Okay, I know some of you are probably sick to death of hearing about this topic by now, but … tough. Video games are my thing!
Along with books, of course! So here’s one for you. Ready Player One!
All I had to do was to get to my new apartment, set up my rig, and log back into the OASIS. Then everything would be all right. I would be back in familiar surroundings. I would be safe.
Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One is an extremely niche book. I’ve seen a lot of advertisements for it popping up all over the web lately, revealing the new edition and cover (left). I wouldn’t at all call it “Willy Wonka meets The Matrix,” but I understand the connection. It’s a race to the ultimate prize, only everyone gets a golden ticket. And the competition unfolds in a virtual world. But there’s not really any singing or cute moral lessons about television and gluttony.
But anyway — niche. Ready Player One is not only marketed toward serious video game fans (although I suppose anyone with a passing interest could enjoy it), but also rife with ’80s references. This book is going to date itself like a bad hair style in about 10-20 years.
Fortunately, at the heart of the book is a well-written story about a group of friends and the most famous video game programmer in all history — fictionally, anyway. James Halliday invented the most widely used, authentically household game, an MMO called the OASIS. Creating an account and entering the game is free; traveling and purchasing in-game weapons, armor, and items is not. But what made the game even more popular was a video message that appeared upon Halliday’s death: an announcement that informed people across the world that whoever found his special Easter egg (a carefully hidden secret) would inherit his considerable fortunes. And so the Hunt began.
Wade Watts — or “Parzival,” as he calls himself when logged into the OASIS — is one of the “gunters” dedicated to spending almost every waking hour studying Halliday’s life and works in search of clues that will lead to the discovery of the egg. It’s that conviction and inherent talent for video games that allow Wade to find the first key — one of three needed to open three separate gates, the last of which protects the wildly sought after egg.
Cline takes video game fans on one of the greatest virtual (and textual) adventures ever conceived, with the most difficult trials of knowledge and raw skill awaiting them. Every passionate gamer can tell you with envy how impressive passing them would be.
Halliday’s tests focus more on classic games — like Joust — old movies — like Blade Runner — and the best of ’80s pop culture than they do on modern games, but Cline compresses a lot of meaning and hot button topics into one book without ever straying from his true focus: the Hunt. On one hand, gamers can consider Ready Player One a lesson in industry history, as it combines fact and fiction and draws a clear line between the two. The book also puts a heavy emphasis on MMOs and the costs of living almost completely in an imaginary world, which are purely contemporary concerns. It’s an extreme look at the future of video games that asks, “What happens when virtual reality is better than the real thing? When we can feel, smell, and touch environments while sitting in a chair, what use do we have for what’s outside of it?”
The answer is a bleak one. Wade might clock endless hours in the perfect game, a massive universe of planets and possibilities, but when he looks out the window (when he ever does), he reflects on the devolution of society and human interaction. The game has taken over. What was once today’s handful of eccentric news stories about one gamer ignoring his or her family has become the norm. People have forgotten how to communicate and connect offline.
The book also explores other issues, such as Internet dating (which made me think of web sensation Felicia Day’s “Do You Wanna Date My Avatar” mock music video) and the ongoing free-to-play debate — which is a rising trend in the industry right now. Cline accomplishes all this and an emotionally resonating narrative in under 400 pages, and he ends it with optimism.
And it’s an utterly absorbing read that only gets better as the pages turn.