It’s been a long time since I read a book that I could barely put down. This is one of them–I cooked while I was reading, that’s how engrossed I was (I had to put the book down to get things done, though).
Ready Player One is set in the year 2044, after global warming, war and fuel have run out and caused devastation on the world. The dilapidated conditions and living in squalor for ‘developed’ countries like America were easy to imagine. Inversely, technology has advanced immensely. The protagonist, Wade Watts, escapes the harshness of reality by logging into OASIS, a virtual reality utopia. And utopia it is–OASIS has everything from children’s nursery classes (children are raised using the OASIS), interactive Sesame Street skits (wherein you can actually be inside Sesame Street and interact with the characters), online schooling where gym class includes Quidditch and zero-gravity capture the flag, and vast sectors containing hundreds of worlds such as Middle Earth, Discworld, Vulcan, Planet Transsexual (Rocky Horror Show, anyone?), and thousands of other worlds.
I think it doesn’t even need to be stated that I want in in that world. The possibilities are endless. This is also the reason why I know this book definitely has a niche market. The mash-up of everything–from classic arcade games to fantasy worlds only read of in books reeks of intense fanboy imagination. After all, it’s only to easy to imagine, “What would it be like to live in that world?” whenever a fanboy or fangirl is into something. I’m not going to deny that I’ve wanted to be a student in Hogwarts, be an Animorph, ride a hot air balloon to see if I’ll end up in Oz or that I’ve wanted to take the Hunter Exam at various points in my life. (Notice how I’m using fangirl/fanboy instead of ‘fan’? The stark difference between the two is that a fan is mostly normal; they’re the people who say, ‘I enjoyed that movie! I watched it twice!’ while a fangirl/fanboy has an analysis and/or a critique of it, knows the actors’ bios, watches all the cast member and director interviews, has read the entire comic series from which the movie is based and so on; basically, fangirls/fanboys are usually obsessive and active in fandom (forums, discussions, groups, write fanfiction, make graphics, and so on)). Anyway, back to imagining yourself in pretend worlds—in Ready Player One, the characters actually get to live out that fantasy, using enhanced virtual reality to escape their grim lives and enter in the vast and various worlds that include all your favorite childhood games, shows, and books. It is a Mega Crossover of all your favorites and more.
Ready Player One chronicles the adventures of Wade’s online Avatar as he tries to win the OASIS contest—multibillionaire and OASIS/GSS founder James Halliday has died with no heir. At his death, he revealed that he had set up an extensive game within the virtual world of OASIS wherein the first person to finish the game will inherit everything he owned. The game Halliday set up took the form of a quest, with a clue sent to every OASIS user as a beginning tool to get everyone started. From then on, it was a hunt for the ‘easter ‘eggs’ (hidden things/scenes/animation/items in a game/movie/show) that would lead to completing the quest.
The book draws on various 80’s pop culture references which I immensely enjoyed. I was actually quite surprised that I got them because I was born in ’89, and therefore grew up on 90’s pop culture. I was prepared to not understand a vast majority of the 80’s references I knew the book was going to have. So, yes, I was very surprised when I realized I was familiar with a lot of the games mentioned (we had a gaming console that had most of the ’80s games mentioned compiled in one pack)–so either I was a bigger geek than I thought I was or I was, in Western standards, a gamer. (I will not refer to myself as a gamer in Asian sense though; while I do play and love it, I feel that’s a word reserved for hard core players.) I grinned when I realized I had played even the text based PC games of old and they made their appearance in the book.
It was with glee when I realized that, while the characters are looking for ‘eggs’ in the story, the whole book is one big ‘egg’. It’s meta. Players have to find the clues to get to the egg in the story; the book itself is full of 80s pop culture references (therefore, ‘eggs’ to those who will understand them). Some are blatantly obvious, some not, and some are even explained (I feel the author didn’t want those parts to be missed). My favorite references, aside from the games, anime and live action series, were the movie references. I gave her my heart and she gave me a pen, okay. (No, that line does not appear in the book. The famous scene from that movie does though.)
