In Real Life, the new Graphic Novel from author Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang, looks at the politics of being a female gamer as well as the economics of the trend of gold farming in many Massive Multiplayer Online Games. (MMOG). Anda is a teenage girl with a close group of tabletop game playing friends and a serious lack of confidence. A heavier girl, Anda dresses in fully covering clothing and keeps her eyes downcast. When a representative for the MMOG Coarsegold comes to visit Anda’s programing class, she volunteers to learn to play the game in exchange for a permanent account should she prove herself. Anda quickly is drawn into the world of the game, taking on a new persona and meeting friends. After several raids, Anda’s new friend in the game convinces her that they should go take down “gold farmers.” Goldfarmers are players who work tirelessly to get different loot items which they then sell for real profit via illegal channels. This gives the players who don’t want to spend time leveling up the right way a chance to get all the items they would otherwise have to earn. Goldfarmers in turn, are paid for their work. During a raid to destroy Goldfarmers, Anda meets a Chinese player named Raymond and the two form a bond. After hearing about the poor conditions Raymond lives under and the hard work he does to farm in the game for 12 hours a day, Anda tries to convince him that he should lead a strike for better medical care. Not surprisingly, this backfires big time. Anda’s family life begins to fall apart and in game play takes a turn for the worst. Anda has to help find a way to help Raymond and herself.
The comic focuses heavily on the concepts of how one views themselves and the world around them. Anda’s heavyset nature was both a cheering and groaning point for me in this comic. While it was nice to not see a chainmail bikini style main character, it was also disheartening that she chose to become a completely different body type while playing Coarsegold. I did like seeing her bring elements of her game life out into the open by dyeing her hair the same color as her character. Raymond’s problems seem so easy for Anda to figure out when she recommends a strike. It was nice to see the issue realistically backfire in Raymond’s different culture. It was slightly less believable for his coworkers to come forward and request the same demands. Anda’s mother reacts the way a mother would react as well to discovering Paypal payments from strange men on Anda’s account and being concerned about the changes in her daughter’s behavior. Anda’s mother is the most believable character in the graphic novel because of this.
The art is cartoonish with very Japanese elements to it. Many of the pages feature bright eyes and detailed battle costumes. I did enjoy that all the Goldfarmers looked the same, thus making it so much more powerful that Anda would befriend one.
For fans of Starcraft or Warcraft who follow the goldfarming issue in games, this is an interesting read. It was fascinating to see the human element of the practice portrayed as well as the way an American teenager would think of the situation her. Despite the length, In Real Life is a quick read and definitely banks more towards thought and literature than an average comic book.
In Real Lifeis available October 14th.