4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads
I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.
When I saw this book on Netgalley, my first thoughts were ‘YESSS a graphic novel about video games!’ and that the cover art was completely gorgeous. The instant I was approved, I sat down and read it in one go.
The story begins with our small-town protagonist, Anda, being introduced to the world of Coarsegold Online. I wasn’t sure about the way it was introduced to her – a woman comes in to Anda’s school and gives a talk on her female only guild on the game. I’m not sure what sort of high school would allow a guest speaker to encourage young people to play MMOs, but hey ho… as implausible as it is, the reader and Anda are quickly introduced to the game, which means they can start the exploration proper.
Like many MMO players, including myself, Anda plays to escape from the real world. She is a shy girl, with little self-confidence and not many friends. The ‘real world’ panels have a much starker colour palette, in comparison to the bright and beautiful colours of the virtual world, which I thought was a nice touch. Definitely an excellent representation of how many gamers feel – I know that I tend to start playing ridiculous amounts of online games when I’m feeling particularly down. Anda is an MMO newbie thrown into the deep end, which gives readers who may not be familiar with MMO mechanics a chance to catch up. However, to experienced MMO players there will be many recognisable scenes. As Anda grows in confidence within the game, this is reflected in real life – and she even dyes her hair to match her character.
I can think of many books set in or around video games, but none of them have the sort of message that In Real Life does. Most of the time, the video game is the story, and real life takes a back seat. However, in this particular book, the video game opens up our eyes to the real world. Anda befriends a young Chinese boy on Coarsegold Online, but he’s not playing for pleasure. He is one of the millions of ‘gold farmers’ who descend upon various online worlds every day, who work twelve hour shifts with no breaks, for a tiny wage.
One of Anda’s guild mates, who sort of takes Anda under her wing, recruits her to help with a ‘quest’. This ‘quest’ (unofficial) involves killing the gold farmer’s characters, in what I can only assume is a PvP of sorts. This is where Anda meets her new friend, when she chases after him. And whilst they only get to chat for a bit at first, she is instantly concerned with how he is being treated. She realises that this is someone doing their job, that he has no choice if he wants to eat. This leads to Anda trying to take action outside of the game – and I won’t say any more for fear of spoilers!
A cute read for fans of MMOs, that also has a deeper message, as well as being very familiar to anyone who has good online friends and hates the stigma that comes with the ‘online friend’ label. The art is beautiful, a cutesy style with some wonderful colour palettes, and the story means well even if it never quite hits the mark. I just want to leave you with this quote, for anyone who scorns at the idea of online friends:
‘”This life is real too. We’re communicating, aren’t we?” — In Real Life, page 188.