Interview with Cory Doctorow
In your opinion, what is the difference between writing a prose novel and a graphic novel? Is one more challenging than the other?
To be honest, Jen did most of the adaptation heavy lifting here. My experience with comics writing is limited — for me, the big difference (apart from the visual stuff, which is obvious and goes without saying) is that a novel’s big move is making you believe that you can be inside another’s head. It’s literally the only artform that does this.
What was the creative process like? Did you write the story first and then Jen Wang drew the art or did you have a discussion on the progress of the story before you both did your separate things?
The original story was published about a decade ago — it was called ANDA’S GAME. Jen sent me several drafts of her excellent adaptation for editing, review and notes, and we worked it through with help from our editors at Firstsecond.
Anda, the protagonist of In Real Life, is a female gamer and the discrimination faced by female gamers is well documented. Does the graphic novel address this issue at all?
Did you do much research for this novel? Did you play any games that you really liked?
My wife, Alice Taylor, is a retired pro Quake player who played on the English national team, then went on to run the games practices of the BBC and Channel 4, and is a renowned games expert. We have every console under our TV, and she judges the BAFTA game awards most years, taking over our sitting room and playing hundreds of games.
I play some games, though not as much as I did when I worked on this and the novel FOR THE WIN, which is another take on the theme — back then, I was playing WoW, SWG, Eve, and Second Life.
In Real Life by Cory Doctorow
Illustrator: Jen Wang
Published by First Second on October 14, 2014
Genres: Childrens', Graphic Novel
Amazon・ Good Books・Book Depository
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.
Review of In Real Life
In Real Life is about Anda, a gamer, who gets swept away by Coarsegold Online, a multiplayer roleplaying game. If you have played multiplayer roleplaying games online, you will know how very addictive they can get. Their appeal is twofold: one, the actual game and two, the social aspect of it. You get to make friends in the game. In Real Life focuses more on the social aspect of the game than the actual mechanics of it and brings in a bit of social activism into the narrative.
The art of In Real Life is bleeding fantastic. I have read Jen Wang’s previous work and loved it so I was glad to see that she was true to her style. The colours are bright, the expressions feel and look genuine and the book is just fun to look at.
Doctorow’s narrative is compelling and evinces the power of the internet. In other words, the power one person has to change or catalyze change in a country thousands of kilometers away simply by talking to or educating a person of their rights. Anda meets a young guy while playing the game and after talking to him realizes that he has a tough life in China. His job is to play Coarsegold Online and grow gold to sell…I’m still not clear on the details. Anyway, point is, he leads a tough life with a tough job and very little pay. Anda talks to him about his issues and tells him about the rights he has. At the same time, she also makes pertinent realizations about, I’d like to say, the space she occupies in the world and the privileges she may take for granted.
I thought the novel was good but ultimately, I felt that it may have oversimplified some things. And okay, I must say this, I was a bit wary of the whole Western saviour thing. I was also a bit disappointed that the whole “girls can’t be gamers!” thing didn’t come up as much as I would have liked it to. Because issues such as how sexist the game-playing fanbase(?) is, I think a more explicit discussion on them would have been timely but that’s just me. That said, the novel has great art and makes a person rethink their situation in life, and the power of words. I recommend it.