Graphic Novel Review: In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang

In Real LifeIn Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang

Genre: Gaming, Fantasy, Young Adult, Economics, Social Studies

Publisher: First Second (October 2014)

Author Info:

Artist Info:

This is a graphic novel about gaming and economics, as it states in the long intro that perhaps delved more deeply into these topics than the actual comic does. In Real Life also claims to explore the role of gender in gaming. It stars a young girl named Anda who, along with others in her class, are invited to join a guild in the multiple online roleplaying game, Coarse Gold. The stipulation is that she must choose to play as a female character. When Anda enters the game, we learn why through a player named Lucy, who has had to work her ass off to prove herself worthy within an industry largely dominated by men.

First off, as a gamer — as a woman gamer — this bothered me. Oh yes there are gender-based issues in gaming, but I am and know many other women who play these games and play as female characters and can hold their own just fine against any other player, man or woman. Lucy’s experience is very limited and poorly representative of the current state of the industry. Worse, it’s glossed over in favour of the economics plotline — which itself glosses over a whole lot.

Through Lucy, Anda gets involved in a gold farmer assassination project wherein they are paid by real people to eliminate the players who farm in-game currency in exchange for real money. This is a very real thing that has been going on in online games for years. By allowing players to purchase in-game currency in exchange for real currency, the economics of the game itself are disrupted.

The problem is that this is only mentioned in passing. If you’re not an online gamer, you’re not likely to understand just how this is problematic, and Doctorow really doesn’t bother to give you much detail. If you’re a gamer, you most likely do know about gold selling, have probably been spammed by gold sellers, or perhaps have even purchased gold yourself. Perhaps you do know how gold selling affects gameplay and in-game economics, in which case, you can skip to the next Important Message: Gold Sellers Are People Too.

Many of the people who spend hours upon hours grinding away at boring tasks in order to earn in-game currency to be sold to players are doing so for ridiculously low wages. They are most often Asian. In some cases, they are criminals tasked with this chore, sometimes students, sometimes gamers who wish to support their hobbies. But they are most certainly, people (well, most of them are. In Real Life once again only mildly touches on the automated “bot” programs.) In her adventures, Anda befriends one of them and learns the reality of his life and tries to help him, which of course causes more trouble. Then she manages to save his world with some more superficial storytelling, and proves herself worthy of the project she was initially tasked with — a project whose purpose was, I think, something about playing as a female character, but to what end? I know not.

I was given this book by a non-gamer friend who thought I’d appreciate more than she did, but it’s failed to work for either of us. This should have given her insight into some elements of online gaming culture, but instead, it left her confused by vague concepts. It should have tugged at my heartstrings as a gamer by making me more aware of the intricacies of gold selling and gender issues, but thanks to the same vagueness that plagued my non-gamer friend, were just annoyances for me.

Ah well. At least the art was fantastic.

12 Comments on “Graphic Novel Review: In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang”

  1. Oh yes a friend of mine told that the book was more for gamers but as I’m not one I wasn’t that interested. But in any case with your review, I think I’ll pass.


    • It should have been for gamers and non-gamers, and while I don’t think you’d have trouble understanding what was going on (my non-gamer friend didn’t), there just wasn’t enough of anything going on…


  2. I remember being really excited to hear about this book. I’m pretty sure that we discussed it even. Sorry to hear it didn’t pan out as well as it sounded like it should have. :-\


  3. Hmm, that’s unfortunate. I’ll not bother with this. I’ve heard of these issues actually, but since I don’t play mmorpgs it’s not terribly fascinating. :/


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