Anda is recruited into Coarsegold, a massively multiplayer role-playing game, when the charismatic Liza McCombs comes to her school looking for girl gamers who want to play as girls in-game.
Anda is a terrific protagonist, happily ensconced in the D&D playing, otherwise all male, nerd squad at school, and into coding. She’s heavy built, but seems comfortable with it, as do her similarly well-cushioned parents. The all-female guild she joins is as enthusiastic about slaying the undead as any boys, and Anda’s self-confidence both in the game and in real life grows. Not sure if I should be concerned that Anda’s avatar is a skinnier, doe-eyed version of herself, but I’m not.
And that would be a terrific graphic novel, but Mr Doctorow has bigger fish to fry, which is where In Real Life falters a little. When Anda is recruited for a mission to kill illegal gold farmers (who collect items for gold and then sell the gold to other players for cash – this is all news to me, so sorry if I’m overexplaining), she becomes aware of the seedier economics of gaming and gets involved in a real life campaign for health benefits for Chinese employees.
While this is undoubtedly an important aspect of gaming to bring to the attention of middle-grade, and even YA, readers, it’s done in a somewhat trite fashion. Once again, it takes an American to galvanize the oppressed overseas workers into a rebellion to gain better working conditions, which they then achieve with remarkable ease. I appreciate the authors’ intentions, but not so much the execution.
Nonetheless, for the girl gaming aspects alone, this is a great one for graphic novel enthusiasts of both genders, and if they pick up some social awareness at the same time, it’s all to the good.