Title: IN REAL LIFE
Author: Cory Doctorow, Jen Wang (illustrations)
Publisher: First Second
ARC: Yes, provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
TW/CW: casual use of the word b*tch, violence in game.
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.
I have complicated feelings about this one.
On one hand, I love the art. Jen Wang is obviously a huge talent and it shows through each panel. I loved that Anda was fat and that she enjoys playing online games and is in a club that plays D&D. It was also super cool to see this all girl gaming league. Anda’s parents are definitely on top of what’s going on in their daughter’s life and it was refreshing to see her mom take a stand against Anda receiving money from strangers online. I’ve seen a few reviews that talk about “What parent would care?” and the answer is… most parents. In the end, I was glad Anda’s mom relented on letting her play (even though she was still playing at internet cafes. It showed a nice balance between worrying for your child and monitoring their internet activity and letting them continue to pursue their hobbies and interests.
As for the subject matter in the book, I think it was a little heavy for the medium and the length of the book. Anda is being hired to kill other players in this game- “farmers” who collect gold that’s used for currency in the virtual world and selling it for actual money. I don’t know enough about online gaming to really comment on how this works, but Anda finds out that this person works 12 hours a day harvesting gold. They make a connection and she finds out that he is sick but isn’t allowed (or is to poor) to go to the doctor. This is really where the story lost me. I think it glosses over what’s going on in these game sites concerning poor people being used to harvest online currency to sell for real money. I’m still a little confused about how it all works. If the author wanted to bring up the terrible workplaces these people have to work in, I would think they would spend a little more time explaining it.
But they don’t. Instead, Anda tells Raymond (his “American” name) that he should stage a protest… which ends up costing him his job. But in the end, it all turns out ok because Raymond finds another job and the workers stage a protest and, hey, since a white girl led the rebellion, everything is super ok!!! White saviorism once again save the poor PoC and she did this from thousands of miles away! WOW!!!
And that’s where it lost two stars.
Honestly, if it wasn’t for the artwork, this would probably be a 2 star book. Maybe even a 1.
I’m not recommending this one.