In Real Life (First Second)

Cory Doctorow enlists artist Jen Wang to adapt his short story about a girl gamer’s experience when the outside world intrudes on her online life.

 

 

178 pgs., color; $17.99
(W: Cory Doctorow; A: Jen Wang)
 
Although there’s no inherent reason girls shouldn’t enjoy gaming as much as boys, there are people out there that seem determined to keep gaming (and geekery in general) the equivalent of a boys’ tree house with a big “no girls allowed” sign on the door. I’m not going to rehash the sad stories of harassment, intimidation, and threats to life and limb experienced by some females who have the temerity to venture in the gaming world, but I mention this background to make clear just how much Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang’s graphic novel In Real Life is a welcome breath of fresh air in an often troubled environment.
The heroine of In Real Life is Anda, an avid gamer who, like her other female friends, loves gaming but does not play as a girl. Then one day Liza McCombs, a.k.a. Liza the Organiza, a kick-ass gamer and fighter of good fights, comes to her school and offers the girls a chance to join a new, all-female guild. It’s called Clan Fahrenheit and the game is the popular massive multiplayer online game Coarsegold, but in order to join up they must play as girls. Anda takes Liza up on the offer and creates a nifty avatar, Kali Destroyer, a warrior with flaming red hair and a kicky tunic.
Anda soon makes online friends with Lucy, whose avatar, Sarge, is a blue-haired punk warrior intent on driving gold farmers out of the game. In case you don’t know, a gold farmer is someone, generally from the developing world, who plays games as an occupation, achieving assets in the world of the game which can be sold to wealthier, lazier gamers for real money. Many gamers dislike gold farmers because they believe they distort the economy of the game (sort of like a large influx of real money could do in a real economy), although one wonders why they don’t take it out on the first world gamers buying stuff they haven’t earned rather than the people whose livelihoods depend on that market.
Anda proves to be a real ace at “killing” gold farmers, meaning that her avatar destroys their avatars, but then something happens to give her pause. She makes the acquaintance of one gold farmer, a 16-year-old Chinese boy that uses the name “Raymond” (he says it’s his name from English class), and begins to learn something about his life. His parents can’t afford to send him to college, so he lied about his age to get his job, which requires him to play Coarseplayer 8 hours per day. He likes it so much he spends another 4 hours playing for his own amusement, and he’s gotten quite good at it. But he has back trouble from a previous manual labor job and is afraid to go to a doctor because he’s living outside the region in which he is registered.
With the best of intentions, but perhaps less knowledge and understanding than would be ideal, Anda inserts herself into Raymond’s life. One reason she identifies with him is the superficial similarities in their life stories: her family has recently moved, and her Dad may soon be going out on strike at his job. I won’t give away how it all plays out, but like the best YA stories, there’s a lesson involved after a few crises along the way.
Doctorow adapted In Real Life from his short story “Anda’s Game,” and it works very well as a graphic novel. It’s not at all text-heavy, and a lot of the story is told through Jen Wang’s illustrations, which draw some of their inspiration from manga and some from indie graphic novels. Both Doctorow and Wang have a real feel for the interior life of a teenage girl, with all her positive and negative traits, fluctuating moods, and imperfect knowledge. This is definitely Anda’s story, with her parents and other characters playing supporting roles. The result is a well-told story about a girl who likes games, cares about social justice, and isn’t at all concerned about how she looks in a bikini or which is the cutest boy in her class. When is the last time you read a graphic novel like that?
The only extra in In Real Life is an introduction by Cory Doctorow. You can see a preview here. | Sarah Boslaugh

 

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