Rating: ★★★★ 1/2
Synopsis: 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.
Huge thank you to First Second and Netgalley for this ARC!
This likely won’t be the first time you’ll see this book listed for me as it will be appearing a feature over at RPGamer.com in the near future. For now, this will be a more general review as In Real Life tackles one of gaming’s worst social economic problems to date.
For those who don’t play a lot of video games or MMOs, this book will likely open your eyes to an issue within, particularly the free-to-play MMO market, though a lot of pay-to-play are equally involved, which is people farming for gold and treasures and then selling them to those who want to fast-track aspects of their game so they can focus on other areas of the game. The people forced to do this are paid little money and give up the majority of their lives to play a game for work.
This is not a new or ground breaking idea, as Doctorow has tackled this topic on numerous occasions. There is a preachy element to this book that I do think a good chunk of reader’s will find off putting, I think issues of race, particularly the white girl trying to save a Chinese gold farmer in game might be interpreted in a lot of negative ways, but I don’t think that’s the real intention of this story.
Doctorow wants to highlight an evil that exists within the realm of gaming and one we often choose to ignore because “it doesn’t effect us.” He’s also trying to show a positive for how gamers work together in games to solve problems of injustice and morality. While Anda and Raymond likely would have never met in real life, I feel like their interest in each other is well thought out because it does give Anda a sense that the game she loves so much isn’t entirely what it seems, and that the balance between reality and virtual reality isn’t as clear-cut a line as we are lead to be.
Moreover, while I wasn’t entirely in love with how female gamer’s were portrayed in this, I really appreciated the inclusion. Woman are slowly becoming the more than 40% in gaming, and we still often get treated by our counterparts that we can’t be strong and confident within our gaming selves. The females in this book wanted to show it was okay to be a female and a gamer, but it’s a bit problematic on the other side of the coin that they only want female inclusion. I see both sides of the coin even if I struggle to agree with it.
I really did love the interaction between Anda and Raymond and I thought it was quite lovely. I felt it was sweet and genuine. I thought the artwork was lovely to gorgeous in quality. I think In Real Life will delight gamers, and I think it will teach teens about an issue that they likely wouldn’t have known anything about. There;s a powerful idea in this book, but because of how heavy handed it comes across, I do think that will alienate some readers. Personally, I enjoyed the book a great deal, and I loved the flow and tone enough that I am forgiving of the preachy aspects. In Real Life is powerful, and will challenge readers to go beyond their comfort zone when it comes to their hobbies having real world consequences.