Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Author: Ernest Cline
Release Date: August 16, 2011
Dates Read: July 11-14, 2012
It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.
Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.
And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune–and remarkable power–to whoever can unlock them.
For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday’s riddles are based in the pop culture he loved–that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday’s icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes’s oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.
And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.
Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt–among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life–and love–in the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.
A world at stake.
A quest for the ultimate prize.
Are you ready?
Ready Player One technically has a very specific ideal target audience — aficionados of 80s culture who are fans of video games and dystopian-sci-fi lit. Being born in the late 1980s, I didn’t quite fall into the ideal audience. However, I am a fan of video games, dystopian/sci-fi, and clever books. Thus, I found Ready Player One to be an enjoyable joyride. In Cline’s futuristic world, video games and social media and escapism have collided to bring the world the “OASIS.” The OASIS is everything: a game, the internet, social networking, school, the world’s biggest public library containing just about every piece of writing, music, or video, there for the taking. It is also an escape, a world that isn’t crumbling while the real world outside falls to pieces. It is being threatened by the IOI, a corporate entity that wants to take the virtual utopia and monetize it so only the rich can afford to utilize it.
I found the dichotomies present in Ready Player One to be quite interesting. While it is clear that Cline set out to make a dystopia where people would rather spend their time in a perfect, fake world than fix their real one, I found certain elements of the story quite optimistic. For instance, that users with no money, like the protagonist, could access every book ever written, every song ever listened to, and every video ever watched. In our day and age of extremists against freedom of information, of Big Hollywood pushing laws like SOPA and CISPA ever closer to passing, of pundits who act like online piracy will be the downfall of civilization as we know it… Well that right there would very nearly make me willing to live in Cline’s world, because I think we are headed in the complete opposite direction of such free culture. In the same vein, I have a hard time believing that file-sharing programs will be around, like the Guntorrent Wade mentions.
Getting off the soapbox on that controversial point, I bring up another thing I doubt our culture will have sense enough to hold onto: privacy. I feel it is overtly optimistic to the point of absurdism to believe that in 32 years, there will ever be such a degree of privacy where the company running the OASIS wouldn’t even be able to look up an avatar’s true identity. Again, we’re headed in the opposite direction. We don’t even have this degree of freedom right now, and I doubt the Supreme Court is going to change for the better in the future.
However, it is clear that the society Cline has created is deeply flawed. Little to no human interaction occurs in this world. Humanity spends all of its collective free time in the OASIS. Society has shifted to cater to this — ways to allow people to never have the leave their rooms; new systems to make the OASIS seem more real than reality (“The real world looked washed-out and blurry by comparison.”) Elections in the OASIS come to matter more than the government’s. The economy is now based on a credits system that the OASIS uses. Instead of living in the real world and taking a break in the OASIS, people live in the OASIS and feel that any breaks to reality are forced and undesired. Such a society cannot continue on as such indefinitely.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed Ready Player One. The writing was entertaining, humorous, and poignant in all the right places. Cline’s voice speaks not only to those who are fans of the 80s culture the hunt revolves around, but to current internet users, video game players, and people who are concerned about the way our society is headed. The events in the OASIS are action-packed, but Cline doesn’t let the events in the real-world fall flat, either. The world he has built, both the real and virtual sides, is immensely interesting. The characters are also quirky and well-developed, adding much to the story. If anything about the premise of Ready Player One appeals to you, I’d encourage you to pick it up. It’s a fun novel, with messages that speak to you long after you’ve put it down.