You’ve probably been living under a rock if you’ve never heard of Ready Player One. It was a recent blockbuster hit after Spielberg turned it into a movie, but even before that people were lauding it as the best thing since sliced bread. Me? I have mixed feelings. Strap in – this one is long and rambling.
In the off-chance that you have been living under a rock and don’t know what Ready Player One is all about, here’s a quick synopsis. In the year 2045, the world has gone to shit and everyone’s skint and scraping around for food. The OASIS, a huge virtual reality world in which people game, learn and work, offers escape from the crappiness of real life, particularly for teen protagonist Wade Watts.
A few years ago, one of the creators of the OASIS, James Halliday, died and decided to leave his entire company and his $24-billion fortune to whoever can find the Easter egg he programmed into the OASIS world. Avid gamers everywhere, known as gunters, spend their days obsessively searching for the egg, as do the IOI, an evil conglomerate set on taking over the OASIS and changing it for the worse. Wade happens to be the first gunter to solve a clue which brings everyone a step closer to the egg, and so begins his manic, life-threatening scramble to see the hunt through and win the fortune.
One of the reasons why Ready Player One has been so popular is because it references 80s culture at an obsessive level. Halliday grew up in the 80s and much of the challenges he creates for the hunt reference his favourite games, movies and music from the decade. As a result, Wade becomes obsessed with everything 80s in hopes that his knowledge will help him to find the egg. Now, I’m a 1991 baby and so a lot of the 80s pop culture references were lost on me. It didn’t necessarily affect my enjoyment of the book, but the nostalgia factor seems to be a major reason why readers get so much pleasure from this story and unfortunately it just went right over my head.
Gaming is also, understandably, a huge aspect of this story. I used to play computer games and console games when I was younger and I’m not averse to a touch of Lego Jurassic World on the PS3 these days, but I’m not by any means a gamer. I think it was because of this that I found myself glazing over during the lengthy descriptions of gaming rigs, virtual weaponry, and old arcade games. It’s just not my cup of tea. Again, this didn’t necessarily ruin my reading experience or affect my understanding of the plot, but I feel like I would have taken much more from the book if I had been an avid gamer.
Now, onto the positives. The concept of the OASIS is really fucking cool. It’s VR to the extreme. Wade and many other kids actually go to virtual schools rather than real ones because it’s cheaper and more efficient to deliver education in that way. VR school… how awesome would that have been?People can work within the OASIS, hang out with friends, go to outer space, explore magical realms, and simply live their lives as a whole different person online.
The book explores the upsides and downsides of this VR-obsessed era. For example, Wade becomes completely cut off from the real world at one point, which he acknowledges isn’t all that healthy for his state of mind. On the other hand, the OASIS makes it possible to connect with fellow gamers almost without prejudice, as is proven when Wade meets his online best friend Aech in real life and discovers he’s not the person he’d painted himself to be in the virtual world. Despite this, Wade and Aech’s friendship continues as strong as ever because, as Wade puts it, “we’d connected on a purely mental level.” And that’s a pretty great message to take away from this book.
Let’s talk about the writing for a second. I think Cline did a really good job of helping readers such as myself – those uninitiated to 80s pop culture and gamer culture and lingo – to understand exactly what was going on at any given time. For example, when the completion of any particular game was necessary for Wade to move forward in the hunt, it would be described in enough detail that even someone who had never played a computer game in their life would understand what was going on. I was a little worried going into this book that I might struggle to follow a plot overloaded with obscure trivia and gaming terms, but that wasn’t that wasn’t the case at all. I’d say it’s a pretty accessible read for a variety of ages and backgrounds.
One problem I did have with the writing was some of the more… melodramatic plot twists. Without revealing too much, Wade manages to infiltrate IOI headquarters in the most risky and dramatic way possible, and this happens so suddenly that I actually had to check I hadn’t accidentally skipped a few pages. We learn that he oh-so-conveniently bought this, that and the other several months ago to aid in this task, and it kind of just comes off as a bit of a rushed plot hole patch-up. It would have been way more interesting if we had some foreshadowing, or if we could have been privy to Wade’s thought process as he figured out the details of his plan.
Character-wise, I was pretty happy. Wade is likeable, if a little frustrating at times, particularly when he’s mooning over Art3mis, his love interest. Art3mis herself seems to be salty and snippy all the time, and I didn’t understand Wade’s infatuation with her other than the fact that her OASIS avatar looks cute. We saw all of her grumpiness and defensiveness with very little of her soft, friendly side, which is described only very briefly when Wade is at the peak of his infatuation. Aech is funny and likeable, and I really liked the dynamics of his friendship with Wade. And Sorrento, the villain, is decidedly despicable – the kind of bad guy with no redeeming features who you can love to hate.
Look at that, we’re at 1000 words… I’d better wrap this up. All in all, I really did enjoy Ready Player One, but I suppose I felt a little let down after hearing so many overwhelmingly good things about it. I’d expected to love it, but I didn’t quite get there. That being said, I’m not an 80s gamer kid so it’s understandable that it wasn’t wholly my cup of tea. I’m really looking forward to seeing the movie, though. Perhaps the visuals will fill in the gaps in my 80s trivia and gaming knowledge and give me a more vivid picture of the OASIS world.
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