The internet is a virtual landscape which we all share that takes many forms. Arguably, the most notable of these forms is online gaming; which has created its own unique atmosphere for interaction. Many of us game online as a way to keep in touch with wayward friends, or even make some new ones. In Real Life is set in such a shared polygonal paradise.

Welcome to Coarsegold Online!

In Real Life is a graphic novel about a high school student named Anda, who we meet as she joins a highly organized guild in an online game called Coarsegold Online. As her avatar, “Kalidestroyer”, Anda quickly discovers how amazing it feels to level up and traverse the land during wondrous adventures. The more Anda plays, the more we’re shown different ways gaming online impacts her real world life. While the story is well-done, this book truly shines when depicting the intricacies of how social relationships function in an online game.

Kalidestroyer and Sarge hunt some gold farmers

During her journey, Anda is tasked with hunting gold farmers – players who reap a game area’s resources to sell for real world money to other players. Anda is given this quest by someone known simply as “Sarge”. While she holds an esteemed rank within their guild, Sarge has some vaguely racist outlooks. She uses this problematic mindset to create guidelines around which players are more likely to be gold farmers. Acknowledging that this is mean, Anda abandons this quest and winds up befriending a Chinese gold farmer named Raymond. Before long, the two develop a trust for one another. Raymond goes on to describe what his real world life is like. The truths of his work lifestyle strike some very real chords with the startling nature of actual gold farming in online games. These details become a major hurdle for both characters as the story progresses.

Kalidestroyer, Anda's avatar

A Matter of Perspective

While a bit extreme, this example of online bonding is familiar to anyone who has played games such as World of Warcraft. Our real life narratives often become topics of conversation during play sessions, even when playing with someone you don’t know in real life. Playing an online game with a certain group or individual for long enough will begin to feel just as hanging out in person does. When this happens, the line between real world and game world socializing blurs just enough for us to form true connections with what seems like ” just a collection of pixels”, as Anda states. Although the guild is maintained from within the confines of Coarsegold Online, it still makes the same mistakes as an actual crowd. Groups that grossly generalize other groups with ugly stereotypes are a real and toxic part of our society. Part of what makes In Real Life successful is its use of stereotypes to make a point about stereotypes. As readers, we’re forced stand aside and watch Anda learn from her thoughtless mistakes after becoming a member of the guild. We’ve all been a part of this process before.

Plain ol' Anda!

You’re Always In Real Life

It’s easy to form a separation between someone’s online avatar and the fact that they’re an actual person. One could argue that this is the point of playing games online. So rarely do we care about who is at the helm of each avatar we meet in an online world. As more people begin to share these virtual spaces, it’s important to remind ourselves that there’s another human right on the other side.

Everyone should read this book. It was written by Cory Doctorow, and illustrated by Jen Wang. I also encourage you to check out their other works, as they are both fantastically talented individuals in their crafts.