Although I really don’t know very much about gaming (my gaming experiences consist of playing PacMan and Asteroids at the local pin ball joint, and then a few years later staying up all night to play Scorched Earth), I do understand the appeal of an on-line persona. During my years in fandom, I had a fake name for all the fanfiction I wrote, and I met loads of other people (mostly women) who wrote fic in their spare time: mothers and teachers and lawyers and even a judge. While my persona was very much me, having met some of these ladies in real life, I know that many of them were more daring, outgoing, over-the-top online compared to the way they were in their every day lives. That aspect of Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang’s graphic novel In Real Life was familiar to me.
Anda has recently moved from California to Arizona with her parents. She hasn’t really settled in, except with the boys who play D & D, and so when Liza McCombs shows up in her computer class to invite girls to play Coarsegold, a first person game for girls only, Anda jumps at the chance. (This is the point where I admit that I don’t really know much of anything about this sort of thing.)
Anda creates an avatar, Kalidestroyer, befriends another player, Sarge. Sarge recruits Anda to “kill some guys.” (Virtually, of course.) The guys Sarge wants Kalidestroyer/Anda to kill are gold miners, players who “collect items for gold and sell the gold to other players for cash.” Someone who actually games will probably understand the mechanics of this better than I did, but eventually Anda comes across one of these gold farmers and instead of killing him, she starts to talk to him. Turns out, he’s a boy from China.
Doctorow says in In Real Life ‘s Introduction that he hopes readers will “be inspired to dig deeper into the subject of behavioral economics and to start asking hard questions about how we end up with the stuff we own, what it costs our human brothers and sisters to make those goods, and why we think we need them.” Doctorow believes that while the Internet doesn’t necessarily solve the injustices of the world – which we can all agree are many – it “solves the first hard problem of righting wrongs: getting everyone together and keeping them together.”
As Anda’s gaming life spills over into her real life, it’s easy to see the point Doctorow is making. This is a worthwhile book for gamers and anyone interested in justice.