I am not very good at MMOs but through the eyes of Anda I learn what it feels like to be an MMO god. Where I forget to log in regularly or give up on the daily grind, In Real Life‘s young protagonist exceeds, slashing, dashing and powering her way through enemies to hoover up XP, gold and respect from her peers, becoming one of the greatest players that the fictional MMO of Coarsegold Online has ever seen. But while Coarsegold Online may not really exist, the problems within the game are taken from the MMOs of our own world. It’s realistic without being too hard hitting but it’s jovial without being too jolly, which is perhaps why I like In Real Life so much.
Like any other teen her age who feels isolated and a little bit lost, Anda turns to Coarsegold Online for a sense of belonging. Having moved from out of town to a place where her friends are new, the surroundings are unfamiliar and she hasn’t totally found her place yet, the game gives Anda a chance to simultaneously escape from her ‘real life’ problems and find a world where people think she’s awesome and that she definitively kicks ass.
It’s a common theme throughout In Real Life that people want to take what they’ve got and rise above. But, this being a book, nothing can go smoothly on that path and so we’re introduced to familiar issues that are white-hot blazing topics to a good many of us who play games online.
Gold-farming, subscription models and the perils of being part of a clan are all picked apart throughout In Real Life. It’s not a hard hitting take on any of them, but it is an incredibly smart one. Writer Cory Doctorow even begins the book with a brilliant foreword on gaming economies and how the digital age has brought us together to form communities in new and exciting ways.
When we’re introduced to Raymond, a gold farmer from China, you feel sorry for his aches and ailments and his seemingly inescapable predicament because that’s just human nature, but on the other hand, you can completely understand why Anda empathises too. She fights for him (figuratively and literally) and aids him in the name of support between one gamer and another. It never feels forced, only real, because In Real Life makes us dead certain that we’d react the same.
But for all of Doctorow’s writing, the book would only be half as good without the talent of illustrator Jen Wang. It’s a miraculous thing to capture the entire world of an MMO and the settings that surround it in just 150 pages or so but in the dark greens and Earth tones of the comfy confines of Anda’s house to the drab greys of Raymond’s workplace and then to the vibrant pinks, oranges and yellows of Coarsegold Online’s universe Wang does it perfectly. Every colour is chosen with care and then lovingly woven around Doctorow’s words like both parts were designed to compliment each other. I honestly cannot stress enough how well everything fits.
I would imagine that it’s for the same reasons why Felicia Day calls In Real Life “a lovely graphics novel for gamer girls of all ages” on the front of the book. Without me being brainwashed by the use of a famous name, I really think her words hold true.
When I was Anda’s age, unsuccessfully attempting to knock down mid-level monsters and getting my virtual butt kicked by hostile player characters, I can’t help thinking that having a book like In Real Life would have made my gaming experiences so much better. Maybe I would have come out of my shell a bit more or buddied up to take on the biggest raids. But if not that then it makes me realise that I would have liked to have at least been rubbish at MMOs – with friends.
In Real Life is available from Amazon now.