Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Comic Review: In Real Life

For once I found out about this comic long before it came out (instead of discovering it years later on a library shelf) since publisher First Second made the odd choice to start marketing the book 11 months before it was even out. Like the current American election cycle, starting that early seemed a bit excessive to me, although Cory Doctorow's original short story ( "Anda's Game") had been out on the internet even longer so maybe that was the line of thinking. Regardless, I liked the preview I found on and I was already familiar with Doctorow (loved Little Brother, couldn't make it more than a few chapters in For the Win) and Jen Wang (I really liked Koko Be Good) so this was a must-read for me as soon as my library got its copies.

In Real Life story copyright Cory Doctorow, art and adaption by Jen Wang

Anda hasn't done much online gaming before, she doesn't even have a credit card so she's a little young for it, but after hearing about how MMOs can be a great way to build teamwork and leadership she signs up for an all-ladies guild in Coarsegold Online and starts to really enjoy the game. She's not so sure about killing off "gold farmers" with her guild mates at first, but she soon gets into the swing of doing these extra missions for real money. And then she realizes that these players aren't bots but actual players and that this abuse of the system is even more horrifying in real life than anything she could find in the game.

To be blunt, this book was a disappointment. In a sentence, this is a story about "the mighty whitey" saving underprivileged characters who are not white (or at least, being the catalyst to give them a chance to do something better which they never could have accomplished, or possibly even dreamed of, without an outsider involved). Unfortunately I had read a few reviews which said just that prior to reading the book so I can't say I went in expecting the best, although the way that story was handled was even more bare-faced and basic than I expected.

But it takes the story a little while to get to that point and it starts out being a nice, if uneventful, story of a quiet girl having a chance to become more comfortable with herself and interacting with others on her own terms. That's always good, but it's pretty quickly drowned out by the gold-farming story and the whole story feels as if it was written by someone Anda's age instead of well, someone older. I'm much younger than either Doctorow or Wang and as such I would have assumed that they have spent much longer thinking about the ethics of labor for little pay, how capitalism affects everything etc, and yet it doesn't feel like it! The story read like "A Beginners Guide to how Exploitation is used in Third-World Countries" and the plot follows such basic beats to tell it, from it's quiet beginning through multiple small victories and defeats to a "fairy tale ending" in a literal kind of way. There was something awkward about how the gold farmer Raymond tries on his own to make his life better, fails, and yet later on other people try nearly the exact same tactics with much better results, even though nothing about the situation has changed at all. This story is trying to be realistic, to talk about a complicated, real world, situation, and yet it simplifies it so much reading it honestly felt like a bit of an insult. Even though the story started nicely, and I do like Wang's art and coloring styles, I cannot recommend this at all and really hope that her next work is something I enjoy better. 

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