctorow called “Anda’s Game” first published on Salon.com in 2004)
Published: October 14, 2014
“I’m a gamer and I kick arse. No, seriously. I organize a guild online and I’m looking for a few of you chickens to join me. This is Coarsegold Online, the fastest growing massive multiplayer roleplaying game with over 10 million subscribers worlwide. You might’ve heard of it. This is my avatar. In game, they call me the Lizanator, Queen of the Spacelanes, El Presidente of the Clan Fahrenheit. How many of you girls game? And how many of you play girls? See that’s a tragedy. Practically makes me weep. When I started gaming online there were no women gamers. I was one of the best gamers in the world and I couldn’t even be proud of who I was. It’s different now, but it’s still not perfect. We’re going to change that, chickens, you lot and me. Here’s my offer to the ladies: if you will play as a girl in Coarsegold Online, you will be given probationary memberships in the Clan Farenheit. If you measure up in three months, you’ll be full-fledged members. Who’s in ladies? Who wants to be a girl in-game and out?” (8-10)
With the words of a school visitor, Anda is hooked on the online game Coarsegold. And she makes an impressive start, so much so that she is invited by a fellow clan member to go on some missions. These missions aren’t for game gold though, they are for real world cash. The missions involve hunting down players who are only there to mine gold and then sell it online for real cash, and Anda is getting paid to take out the competition by other gold hunters doing the exact same thing. She thinks it’s to maintain fairness, since other players invest the time and energy and practice to acquire their items and skills themselves rather than paying for them. Then she meets Raymond, one of the gold farmers who gives her a whole new perspective about the real world. Will Anya’s efforts to equalize lead to more trouble in both worlds?
First, Jan Wang’s artwork is STUNNING! The real world is primarily portrayed in hues of olive-green, browns, and oranges, while the virtual world is brightly rendered using reds, yellows, and vibrant blues. By the end of the novel, you can tell Anda’s time in Coarsegold is affecting her because the colors begin to bleed into the real world spreads. The characters are also portrayed in a variety of shapes and races, some less humanoid than others. This novel packs a lot into the tiny size, and it does it without being didactic or patronizing. Anda’s parents’ concerns about her involvement in an online community, the lack of female gamers, the practice of gold farming, working class dynamics, and different cultures trying to relate to each other are all presented in ways that are relevant and necessary for the story. Doctorow addresses most of these ideas in his introduction, urging readers to consider activism and how the internet may aid in activism efforts. “Those risks are not diminished one iota by the net. But the rewards are every bit as sweet.” (xii)
One item that isn’t even mentioned is Anda’s weight, which is so refreshing because although she is on the “bigger” side, it’s not relevant to the main plot and there is no dissatisfaction with her size. It isn’t even a subplot! Based on a short story originally published by Doctorow, Wang took some liberties there, which I think strengthened the focus of the story. Other liberties include shortening the time line, changing the ending slightly, and really focusing on the economic and social aspects of the story. However, whole portions of dialogue were lifted from the original and judging by how much I liked this book, it’s a sure sign that I need to read more of both Jen Wang and Cory Doctorow’s creations. Containing smart, insightful, cultural commentary on a number of issues in an engaging plot, this book will make you think without even realizing it. Give this one to gamers, social activists, feminists, or as an introduction to someone new to the graphic novel genre.