Book Review: “In Real Life” by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang

Warning: This book review contains spoilers for the graphic novel “In Real Life” by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang. Do not read the rest of this review if you want to avoid those spoilers!

Cover of “In Real Life” by Cory Doctorov and Jen Wang.

I’m back with another book review, and this time I’m reviewing the graphic novel “In Real Life” by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang! Given the circumstances of the current pandemic resulting in a lot of us staying at home or minimizing going outdoors as much as possible, I felt that this graphic novel made a lot of sense to read, given that it takes place primarily in an online roleplay-game world. Here’s the summary so we know what it’s about:

“Anda loves Coarsegold Online, the massively-multiplayer role-playing game where she spends most of her free time. 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.

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.”

Worldbuilding Development: 4 out of 5 stars

Plot Development: 4 out of 5 stars

Just need to put a disclaimer out here now before I continue: I’m not an expert on what gold farming is whatsoever, so I’m not going to judge the plot or the worldbuilding development on how accurately this issue was depicted in this graphic novel. If there is someone else that knows better, it’s better to ask them. I wanted to put this out there first, because gold farming is a major plot point and also a major part of what one of the two main characters (Raymond) is involved in.

For those familiar with playing massive-multiplayer-online-roleplay games (also known as MMORPGs for short), the world of the game itself will be very fun to read, and easy to understand. Things like slaying monsters, working with friends, and getting things in your inventory post-battle will be very familiar to you, as well as the concepts of guilds (especially for those that play fantasy-themed MMORPGs). I loved reading those scenes, and how bright they were in contrast with the real-life parts of the plot. I also think the contrasting colours were used well to differentiate real life and the MMORPG world to show how bright and/or dull those sides could be. I also think the artwork helped show the darker underbelly of the MMORPG world and how it also affects real-life scenarios throughout the actual plotline.

The overall plotline made sense for the most part, and wrapped up with a happy ending, which is always nice. However, I do think that the reality of a story such as this would be a lot more complicated than what is depicted (though how complicated? I have no clue). For the sake of the story itself, though, it was entertaining to read and kept my eyes glued to the pages the whole time.

Character Development: 4 out of 5 stars

Raymond and Anda were really fun to read as characters, though I do wish I could have read more from Raymond’s perspective and how he felt about certain events (like getting fired when he tried to stand up for what rights he should have as a worker, his perspectives on all the real-world issues mentioned regarding gold farming, etc.). However, it’s clear that he’s doing what he’s doing because he needs to make a living and that’s one of the best ways he can understandably do so, given the lack of privilege and education (his English only improves due to communicating with Anda throughout the story, for example, and the only reason he gets hired for a new job by the end of the book is because he was capable of that improved English communication in general on top of lying about having a degree). Even if I didn’t understand the gold farming-related information very well (again, I am not an expert), I at least understood enough to see the impacts on Raymond, as well as his other fellow workers.

I felt that Anda sometimes rushed too far into things without thinking of the long-term consequences (going on anti-gold farmer raids and getting paid for it despite the fact that it’s legally ambiguous as is for example), but I also know she did some of those things with the best of intentions (initially trying to help Raymond with his current situation). Even when things didn’t go well, she recognized the responsibility she had for those things (such as the realization that her telling Raymond to stand up for himself and her working with him resulted in him losing his job), and she did her best to try to make things right.

As for the other characters, I thought all of them were fun to read in their own ways. However, none of them were as rounded out as Anda and Raymond were, so they were less entertaining to read.

Overall, I’m rating this graphic novel 4 out of 5 stars!

For those that are interested in seeing a slice of how even something like MMORPGs can affect real life, this might be a graphic novel one should read. Also, the artwork is amazing as well, which lends to the overall story.

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