In Real Life

Summary: 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.

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In Real Life, by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang 7.5

I’m not much of a gamer. I used to play video games way more when I was a teenager and a young adult. But then, when I started getting into home video, I much preferred discovering cinema than spending hours with a game console – let alone sitting at my computer for all of that time (I sit at a computer at work, and much of my spare time is already at the computer, so I need to get away from it).

But I’ve had friends who were into console gaming and online gaming. Console gaming was fun because we could play together and share the experience. Online gaming was a drag because I’ve lost friends to it – one friend got so involved with ‘World of Warcraft’ that she simply stopped responding to emails and returning phone calls. That’s when I realized just how addictive that it could get.

‘In Real Life’ delves into that experience.

The graphic novel follows Anda, a teenaged girl who gets the idea of signing up for Coarsegold Online after the visit of an online gaming proponent at school. Encouraged to make a statement by being one of the only female playing female characters in the game, she joins a guild of other young women like her and discovers an innate ability to play the game. She becomes a superstar overnight.

She becomes joined at the hip with a character named Sarge, who has much experience and sees in Anda much potential. Taking Anda under her wing, Sarge eventually recruits her to hunt down gold miners, player-characters who collect valuable items and then resell them to other players who would much rather not have to work to win at the game. It’s how these gold miners make a living.

At first frustrated with the unfairness of people being able to just buy their way into the upper crust of Coarsegold, whereas she and her peers work hard to gain experience, Anda soon discovers that many of the gold miners are actually poor teenagers trying to survive off of the game’s meagre earnings. She is suddenly exposed to the reality of social injustice and tries to become their ally.

But is she the right person for the task?

‘In Real Life’ is an interesting book. It mixes eye-catching art, exciting fantasy action sequences and a social conscience, exploring the consequences of virtuality in our so-called “real world”. Are the values we hold dear transferable to the virtual world? Should we be concerned about the politics behind these games? What are the moral implications of blindly participating in them?

A lot these questions are very similar to the ones that we face daily when we purchase cheap imported product that was produced under dubious circumstances: What is our moral responsibility in the grand scheme of things? Can we and should we fight the economic powers enveloping our lives? Or are we failing to comprehend the context in which some of these “injustices” are nurtured?

I’m not 100% sure about the conclusions that ‘In Real Life’ proposes, but I appreciate that at least it puts the issues and questions on the table, forcing Anda (and us, as her surrogates) to confront them. I think that it’s a very intelligent and accessible way to make young gamers understand the stakes that are involved – and, in so doing, to seed (and hopefully grow) a social conscience.

Because, after all, the events depicted in this book really do happen in real life.

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