A graphic novel aimed at the girl gamer with a subtle study in economics.
I became strangely hooked on the writing of Cory Doctorow after picking up his London based novel Pirate Cinema. Set in the near future the story followed the journey of an adolescent runaway who finds love, a cause and ways to flourish in the homeless community of the city. In a similar style to Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One it was the innocence of youth and the accessibility of the writing style that drew me in. Doctorow has a neat way of painting everyday situations in your mind from a not unfamiliar, yet unique perspective.
When I first read about his collaborative effort with artist Jen Wang, it made perfect sense that Doctorow’s style would suit a graphic novel, what I wasn’t sure was how well any artist could interpret his vision on a page. The result of the alliance is a wonderfully bright and charismatic adventure that pops with a hint of Scott Pilgrim about it.
IRL is based on a short story by the Doctorow titled Anda’s Game. We follow Anda in something of an online coming of age story set within a MMO. Far from being a simple tale of a gamer girl in an online adventure, Doctorow aims at a young readership but underlines the morality of the story with a lesson in economics cleverly revealing the ways in which kids in poverty around the world are exploited within online environments for the financial reward of others. Anda befriends Raymond, a Chinese kid working as a gold miner within the game, along the lines of Bitcoin mining where complex mathematical equations must be solved to create virtual currency. Between his study and the long hours gold mining for his employers he enjoys just a few hours of game time for himself.
With the best of intentions Anda learns of the poor working conditions and health repercussions Raymond faces. With her western mentality she proposes radical action but things don’t turn out for the best and the levels of suffering faced in the East and West are laid out in stark contrast.
The strong message set out from the start is that gamer girls can stand up and be counted, that there is a place for them in this kind of game and that it’s ok to be yourself. Though aimed at a young, primarily female audience there is a lot to enjoy for readers of all persuasions, ages and sex. Jen Wang’s art is fun, bold and easy on the eye. The story flows fluidly making it hard to put down and easy to leaf through in a single sitting. Great fun for young girls, suitable for all.
In Real Life is available in all good comic and book stores now. It was also printed in China, one would hope by a company that provides good conditions for its employees.