Recommended for ages 13+
I’m a Cory Doctorow fan. I loved Little Brother, and I was fascinated by For the Win, which examines the lives of “gold farmers” – people whose job it is – in real life – to acquire gold and magic/rare items in games, and sell them to players for real-world currency. The gamers – which include children – are from poor families in third-world countries: India, China, and Singapore, working in deplorable conditions, and exploited by sweatshop bosses who pay pitiful wages.
In Real Life is a graphic novel about a girl named Anda, who loves playing a MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) named Coarsegold. She makes friends in the gamespace, ultimately falling in with Lucy, a more experienced gamer who takes Anda under her wing. They stalk and “kill” the “gold farmers” they encounter, believing them to be cheating by selling gold and rare items to fellow gamers. The farmers look small, almost childlike, and Anda – despite doing this in the gamespace – feels guilty. She strikes up a friendship with one of the farmers, a Chinese teenager named Raymond, who tells her about his life and his job – laboring under sweatshop conditions to farm so that he can help support his family – and Anda decides that something needs to be done.
The story is similar to Doctorow’s plot in For the Win, but without delving into the global politics and economics involved in the novel. I loved this graphic novel, which could be an introduction or supplement to For the Win. We get to see positive representations of female gamers, teenagers, and we have a moral central character who is forced to understand that even morals don’t come solely in black and white. At the same time, In Real Life calls attention to a form of human rights violation taking place all over the world, yet located in our homes, our libraries, and anywhere we game.
Jen Wang’s art is perfect for Doctorow’s story. She’s got a manga style that works for me. Her use of color works to as a soft contrast to the tech storyline, and brings out the humanity at the tale’s core.
In Real Life publishes in October of this year, and I can’t wait to get it on my shelves. It’s going to be a great addition to any graphic novel collection, and a must-read for older tweens and teens, especially those who game. Social Studies courses could get some great discussions by adding this book to their curriculum.