“Being human totally sucks most of the time. Videogames are the only thing that make life bearable.” – Wade Watts.
At TSG, it’s safe to say we love our video games. Heck, next to my husband, Liara T’Soni (Mass Effect), Professor Lupin, and the Oxford comma are second, third, and fourth loves. (Yeah, I used the Oxford comma twice in one sentence. Come at me.)
I also love books.
But this is a gaming site, Deevs. Goodreads is for books, not Top Shelf Gaming.
Ernest Cline’s debut novel, Ready Player One, marries the written word with 80s pop culture and video games in an insightful, compelling, and overall fan-freaking-tastic read. I’m late to the Ready Player One band wagon, but I don’t care. This book is damn good.
“In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.”
On the surface, the OASIS seems pretty cool. Who wouldn’t want one ginormous holodeck? Created by intelligent super-nerds James Halliday and Ogden Morrow, the OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation) serves as a virtual escape from the real world, which becomes less and less appealing to live in after the devastating consequences of global warming and the global energy crisis take effect.
As the OASIS becomes more popular, “billions of people around the world were working and playing in the OASIS every day. Some of them met, fell in love, and got married without ever setting foot on the same continent. The lines of distinction between a person’s real identity and their avatar began to blur. It was the dawn of a new era, one where most of the human race now spent all of their free time inside a videogame” (Ready Player One).
Wade (whose OASIS avatar is named Parzival) is a pretty damn relatable protagonist. Unlike other dystopian stories that feature tough-as-nails chicks and dudes, Wade is an overweight kid who does poorly in school, and whose best friend Aech and supercrush Art3mis are people he’s never met IRL. Wade lives in a rotting community in Oklahoma, an orphan living with his aunt, after his father was shot and his mother died from drug addiction. But for all Wade has going against him, he’s got humor and tenacity for days. This drive helps him devote his time as a “gunter” in the OASIS – an Easter Egg hunter in the deceased James Halliday’s Easter Egg Hunt, where one lucky winner will loot Halliday’s entire multi-billion dollar fortune. In order to succeed, Wade has to know what made Halliday tick – meaning a myriad of tasty nerd references for all us readers.
I didn’t exactly “read” this book. GASP!
I had an hour drive to Pygmalion rehearsals and resultingly, listened to this bad boy on audiobook. I highly suggest listening to it like I did. Why? Two words. Wil Wheaton. His narration adds the icing on the cake to this book. As an awesome geek himself (Tabletop, guest starring on Big Bang Theory), you can tell that he digs reading this book just as much as the listener digs being read to. I don’t think any other narrator could have done it justice.
Cline, the book’s author, is a nerd after my own heart. According to his website, Cline developed an addiction to the Atari 2600 and Space Invaders. This geekery is palatable when reading Ready Player One. Take this passage discussing
the different planets in the OASIS:
“The Firefly universe was anchored in a sector adjacent to the Star Wars galaxy, with a detailed re-creation of the Star Trek universe in the sector adjacent to that.”
Not doing it for ya? How about this:
“Other virtual worlds soon followed suit, from the Metaverse to the Matrix. The Firefly universe was anchored in a sector adjacent to the Star Wars galaxy, with a detailed re-creation of the Star Trek universe in the sector adjacent to that. Users could now teleport back and forth between their favorite fictional worlds. Middle Earth. Vulcan. Pern. Arrakis. Magrathea. Discworld, Mid-World, Riverworld, Ringworld.”
For the love of Dumbledore, the OASIS sounds amazing. And, if you give it enough thought, downright terrifying. Ready Player One isn’t all nerdgasm references and no substance. These are living, breathing individuals who are malnourished in a wasteland that once was a green, luscious planet. Their escape? Virtual reality.
And it’s not just an escape for the good guys. It’s an escape for the bad guys too. In Ready Player One, the bad guys go by the name of “sixers” – corporate gunters known for their ruthless, sometimes fatal tactics to get what they want.
I’ve started to call books like this “10 minutes from now” stories, in which the world has predictably gone to shit, and we’re in the process of watching it all unfold. Television shows like Black Mirror and movies like Ex Machina also explore the 10 minutes from now phenomena. These stories feel eerily close to home, because we know that they are in the not so-far-fetched realm of a possible near future.
Ready Player One shows the escapism of videogames, but also warns of the dangers of living online, and not stepping out into the real world. It’s an incredible read that video game lovers will definitely get a kick out of for its style, and a reason to give their BFFs a hug IRL.
Stay tuned for more, as we follow the developments of Ready Player One the film, directed by Steven Spielberg. It is set for release on March 30, 2018.