Quick Pick: In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang
By Isabella Cortes, STEM Read Intern
Logline: An ordinary school day takes a techy turn when a guest speaker introduces Anda – a quiet gamer girl – to an immersive online role-playing game: Coarsegold. This virtual world connects global gamers who want to meet up and level up online. They gather to complete quests, join guilds, and acquire resources. Anda immediately joins in on the fun. While online, fellow gamer, Lucy, introduces Anda to gold farming. When gold farming, players amass stocks of virtual currency to sell for real profit. Lucy wants to bring down the greedy gold farmers, and Anda agrees to help. However, through her interactions with a friendly gold farmer, Anda learns more about the value of money in and out of the game.
In addition to the rich narrative, the work of illustrator Jen Wang is intricately imagined, detailed, and colored. It springs to life in an array of costume, characters, and color. If you’re thinking “this sounds awesome,” you’re right! But, how does this connect with STEM?
In Real Life is a great resource for teachers who are looking to revamp traditional economics lessons. The gold farming in In Real Life catalyzes Anda’s exploration of finances and health benefits. Gaming challenges her to consider the monetary value of the seemingly worthless online gold. Global financial needs she previously didn’t consider now unsettle her, and the interconnectedness of online play and reality becomes harder and harder to ignore.
In addition, the graphic novel asks students to consider how we form both our internet and real-world identities. Anda dyes her hair to match her avatar’s red locks. She becomes more inclusive and outgoing with a girl at school as a result of her online interactions.
Students should consider the parallels between gaming avatars and real life. Is the facade of confidence and togetherness that we put on in a job interview any different than acting the part of a character online? Is role-playing an innate part of our society?
Ultimately, tech-savvy audiences will connect with this graphic novel’s relatability, while educators will love its smart conversation about cultural diversity and global economics. For a quick activity, have students create an online world they would like to engineer or create blueprints for a technology they want to invent. At first glance, you might not suspect it, but In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang packs an intellectual and action-packed punch. See the suggested writing prompts below to get students started.
- Write a paragraph or two describing what your online Coarsegold avatar would be like. Consider physical attributes, gear, race, etc. Would they look similar to yourself or completely different? How would your avatar represent who you are as the gamer?
- Advancements in technology are constantly changing reality as we know it. Brainstorm a list of technological inventions/advancements you think would radically change our day-to-day life. Then, pick one and write a paragraph about who would use it, how it would be used, and what effect it would have.
- Write a paragraph or two describing an online game you would create if you had the resources at your disposal. What would be the goal of the game? What real-world details would you bring into the game to make your premise richer?”