Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"I'm a gamer and I kick arse. No, seriously. I organise a guild online and I'm looking for a few of you chickens to join me.
"This is Coarsegold Online, the fastest growing massive multiplayer role-playing game with over 10 million subscribers worldwide. You might've heard of it.
"This is my avatar. In game, they call me the Lizanator, Queen of the Spacelanes, El Presidente of the Clan Fahrenheit.
"How many of you girls game?
"And how many of you play girls?"
I don't play MMORPGs so I was unaware that the vast majority of female gamers apparently don't play female characters online, basically through not wanting to be harassed by men-children. Highly topical in the light of the recent #gamergate controversy, I must say. It's not the main thrust of this story, the fact the main character Anda joins a guild created by ladies for ladies only, so they can feel confident enough to play female characters online, but it does firmly ground the story in reality for sure.
Anda our heroine is blown away by the presentation at her school and offer by renowned gamer Liza McCombs to join her Coarsegold clan as a probationary member. Assuaging her mum's well-meaning concerns about her playing games on the internet with complete strangers, Anda convinces her mum to use her credit card to sign her up, and promptly enthusiastically dives into the online world, making firm friends with another newbie called Sarge. At first they undertake the usual levelling up antics battling monsters, but then Sarge gets wind of a way to make some cash in the real world, by assassinating gold farmers.
Gold farming for the uninitiated is defined by Wikipedia as 'playing a massively multiplayer online game to acquire in-game currency that other players purchase in exchange for real-world money.' And apparently again according to Wikipedia 'gold farming in the People's Republic of China is more pervasive than in any other country, as 80% of all gold farmers are in mainland China, with a total of 100,000 full-time gold farmers in the country as of far back as 2005. Gold farming in China is done in Internet cafes, abandoned warehouses, small offices and private homes. When organized as an actual informal business, they are known as gaming workshops. Prisoners in Chinese labour camps have been forced to engage in gold farming for the financial benefit of prison authorities.' Righty-o.
Consequently, the act of gold farming is generally frowned upon and real world bounties are indeed placed on the heads of specific groups of gold farmers, often at the behest of other nearby competing gold farmers obviously... The naive Anda initially believes she's going after bots, but even after she realises she is wiping out real players, Sarge persuades her that they deserve it and Anda is simply doing every other Coarsegold player a favour. And, even better than that, she's getting real money arriving in her PayPal account as a reward to boot. Well, actually it's her mum's PayPal account, which she has access to.
It's only when she befriends a young gold farmer and learns his real world story, that of someone, indeed in China, struggling on the breadline, in harsh working conditions, that she begins to wonder whether her homicidal actions are justified, causing a serious fracture in her friendship with Sarge, as she tries to galvanise her new Chinese friend to talk to his workmates and take some collective action to improve their lot by demanding better pay and conditions from their boss. Meanwhile, her mum, finally noticing her PayPal account is suddenly awash with cash, sent by various strange men, goes ballistic and electronically grounds Anda, despite her protestations, cutting her off from the internet completely leaving her with no way of knowing what has happened to her friend. When she finally gets back online, well, things have changed...
What a well written, totally plausible tale this is, highlighting various social issues associated with online gaming, without ever seeming preachy. The pull quote from Felicia Day, actress and star of amongst other things The Guild and also writer of THE GUILD comics states entirely accurately, 'A lovely graphic novel for gamer girls of all ages', but I'd go further than that, it's something that boys and indeed parents should read and would also enjoy immensely too.
I'm immensely impressed with how well constructed this story is, which despite being about a subject many a reader would know precisely nothing about, is written in a manner by Cory Doctorow which elucidates an otherwise potentially mysterious topic beautifully. The art similarly, by Jen KOKO BE GOOD Wang is perfect for this tale and moves seamlessly from online to offline and back again scenes. I actually think they've made the right call not utilising a different art style for the two worlds, the real and the online, aside from the use of characters' avatars to depict them in the Coarsegold world, because isn't the whole point, indeed points, of this story that in fact the two cannot be separated? Another brilliant addition to the ever-burgeoning legion of books we can whole heartedly endorse for teen and younger readers and school libraries.