Author: Cory Doctorow, Jen Wang
Publisher: First Second
First Published: October 14, 2014
Genres: High Fantasy, Young Adult
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.
Anda is an average teenager, a geek girl that plays and develops games. After stepping into her first MMORPG she quickly makes friends with another lady gamer and starts to take on jobs that have them griefing gold farmers in exchange for real-world cash. Things change when Anda befriends one of these poor Chinese farmers and gets to know the person on the other side of her computer screen. This is a story about compassion, of seeing a world much greater than our own small bubbles and caring for the issues that others face. This is a graphic novel paved with all the best of intentions that I enjoyed, though feel could have been executed better.
Being a lifelong gamer, I loved the message of empowerment for young girl gamers like Anda. To embrace who she is in-game and in real life, joining an all-female guild of girls looking out for each other. This representation for women in gaming and tech is wonderful and a highlight for this graphic novel.
Now on the issue of gold farming, it is definitely not an easy topic to write about and discuss so I appreciate the author’s attempt. Anyone who has actually played an MMORPG has dealt with the onslaught of gold seller spam which can be really grating and is actually bad for the game’s economy. The folks buying from these shady businesses has led to the rise of sweatshops abroad with poor treatment and little rights for the workers. It’s a complex issue with several layers and raises many questions about legality and whether or not in-game items can be viewed as a tangible, taxable good and whether gold farming can be considered actual employment.
“I understand the world can be cruel place and there are people out there counting on naive kids like you to take advantage of. Don’t just think because it’s video games people can’t get hurt.”
This graphic novel raises awareness on the simplest level to some of these issues and while I appreciated that a spotlight was cast on a large issue in online gaming, I feel like it was oversimplified and sugarcoated for a feel-good story when the reality is disturbing and bleak. I also question the real money for hunting Chinese farmers portion of the story, perhaps it’s a thing, and I know that people definitely love to grief gold farmers, but I have never known it to be a real money-making venture.
Despite my nitpicking, overall this was a fun and fast read and made my old gamer heart happy. It’s an easy story to get into for both gamers and non-gamers alike and presents video games in a way that’s approachable and easy to understand. The art is wonderful and I loved seeing the world of an MMO come to life in the illustrations. A sweet and empowering read for teens, but especially for young girl gamers.