In Real Life by Cory Doctorow

In Real Life by Cory Doctorow
Pub. Date: October 14, 2014
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, First Second!!)
Summary: Anda loves Coarsegold Online, the massively-multiplayer role playing game that she spends most of her free time on. 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. Gaming is, for Anda, entirely a good thing.

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.
Genre: YA, Graphic Novel, Contemporary
Recommended for: Readers looking for a quick read, but willing to look over some flaws.

When Anda is invited to join a females-only guild in Coarsegold Online, a wildly popular MMORPG, she leaps at the chance. While she’s the shy, chubby girl in real life, online she’s a fierce warrior. Although her parents initially warned Anda about the dangers of interacting with strangers, she’s found her place in this new world. She’s met new people, made new friends, and has even made a bit of money.

It’s on one of these money-making quests that Anda begins to grow concerned. She’s on the hunt for Gold Farmers, players (typically from poorer nations) who mine gold and valuable weapons and potions in exchange for real money. New players are able to simply buy ranks and objects, while players like Anda worked hard to earn their levels. Veteran players shell out cash to have these Gold Farmers eliminated and Anda makes the mistake of interacting with one.

Raymond is a 16-year-old Chinese student, unable to pay for college and unwilling to spend his days in a factory. He took the Gold Farmer job although his body is paying for it. Since his employer doesn’t offer health care, Raymond sneaks away to take small breaks where he can rest and gets massages from his friend. When Anda learns of this, she’s outraged and decides to do something about his work conditions, but what can she possibly do half a world away?

I breezed through this novel! In Real Life has some seriously gorgeous art and I rejoiced in the fact that Anda isn’t a stick figure. Over the course of the story, Anda’s self confidence blossomed and that was a joy to see. Unfortunately, there was also a downside, though I’ll be honest – it wasn’t until I had finished and was looking through other reviews that I first became aware of the problem.

Until it was pointed out to me, I hadn’t noticed the White Privilege and Anda’s savior complex. All I saw was a fun, cute, quick read. Anda’s shocked and appalled that Raymond can’t visit a doctor, that his job doesn’t offer any kind of health insurance. Her father’s company is currently on strike and Anda gets the idea to have Raymond go on strike. Her plan backfires, however, and when word of Raymond’s plan gets out, his boss lets him go. Now he’s out of a job and Anda feels it’s up to her to make things right. Rather than Raymond fighting for his rights, it’s Anda.

In the beginning In Real Life heavily focused on girl gamers and feeling comfortable using girl avatars. I would have loved for the rest of the novel to explore this more – there’s definitely a lot to be said! Instead, Anda’s need to protect and fight on Raymond’s behalf took over. While I still enjoyed In Real Life and certainly see it having a following, the abrupt change in theme felt like a letdown.

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