With In Real Life, Cory Doctorow is attempting to bust a lotta stereotypes about gaming. Who games and how and why and how the gaming world might bleed into the real world.
It centers on Anda (not your typical gamer). Anda is a high school girl, just relocated with her family to a new city, attempting to figure out where she fits in. She’s overweight and under-confident. I expected this story to be mostly a feminist reclamation of gamer identity, but it wound far around that obvious character path into unexpected territory.
Anda gets recruited for a women-only guild in the fictional MMO called Coarsegold in a high school class. At this point, I had some failure in my suspension of disbelief. A high school allows a guild leader to recruit in their coding class? Obviously, this a fiction of plot convenience, although perhaps there are schools who would do this. I just can’t imagine the high school I teach at doing such a thing.
Anda joins the guild and makes a friend who pulls her into paid “missions” to kill gold farmers. Anda trusts this friend and buys her argument that gold farmers compromise the integrity of a game’s economics, making a mockery of those who work hard for their in-game cash. Anda becomes adept at identifying and dispatching these gold farmers. Until one moves to fight back, showing off true gamer skills. Anda asks him to show her how to replicate his advanced technique and in so doing kicks off a friendship.
Anda’s neat little world gets complicated fast as she gets to know and care about this overseas gold farmer. And that’s where Doctorow’s story truly soars. IRL provides complex characters, muddled definitions of nobility, diverse perspectives, and recognizable truth.
I expected IRL to be one thing, but was pleasantly surprised when it became much more than what I had imagined. Rather than being simply a young woman dodging self-esteem issues due to body image, it became about the responsibilities that come with true leadership. This would be an excellent pick for a middle or high school aged gamer, especially girls.