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.
Tell Me More: If there’s one thing the internet has granted to introverts, it’s the opportunity to be part of a community without having to give up their anonymity. It’s possible to find safe spaces and trustworthy people online (with some caution, of course), and to form friendships that last. In Real Life (hereafter referred to as IRL) is about those connections, and the very real circumstances that bring people together.
IRL’s protagonist Anda is a quiet young girl who is drawn to Coarsegold Online, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game or MMORPG. She thrives there, accomplishing quest after quest, and participating in the gaming community. Her avatar is a leader, and Anda’s own confidence steadily builds the more time she spends in the game. Her experiences mirror that of thousands of gamer girls, introvert and extrovert alike, who enjoy not only a game, but the interactions with players from all over the world.
Jen Wang’s art is a pleasure to view on each page, illustrating Anda’s tendency to draw into herself with vibrant, curved lines. Her avatar’s stance is straighter, shaded with brighter colours, reflecting Anda’s newfound confidence. Wang’s use of colour seems to pull from simple RPG games, jumping off the white pages and bringing the reader into Anda’s world.
It’s a great complement to Cory Doctorow’s text, which carefully builds Anda up and out, leading her and the reader into the world of Coarsegold. We understand Anda’s appreciation and love for the game and what it gives her. The main conflict isn’t introduced until nearly halfway through the book, but it’s a necessary delay because the story wouldn’t work without that initial investment into Anda and her life as she begins playing the game. Seeing how important it is to her helps the reader to understand why she goes out on the limbs she does for a stranger, a Chinese boy who she’s never met in real life (ha, wordplay).
I have read criticism of that particular plotline, citing White Savior Complex and dismissing Anda’s actions. While I can understand why some readers could come to that conclusion, I think it would also be remiss of us to ignore the fact that the internet has also provided opportunities for people of all races to learn about other cultures. Raymond’s life is a reality for many kids. Not once does IRL say that a white kid from the West could single-handedly change that for them. What it does espouse is understanding and compassion and a willingness to learn. The internet is absolutely capable of being a horrible place. Anda discovers a way to make it less horrible. Let’s start from that, and work our way up. The story doesn’t need to end there. Call it a quest, and kick some butt.
The Final Say: In Real Life packs a heavy story into vivid art, and will leave readers with a new perspective of the gaming community and what it can accomplish with a little compassion.
Cory is a Canadian blogger, journalist and science fiction author who serves as co-editor of the blog Boing Boing. He is an activist in favor of liberalizing copyright laws and a proponent of the Creative Commons organization, using some of their licenses for his books. Some common themes of his work include digital rights management, file sharing, Disney, and post-scarcity economics.
Jen Wang is a cartoonist, writer, and illustrator based in Los Angeles.