Book Review: In Real Life (Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Square Fish

Pages: 175

Release Date: February 13th 2018


Anda loves Coarsegold Online, the massively-multiplayer role playing game that she spends most of her free time on. It’s a place where she can be a leader, a fighter, a hero. It’s a place where she can meet people from all over the world, and make friends. Gaming is, for Anda, entirely a good thing.

But things become a lot more complicated when Anda befriends a gold farmer–a poor Chinese kid whose avatar in the game illegally collects valuable objects and then sells them to players from developed countries with money to burn. This behavior is strictly against the rules in Coarsegold, but Anda soon comes to realize that questions of right and wrong are a lot less straightforward when a real person’s real livelihood is at stake.


This is an interesting short read with gorgeous art and a well-intentioned message – I just think it tried to cover too much in a short space.

After a school visit from one of the organisers of Coarsegold Online, Anda starts playing the game with a group of female gamers. I enjoyed this aspect of the story: it touched on sexism and misogyny in gaming and Coarsegold offered a safe and welcoming space for female gamers. This was really interesting and was great for Anda’s character development.

We then get to the point of the story: Anda meets Raymond, a gold farmer in the game, who’s an overworked teenager in China in real life. Gold farmers in games are often from third world countries and they collect in-game items and valuable objects to sell to other players for real life money. Anda’s friends in the game point out how that’s not in the spirit of the game and they start targeting groups of gold farmers. However, when Anda speaks Raymond, she sees the terrible predicament he’s in: he needs this job to survive, not in the game but in real life.

Anda then decides she has to help him in some way. She tells Raymond that he and his friends should demand healthcare from their employer, which of course leads to him getting fired. Anda spreads a message among the other gold farmers to try and find Raymond, who turns up at the end and says he’s got a better a job now. And that’s basically it.

Everything felt a bit simplified when this is a complex issue. While I know there were good intentions there, I just don’t think it all came across well. Anda’s help came across more as some kind of white saviour complex and it only made matters worse for Raymond: nothing she did really helped him, though I see how she was changed for the better by meeting him and gaining some understanding of another country and culture.

On the plus side, there was a positive message about female gaming and feeling comfortable with yourself, and the art by Jen Wang is just fantastic. I think this book was too short to really explore all the issues it wanted to and it just wasn’t for me.