It’s hard to say anything about In Real Life that wasn’t already wonderfully articulated in this review, but gosh darn it, I read the damn thing, so I’ll try.
Anda is a girl who feels more comfortable exploring and socializing on the internet than off line. One day, she’s introduced to the world of the MMRPG, Coarsegold Online. Here, she’s tall, incredible, amazing, strong, talented, admired. People look up to her there, and other people pay her money to knock off gold farmers in the game, little nameless avatars that spend all their time collecting online gold to illegally sell for real money. The problem starts when she befriends one of these gold farmers, a boy in China who lives in circumstances she never could’ve imagined in her young, privileged life. Now Anda isn’t really sure what’s the right and wrong thing to do.
I’ll try to make this short (for me). First off, the art is absolutely exquisite. It was easy to be distracted from the story for the sake of the graphics, not just because the story is a little on the thin side. The aesthetic is just gorgeous and really appealed to my personal tastes. I really need more of Jen Wang’s work in my eyeballs. Second, a story about a cute internet girl that doesn’t disparage her or portray her as a sad loner who only got into gaming because she has no friends. Not only does she enjoy this thing, she thrives in this world. That’s just rad. Third, the story and message have a really good intention working for it, but… there was just so much more Doctorow could’ve dug into here. The politics behind Raymond, Anda’s gold farming friend, and his situation are far too complicated and widespread for one kid half the world away and completely detached from it to be able to understand, let alone solve. I know he didn’t mean for it to come across as so easy, but it does end up being a little (okay, more like a fuckton) White Saviory. That completely took me out of it.
This might’ve been more interesting as a serial story, diving into Anda’s world at school with the different factions of school cliques with the gamers and the popular achiever kids and everyone else in between, and then explore her many online adventures, giving us a great, varied array of female characters prowling through the game and generally Owning This Shit, and Anda and we readers could get to know Raymond and his world as a gamer, a student, and a kid surviving however he could in a world that seems like a game carefully coded for him to lose.
All in all, a great premise and a promising start with some gorgeous graphics that captured me in a way few do, and In Real Life really left me wanting more. Unfortunately, it’s in the bad way.
Reviewed for Canonball Read.