Cory Doctorow Puts Female Gamers in the Center of His Latest Graphic Novel, In Real Life

Gaming hasn't always been the most inclusive thing in the world, with young women especially often being excluded due to the fragile egos of gamer men. Accusations are immediately lobbed against anyone who wants to try out a new tabletop or video game about how they're "fake gamers," and this is one of many things the graphic novel In Real Life addresses.

When speaking to writer Cory Doctorow about his graphic novel — which features gorgeous art by Jen Wang and focuses on a gamer named Anda who is confronted with a series of moral dilemmas within the massive, multiplayer role-playing game (MMORPG) she recently joined — he discusses how women are breaking down that nonsensical barrier that the gaming world has put up.

"Women make some of the best games in the world," Doctorow writes in an email interview with New Times. "Women like Anti Sakeesian, Zoe Quinn, and Brianna Wu are putting themselves in the targeting reticules of the mouth-breathing poster-children for fragile masculinity by refusing to back down. Their bravery is awesome to behold, and they are emboldening a generation of women and allies who refuse to be silenced by the Internet Tough Guy patrol."

In a world where, as he rightfully says, "most game consoles are bought by women," In Real Life offers girls some representation as gamers. His opening statements in the graphic novel discuss the economics of gaming and the fact that the times we're living in — and the Internet — has changed the way we band together and communicate for the better.

"The messages we give to kids about the Internet are usually minatory," he explains and specifies the introduction and graphic novel are meant for younger audiences. "If you watch too much YouTube, you'll go blind; if you sext your crush on Snapchat, you'll go viral. No one talks to kids about how to seize the means of information. No one talks to kids about the whys and hows of the Internet and how that relates to student debt and job prospects and why their schools pay war criminals to re-purpose software developed to help the House of Saud censor its national Internet to try and keep them from looking at wangers and hoo-hahs with school PCs."

And that lack of discussion when it comes to the web also extends to adults who aren't entirely aware of what the Internet and gaming means for their children. "Helicopter parenting may work well, but it fails badly," Doctorow responds, when we discuss how the graphic novel shows Anda's mother as someone who assumes she'll be talking to a predator or someone dangerous within the MMORPG (massive, multiplayer online role-playing game). "The only way for kids to learn to cope with unpleasant situations is to experience them, ideally in a difficulty gradient that begins with relatively simple to resolve crises and escalates gradually to more serious situations - all the while knowing that there are adults nearby who'll help out if they really need it."

He applies this mind frame to his own life at home as well: "I want my daughter to acquire coping skills with me for a safety net, now, while the problems that arise are relatively low-stakes. More importantly, I want my daughter to feel like coming to me for help or just comfort is always an option, which she can only get if she knows that I value her independence as much as her safety."

It is the kind of discussion that only places more emphasis on In Real Life's awareness of how important offering women a safe space is — in gaming especially. When asked about how the graphic novel has been received and whether or not he's received any comments about how men are portrayed within it, he says bluntly, "I don't get those remarks because I'm a dude and I'm white. The Misogyny Squad reserve their bile, in the main, for women. Men who claim they get nasty remarks on the net so they know how women have it are either deluded or lying."

And that kind of statement from a man writing about women is refreshingly honest. The novelist goes on to explain how his wife inspired him to write a female lead in In Real Life. "I'm married to a former professional gamer. My wife, Alice Taylor, played Quake for England, and became a game developer and publisher who did groundbreaking work at the UK's public broadcasters — the BBC and Channel 4. Living with her inspired me to think critically about games and gender."

Scott McCloud and Cory Doctorow: A Conversation and Crossing Over: Comics and Prose
As part of Miami Book Fair 2015. Sunday, November 22, at 12:30 p.m. and 4 p.m., at MAGIC Screening Room, Miami Dade College Wolfson Campus, 300 NE Second Ave., Building 8, First Floor, Miami. Free admission. Visit
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Juan Antonio Barquin is a Miami-based writer who programs the queer film series Flaming Classics and serves as co-editor of Dim the House Lights. Barquin aspires to be Bridget Jones.