There’s a bit of gamer terminology involved in the book–and I actually didn’t notice it until later on, when the narrator explains a term he has previously used. The pattern continued; he’d explain a word only after he’s used it once or twice in chapters before or sometimes even not explain it entirely (like the words farming and macro, the gaming terminology of which are different from the definition most people associate the word with). Granted, most of the words are easy and anyone who’s played an RPG game will know their meaning, but not everyone will–but then again, I don’t think this is the kind of book people who don’t like games at least even a little will pick-up. I wish they were consistent in that though–either explain everything the first time the narrator used the word and not some 2 chapters later, or don’t explain it at all.
I enjoyed this book from the beginning–the introduction was engaging, the narrator’s views on politics and religion were the same as mine (it’s always a good reading experience when you can relate to any of the characters), it was easy to read, it kept me wanting to know more.
The narrator also has a way of making you believe everything he’s saying, despite how flawed they are. It’s the way the book is written, simple and flowing so you just keep going without having to stop to think. However, if you do, you’ll notice a bit of the flaws; such as making items inside the game cost nothing for the company to manufacture but they charged for it, so it was all profit–in a world where resources are scarce, I’d think labor and electricity would cost something. Another part was where, in detailing his avatar’s plan to get into a high-experience area, where he’ll surely be killed–after his initial fear at going back to level one if he dies, he decided that he’d just try again then rack up XP points and increase in levels until he figured out how to find the first clue. It’s kind of stupid, because even if he racks up XP points and levels up, if he dies, he still goes back to level one. 😐
The OASIS game is also probably the laziest game I’ve seen in regards to leveling up. Find coins, get experience points! Or maybe Wade is just a lazy player. He needs to get to this place, so he clicks on the location on the map it shows him the fastest course to that location, outlined. I MEAN, COME ON. Half the fun is in the journey and killing all the chocobos you meet along the way–although I wouldn’t say no to a complete map, so I don’t have to wander in uncharted territory and get lost all the time. Also, he tends to avoid confrontation when going on his quests, opting for the method of avoidance or knowing all the tricks to disable traps. He’s an efficient player though, that I’d have to say.
The characters, although diverse, are still Western dominated. And it really is quite unbelievable that the Japanese were not better at the game than the Western characters were since it was their race that invented most of the games mentioned in the book and they have a whole subculture for gaming. Also, what happened to the Koreans in this epic virtual reality? Maybe they were enjoying in the WoW sector… The characters are stereotypical in that they are either overweight or underweight and deeply delve into the ‘stays-in-basement-doesn’t-go-out-plays-games’ category. While I know that this stereotype exists because it’s true, that’s not the case for a lot of gamers. But I guess the book does follow the gamers who are at the end of the scale, those who have devoted their real lives to a virtual game.
And when in reality, we see what the book is about. Sure, this is actually an ’80s themed book. It is also a book about games and geeks. But in the heart of that geekery, even while all of the action in the virtual world is happening, is the stark reality of the knowledge that the virtual has become the narrator’s life; that he has no friends, is lonely, and escapes from the real by going into the game. I like that the author does not gloss over that, despite the awesome virtual world he has created for readers (and his characters) to get engrossed in.
There are quite a bit of sociopolitical comments in this book; from the conspiracies against global warming, religion, down to females being treated as the second sex, especially females of color, highlighting the White Male Privilege. Four for you, Ernest Cline. You go Ernest Cline!
The ending ended on a fluffy note with Wade realizing he did not feel the need to plug into the OASIS and all I could think was, ha, that feeling ain’t gonna last, brother. Not with your kind of addiction. You can say I’m a cynic, but love won’t conquer an addiction, especially when the person you love is as–or even more–obsessed in escaping through virtual reality.
I truly adored this book though and am now recommending it to like minded geeky friends. Vamos!