Thing Not As Easy As In Real Life
by Tanya Lindquist
The story of In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang begins with Liza McCombs, a world class gamer, who has come to a school class seeking girls for an online game, Coarsegold. She offers them a free membership if they will play as girl avatars for a month. If they succeed they will become full fledged members of the Clan Fahrenheit. Our protagonist, Anda, chubby and unassuming decides to take her up on the offer. What is very interesting is how all the girl gamers are drawn. The recruiter for the online game has a very punk look. Half of her head is shaved and she is wearing an earth toned shirt and skirt. In fact, most of the people in the real world wear earth tone hues. It feels very deliberate that the illustrator wanted to make the girl gamers look and feel as unconventional as possible.
Once inside the online world, things look and feel different. Anda designs an avatar that is athletic with long flowing red hair. This sort of throws all the unconventionality of the real world out the window. There is no commentary about her choices or explanation for the avatar design. This world is painted with blue and green hues. Anda decides to go on a raid as one of her first quests. On it, she meets up with another gamer who gives her a proposition. She tells her that she can earn money vanquishing gold farmers. Gold farmers are giving players a disadvantage because they are harvesting gold that they in turn sell to aid people to power up or purchase items faster.
After dispatching many gold farmers, she comes across one who turns out to be her own age. He is located in China, and works at a factory. He works at factory during the day and at night farms gold to make extra money. From pulling double duty, his back begins to hurt. He doesn’t have proper insurance, so he is delaying treatment. Anda inspires him to strike against his employer.
This is where I began to really have a problem with this graphic novel. While Cory Doctorow has good intentions, wanting teens to stick up for the rights of others around the world, his approach is a bit too simplistic and not entirely an honest depiction. When people strike, their boss doesn’t just throw his hand up and say you got me. Alright, I will give in to what you want, because it’s the right thing to do. No, in the history of striking you have intimidation tactics, and sometimes the only change comes from government enforcement. If I wanted to give something to inspire teens it wouldn’t be this graphic novel, I would instead recommend that they watch the movie Selma. Wanting to affect change takes sacrifice, takes stepping away from the computer and taking to the streets. Is your cause working dying for, going to jail for, or getting physically beaten to a bloody pulp for? Those are things I think anybody need to consider when they want to affect a big change in the world. It’s an ongoing struggle, not something that ends at Act Three.
In Real Life is a graphic novel where you can enjoy for the art, and the attempt at positive messages for girls. That girls should be able to embrace their gamer selves in a safe environment. That when others are being oppressed that a person can stand up and make a change for the better. The failure of this graphic novel is its inability to realistically portray its own ambitions.