© 2014 Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang
I happened to see Cory Doctorow’s name on the cover of this graphic novel, and had to take a look. The plot is heavily based on a short story of Doctorow’s, although it’s been too long since I read the story I have in mind to know for sure how closely they follow one another. According to ComicsAlliance, Jen Wang adapted the novel from Doctorow, although he’s still directly involved in the book, with an introduction that encourages young readers to get interested in the world of behavioral economics. But enough of that, on to the story!
We begin with Anda, a girl with poor self esteem issues, whose school is visited by a woman who wants to build a girls-only gaming clan on the story’s resident MMO, “Coarsegold”. Anda finds the idea of a gaming clan interesting, and tries it out. She flourishes, developing a friendship with a fellow clan member and growing in skills and confidence – the latter, even offline! When Anda and her sister-in-arms are offered an opportunity to make real money by killing the avatars of players involved in gold farming – that is, doing lots of low level work to gain experience and items that are sold for real money through ebay and such– she chances to meet an English-speaking player whose knowledge of the game impresses her. She learns that he is a kid just like her, but instead of being in school, he works 12+ hours a day in the game, developing characters to be sold by his boss. Inspired by her father’s firm going on strike for increased health benefits, Anda does research into China’s local labor laws and urges her friend to do the same. It doesn’t work out quiiiiite the way she expects.
In the end, things work out: this is a YA novel, after all, and the point of it – going on Doctorow’s introduction – is to show how easy organizing for a purpose can be, and to encourage kids to do the same for causes they’re interested in instead of waiting until they’re adults. We’ve certainly seen that happening with the recent climate parade. The art style is interesting; I’ve only read one graphic novel before (V for Vendetta), and this one blended real life and online life seamlessly; in one panel Anda is her frumpy sweater-wearing meat self, in another she’s an Amazon warrior with a mane of fiery red hair. Because of the online setting, we get treated to fantastical scenes – humans fighting monsters and such – with bits of GUI imposed on them, like health bars. And, in a nod to the short story being published in 2004, the monitors shown are all hulking CRTs instead of flatscreens.
Doctorow has expanded on the gold farming as exploited labor theme in another full-length novel, For the Win, and I may get around to reading it. In the meantime, though, this was…fun. Definitely out of my usual reading zone!