Book Review: In Real Life

In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang

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. 

When I was presented with this years catalogue of First Second, the graphic novel, In Real Life, stood out. So far I have read some very nice children's and young adults comics from First Second and In Real Life was a very nice title to add to it. I have read some books of Cory Doctorow and I know that he likes to include real life societal issues in his stories to make them carry more deeper messages than just another flashy story. In Real Life isn't an exception in this case and there are some important issues tackled again, they might seem small to begin with an negligent but it soon turns out that it is much bigger. I think as a kid you will like the action packed story but as an adult you will come to appreciate the topics that Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang show and will make you stop and think about it. 

The story of In Real Life picks up with the focus on Anda, from her first introduction she is very shy and the way she is drawn, she is a bit on the heavy side, it won't escape you that she will make up one of the stereotypes for picking up a MMORPG, (massive multiplayer online role playing game). Now I don't mean this in a bad way but looking back on my own experience playing MMORPG's this is kind of stereotypical. Anyway, back to the story. One day when Anda is in school, a women gives a lecture in her computer class about a new videogame "Coarsegold Online" and that her guild Fahrenheit. At this point Anda isn't familiar with MMORPGs and online gaming but all that is promised readily makes her excited to pick up this game and once she gets home she kindly asks her mother if she can sign up for Coarsegold Online. Her mother accepts although after a lot of discussing, she wonders whether it is safe and all. So Anda starts to play and soon it becomes apperant that she like Coarsegold Online and though it isn't mentioned, that she perhaps prefers that life more than her real life. Because in Coarsegold Online Anda is kept in high regard whereas in real life she is just another teenager. While Anda is one day playing the game she gets a quest, that of slaying several players. From this point onwards you are introduced to the societal aspect of the book that of gold farmers and if you have played World of Warcraft for example you know how they can ruin in game economics. Anda on a first is conviced that she does the right thing by slaying them but then she befriends one and things start to change... Her concience start to play and when it become apparent for her what dire circumstances they live in she does everything to rights these wrongs, but being only connected via the net makes it very hard to do.

I am always a big fan of stories that carry messages and this is where In Real Life delivers, ofcourse the book is written with an young adult audience in mind thus it written in a mroe basic kind of way but my looking at my own experiences on this front it is more than true what Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang want to show. It's reality. 

As for main protagonist of the book. I think that with showing Anda the way that she was, a lot of younger kinds and especially girls will be able to relate to her. I think you will be surprised with how many girl play videogames, it offers a nice way of escaping real life for a while but what does should be taken with caution is addiction and I think that this was shown in a nice way. In one part Anda is banned from playing Coarsegold Online and though she does hate her mother for it, she isn't one to totally flip out and does except her punishment, it's not that she is addicted to the game perse but that she want to help the Chinese gold farmer, Raymond, that she befriended in the game and that she therefore goes to an internet cafe to play the game. Luckily in the end it comes to the attention that, in real life, you truly build experiences and memories. The other supporting characters like Raymond and the Sarge, I do think that they are realistic the living environments and the play schedule of Raymond, the gold farmer, is something that I truly believe: such dire living circumstances and working hours. The Sarge, the one that gave the orders for slaying the gold farmers, is precisly what you would think of such a "drill sergeant" in game and in real life but luckily she does have a soft side as well. 

Now for the artwork. This just stunning and top stuff. It is not something that I have seen before. I took the liberty of adding a few snapshots of it to the review. Not everything it done within the boarders of the cartoons but there are nice cross overs with colors give a very warm feeling to the story. When you look at the "in game" drawing the colors used are much more vivid and vibrant instead of the real life pastel sort of colors, giving a nice picture of how it actually is in game. This is also my first comic that I read illustrated by Jen Wang but I have to say that I am impressed, very nicely done and when there is hardly or no text present, her drawing speak a thousand fold. because remember a picture can say much more than a whole book. 

In Real Life is definitely a graphic novel that I must recommend to every young adult who is into playing video games. it is a very nice depiction of things that happen off screen. Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang did a great job in showing all that was involved in playing MMORPGs and that for some people this really is their life. We might play it for fun but in third world countries and China in particular, people play this  for a few Yen a day in order to survive. In Real Life tackles some serious issues, issues that will stick with you and that you will and have to remember next to you log in. But besides some of the serious parts of the book, focusing on an action-packed MMORPG did allow the exploration of some very cool fighting scenes. The artwork is just spot on and Jen Wang delivers some stunning images, I liked those scenes with the tiger! In Real Life is a great read that delivers an action-packed story and will put your mind to thinking about it. Just a note: play video games in moderation, pick up a book, like this one, once in a while. As real memories are made in real life.


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