Ms. Fish, my better half, is a total package – smart, funny, patient with me (this one’s the most impressive), and a huge nerd. I have the “gamer girlfriend” that the Internet claims to be a mythical creature. Her preferred addiction is an MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) called Final Fantasy XIV. The game allows her to talk to / play with people in real time from literally all over the world. She’s got a group of friends in a group (called a Free Company in game) that are all tight-knit, and no, none of them are the fabled “creepy 90 year old guy playing as a girl to pick up chicks online.”

These connections between people, “real” or no, are a small part of what the Cory Doctorow-written and Jen Wang-illustrated graphic novel “In Real Life” is about.

jen_wang_irl_page-600x817Photo Copyright – Jen Wang

Another World

“In Real Life” follows the tale of Anda, a high school girl who’s just moved to Arizona from Cali, and is doing her best to adjust in the new school. She’s got a fistful of friends, equally nerdy as her, interested in gaming and D&D. She’s in classes learning to be a game programmer, and one day, a guest speaker arrives talking about Coarsegold Online. The speaker is a high ranking officer in a guild made up of only girls, dedicated to helping new people out and improving the community of players. Anda accepts a low-level position in the guild (after some cautionary words from her mother about creepy people online, blah blah technology scary blah), and quickly befriends another higher-up in the guild named Lucy. Anda inadvertently discovers that Lucy makes real-world money in game by hunting down and slaying other players – gold farmers. Gold farmers are players, usually from other countries, who dedicate all of their playtime to the same menial tasks to make in-game money, so they can sell it for real-world money. It allows those with extra cash to spend to skip the long, tedious processes of improvement, and that pisses Lucy off. Anda helps Lucy with these endeavors until she actually speaks to one of the gold farmers, and finds out that this is what they do for a legitimate living in an office building in China. 12 hours of gametime as work, no benefits.

“In Real Life” is a complex tale in that it’s about much more than just gaming, and it’s not a generic coming-of-age tale. It’s about international relations, economics in particular. Anda sees a strike going on at her Dad’s company, and inspires her Chinese friend Raymond to do the same so they can be given the proper benefits for their work. It’s a tale of introspection: Anda loves the game because she can be any number of things she feels she can’t in real life: a leader, a hero, a warrior, etc. Raymond and his plight inspire Anda to take real-world action, to make a difference both in the game she loves and the real world.

Bonus points to the tag-team of authors: they’ve done their video game homework. Many books / movies / tv shows with Video Game-centric themes either rely on the “dorky gamer” tropes or stretch the realities of games and the technology so stupidly out of bounds that any real gamer turns their head in disgust. The in-game system is lovingly based off of real games, and gold farming in other countries is a very real thing in our world.

InRealLife-COMBINED_100-681280VVVVVPhoto Copyright- Jen Wang

Different Strokes

Wang does an excellent job of differentiating in-game and out-of-game artwork. Anda isn’t some hyper-sexualized character in game, nor is she quintessentially thin or “scene” looking in real life. She’s average, as are nearly all the real-world characters. The real-world style is somewhat darker and less colorful, lines are bolder, and scenery is about what you would expect. In-game the art is light and extremely colorful, scenes are grandiose and ornate, and characters are all extremely unique, including, but not limited to, elves, pixies, and a talking penguin. The jump from fantasy world to real world is impossible to miss, but both art styles are fantastic. Wang avoids the tropes that often come with “gamer” girls in graphic novels: no hyper sexualization, no extremely unattractive “nerd” caricatures. This is life, plain and simple.

Fans of gaming will obviously be more inclined to enjoy “In Real Life,” but the story is compelling enough that non-gamers should give it a try. It’s pretty friendly about easing new people into the lingo and crazy world of online gaming, it’s pretty hard to get lost. The tale is an inspiring one about friendship, economics, and taking action. Give it a whirl.

See you online!

Ludus

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