Anyone who has played video games in their life can agree that cheaters in gaming aren’t fun to play with. The standard fare are players that hack into the ultra popular first person shooters like Call of Duty and Halo, giving them a huge edge over anyone who hasn’t hacked the game or who isn’t incredibly skilled at it. Back in the day cheating was mostly harmless because it usually just involved someone skipping some levels in Mario or getting an extra warp whistle. In today’s times however gold farming is one form of cheating that weighs rather negatively on all the gamers involved.
This isn’t the first time that Cory Doctorow has written about the perils of gold farming. In 2004 he wrote a short story (which is what was turned into In Real Life), called “Anda’s Game”. Doctorow also released a full length novel in 2010 called For The Win, which centers around a gold farmer playing a MMORPG in China. His 2014 collaboration with artist Jen Wang entitled In Real Life is an expansion and continuation of his 2004 story about Anda, which explores more themes of gold farming, labor rights and virtual in game currency.
In Real Life is the story of Anda, a not so popular girl in high school. One day a woman named Liza comes to speak with her computer class. Liza is the organizer of a clan called Fahrenheit on a MMORPG called Coarsegold and she’s actively recruiting other female players to join the clan. Anda doesn’t hesitate and signs up first thing when she gets home. Once in the game she starts leveling up and making her way into Clan Fahrenheit. This is about the time she meets Lucy, also known as Sarge, one of the leaders of the clan. Lucy starts taking Anda on paid missions to kill gold farmers, which are actual players using the game to make cash for themselves by exploiting the games currency system. Anda plays along for a while until she meets a poor Chinese kid named Raymond. It turns out that Raymond works as a gold farmer 12 hours a day and then plays Coarsegold for fun for another four before going to bed for the night. According to Raymond he needs to work as a gold farmer out of necessity to help his family pay bills. Soon Anda becomes conflicted with her loyalty to her clan and her values to this young Chinese man who is only doing what he knows is best.
Simply said: In Real Life is a really fun book to read. Doctorow writes a fantastic story while expanding on his short from ten years ago. The themes in this book, although probably not as incredibly as important as relations in the Middle East and the recent onslaught of plane crashes, is still an important topic in the gaming community. Gold farming has been and continues to be one of the big downfalls of online gaming. Gold farmers and those players that abuse the system by collecting items to sell for in game currency or using whatever they collect en masse to upgrade their players are cheapening the game and the experience that comes with it. Players from developing countries that play the game might not be able to pay for these things and therefore cannot compete fairly with these players which makes the game a whole lot less fun at times. Raymond the gold farmer from In Real Life is a glowing example of this system, where people from third world or developing countries are made to work as gold farmers because it’s easy and fun for them to do. Maybe it’s not the most preferable job for them, but they will make a heck of a lot more money doing that then sweating in a factory.
Jen Wang’s art really adds something special to the book as well. Her colors are vibrant and the characters she draws and designs really bring the story out. One main bit of the story is that the girls playing Coarsegold in Clan Fahrenheit must portray themselves as female in the game. Wang does a great job drawing Anda’s game counterpart and makes her look both like the person controlling the character, but like an actual MMORPG avatar might look. The novel is a really quick read, clocking in at a sparse 175 pages, but the fun and action that’s had in those pages is well worth the effort to find and read this book.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10 – In Real Life, simply, is a really fun graphic novel to read. It’s tone and subject are made to be one that matters to a community of gamers, but at the same time it’s a pleasure to read. Jen Wang’s fantastic art basically pops off the page and really brings this book to life.