Doctorow, C., & Wang, J. (2014). In Real Life. New York: First Second.
Appetizer: After a guest speaker visits her school and after her mom establishes some rules for her online life, Anda joins Coarsegold, a multiplayer online fantasy game in which participants go on quests, and begins to make money by going on missions for other players. As she meets people through Coarsegold, she learns that not everyone has the advantages she does and that she may be in a unique position to help a teenager who goes by the name Raymond who is struggling to survive in his job in China.
Although a quick read, I struggled to get into In Real Life. I think I wanted more elaboration into how Anda originally became a gamer (as opposed to how she specifically began playing Coarsegold). I was a little confused about Anda's beginning situation at the start of the graphic novel. She'd just moved and didn't seemed particularly happy about it, yet she already also seemed to have a group of friends (and maybe was in a club for gamers?). This also left me confused as to why Liza McCombs, the guest speaker who originally encourages Anda and other female gamers to join her guild, was speaking to her class. What class is this?! (Eventually, these confusions were cleared up: Anda is in the sci-fi club and her class seemed to be a computer programing one with the assignment that students had to create their own games. This would have been nice exposition to have before pages 42 and 161 though.)
So, based upon the cover and title, my expectations were a little skewed going into In Real Life. Instead of the girl making friends online and in real life at a new school narrative that I had been expecting, I got insights into the economics of gaming and insights about those who farm or cheat the system by buying the things that most gamers earn through a lot of work. Which is also a good takeaway--one that has some uses for in the classroom. Along with the exploration of economics--which is fleshed out more fully in Doctorow's introduction to the book--I also like the secondary issue of addressing gender in gaming and the encouragement for more empowerment among female gamers.
In Real Life did end up addressing the issues I'd assumed it would (noting that online life is real and economically relevant and showing that Anda can make friends both online and at school). But, those themes took backseat to examining the economic realities of games and to showing the treatment of a teenaged employee in China.
I would definitely consider using In Real Life in a classroom. It addresses important issues of economics and social justice in a unique way. I do, however, think some concepts will need extra support if students are not already familiar with multiplayer online games.
For those interested, here's a link to Doctorow's original story that inspired In Real Life from Salon.com.
Also, for a lighter take on online gamer culture, I recommend watching Felicia Day's series The Guild. It is fun. (The series is also on Netflix.)
Tasty Rating: !!!. (3.5 explanation points)