I wanted so badly to like this book. Jen Wang’s artwork is so fantastic and it’s pretty much the sole reason I gave it three stars instead of two. It’s a graphic novel with realistically drawn women/girls, it’s got a message, it’s about gaming; in theory, it’s everything I should love.
Doctorow starts off with a great introduction that really resonated with me. The internet has revolutionized modern day communication! (Yeah! The internet has cat pictures and stuff!) With the internet, we now have so much information at our fingertips! (Yeah! Now I can IMDb that one kid I had a crush on from Are You Afraid of the Dark and see what he’s doing now!) These worldwide connections we can make coupled with the ever expanding information stored on the world wide web need to be utilized to take down the man! (Yeah! I’m going to go make a ‘Thanks, Obama!’ meme!)
(Facetious parentheses aside, he does make a great point.)
And then the actual book starts and everything falls apart. I’ve spent so many hours trying to figure out this book (about 100x more time than it actually took to read). I ended up with a mental pro and con list, so that’s how I’m going to do this review.
Pro: The main character is a girl, Anda. She’s not drawn overly sexual or with over-exaggerated proportions either. (I’m sure most of there credit there can go to Wang.)
Con: Strange leaps in logic throughout the whole book. Although Anda is a new student, she somehow is already part of a D&D group.
Con: Doctorow teases potential interesting storylines throughout the whole book and they don’t go anywhere. The popular girl at school want Anda’s D&D group to join her board game club because “Dungeons and Dragons is kinda like a board game, right?” And the D&D group brushes her off because she’s popular and misinformed about D&D. (This would’ve been a great topic to cover. I’ve met several self-proclaimed nerds that believe because they were the victims of bullying, that excludes them from ever being the perpetrator of bullying. And I’m here to tell you, some nerds can be just as inclusive and snobbish and mean as other people.) Ultimately, in one or two panels near the end, Anda agrees to help popular girl. (Now that I think about it, I don’t even think popular girl was graced with a name.)
Pro: Anda takes coding classes at school and is building a game. Good for her! The gaming industry is a sausage fest.
Pro: Liza is a guest speaker in the class. She’s a bad-ass looking gamer girl. She wants the girls in Anda’s class to join her girls-only guild in an online game.
Con: Who goes to schools and recruits high schoolers to MMOs? Who lets people go into school and recruit high schoolers for video games?! More leaps of logic bullshittry.
Pro: Liza brings up that most girls that play online games play male characters so they aren’t harassed. Yes, let’s talk about gaming culture’s attitudes towards women!
Con: Another storyline that never gets picked up again. I guess Doctorow is pro-“it’s about ethics in gaming journalism”.
Pro: Anda joins the guild and none of the female avatars are over sexualized or wear bikini armor.
Pro: The real storyline comes into play – it’s about gold-farming in gaming! Okay, well, it’s not the feminist graphic novel I had hoped it will be, but this is still an interesting topic! (Gold farming is the practice of basically hiring people to play a game to collect the most valuable objects in the game and then sell those objects for real world money. Most of these farming operations are set up in China.)
Pro: Anda befriends a gold farmer and founds out he is a real person! (For some people, it’s very easy to forget that the other players on your screen are living, breathing, thinking things.)
Not a pro or a con: All the gold farmers are depicted as the same character in game. I know a lot of people found this fact vaguely racist, but I think it was actually an unfortunate incident of Doctorow not knowing his audience. For me, as a gamer, I know that games all start with a default character that you can customize. For gold farming, the game is a job, so the characters don’t get customized, they stick with the default.
Con: Anda believes she, and only she, can solve all the problems of the basically indentured servitude nature of gold farming operations. Because she lives in America and Americans are allowed to protest and have worker’s rights, so she’ll just tell her gold farming friend the history of unions in America and then all gold farmers everywhere will have reasonable work hours and health insurance.
Pro: This scheme fails and her gold farming friend is fired. (It’s not a pro because her friend got fired, but rather that we can’t just pop in somewhere and fix everything with no thought to geo-politics.)
Con: Gold farming friend ends up at a better gold farming operation, so all’s well that end’s well! Where’s Doctorow’s “damn the man!” philosophy now?