In Real Life
By Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang
Published 2014 by First Second
Anda loves gaming, so when the opportunity to join a guild in an MMORPG comes up, she jumps at the chance. Things get complicated when she meets a gold farmer - who in real life is a poor Chinese teenager. His actions in the game are illegal, but it's this work that makes him money. So what's right and what's wrong?
I've never read Doctorow before. Quite honestly, technology and gaming, while I enjoy them, are not really my thing and most of what he writes deals with these things. This is a graphic novel, so something a little bit different. It also explores what is apparently a real-life issue (like I said, gaming is not really my scene). It was named a top ten title on the Great Graphic Novels list for teens, so I read it as part of the Hub Challenge.
I don't know if I have much to say about it. Frankly, the bulk of the story here rubbed me the wrong way. It feels...imperialist? Is that the word I'm looking for? It feels like Anda is this white savior who must find some way to save the poor desperate savages who don't know any better (these are my own words, not the author's; this is my impression). Anda fully admits that she doesn't know what life is like in China or what having a job like Raymond's (that's the gold farmer she befriends) would be like and yet she still, for some reason, believes that she should be the one to fix it. I get that this is Anda's story, but this just reeks uncomfortably of white American superiority and I honestly cannot understand how Doctorow thought this was a legitimate way to present this issue. Like I said, gaming is not really my thing, so I don't know all the intricacies of gold farming, but Doctorow does discuss the real life issue in the introduction a bit. It seems much more complex than could be worked out in a short graphic novel. Additionally, the ending just furthered my bad feelings about this part of the story - Raymond, who was fired, returns to the game in a new handsome avatar and with a much better job, while Anda encourages his former coworkers to stand up for their rights and she becomes a hero. It just felt icky. I get that you want a happy ending, but another part of this story is Anda learning that her actions have consequences and, sometimes, things DON'T work out for the best.
I'm not sure what else to say. The first part of the story, where Anda talks about her love of gaming and is recruited because she is a female gamer, is good. If you're at all in the world of gaming, you've heard about what it's like to be a female gamer (REALLY NOT GOOD), so I appreciated the part of the story showing that it's totally legit for girls to game and no one should make you feel bad for liking the things you do. And the art is lovely to look at, particularly for the in-game scenes. But, on the whole, this book just did not work for me.