I know it may seem a bit weird: a video game review website reviewing a book? But hear me out: if you have a love for video games, amazing storytelling, and the history of video games, you will love Ready Player One. It is immediately clear that the author, Ernest Cline, is a sincere gamer, and an even more sincere nerd. There is literally so much nerd packed into this book it is truly incredible. Cline has a particular fondness for eighties nerd culture references, but he includes everything right up to present day. The bottom line is this: if you’re a video game nerd like me, this is the book you've been waiting for.
The book’s plot is set in a semi-apocalyptic 2044 in the United States. Essentially, giant cities are really all that remain, with vast stretches of wasteland in between. Around the cities (where the wealthy typically live) are columns and columns of “The Stacks” – towers of trailers piled on top of one another to save space. As you may guess, the poor tend to occupy the stacks, and it is one such occupant, Wade Watts, that is the protagonist of the story.
Even though the world is falling into ruin, no one really cares too much because everyone spends most of their time in another world, the OASIS. The OASIS is essentially a giant video game that functions as an online world. Technology has advanced so that you can virtually immerse yourself completely in the game. Think The Matrix without the creepy spine thing. The Oasis offers a world where just about anything is possible – worlds to explore, quests to complete, PVP combat, shopping, schooling – just about anything you can think of. It does run on its own economy, so you do need in-game currency to do these things. That’s the problem Wade has: he’s got a virtual universe to explore and no money to do so.
When Wade isn’t going to school, he spends most of his time searching for the “Egg”. You see, the OASIS was designed by a legendary programmer – James Halliday. When Halliday passed away, he left a rather strange will behind. He left his entire fortune (an obscene amount of money) to the winner of a contest he had created inside of the OASIS. Essentially, he hid a video game easter egg in the virtual world of the OASIS, and the first player to find this egg receives Halliday’s fortune (and essentially control of the OASIS). Reminiscent of a certain chocolate factory owner’s contest, it is enough motivation for Wade to become obsessed with finding the egg. He becomes a “gunter”, a person who spends their time studying Halliday’s life in order to find the egg. A lot of this research boils down to classic eighties pop culture, video game history, and anything in the geek/nerd culture as well. To keep track of who is winning the contest, Halliday created a scoreboard where anyone who makes progress towards finding the egg receives points. The scoreboard is empty for a number of years following Halliday’s death. The egg is simply too well-hidden. But everything changes when Wade finds the first clue and jumps to the top of the leader board.
The plot focuses on the race to the egg and the various steps to get there that Wade must take. He comes into contact with both friends and foes along his journey (although all of them are looking for the egg). There’s the cool best friend, the evil mega-corporation, and the girl of his dreams all to contend with. And while the overall plot arc may not be anything revolutionary, Cline does throw in some cool twists to keep you guessing, particularly near the end of the story.
The book itself is a very easy read. It really does feel like a video game, with each chapter being a level or mission to complete. I have to say I have a hard time remembering having this much fun reading a book. The characters are incredibly easy to relate to, the plot is engaging and exciting, and the cultural references are funny, nostalgic, and charming. Cline even manages to throw in some social commentary into the mix, without ever being heavy-handed or patronizing. He asks earnest questions about what it means to have a “virtual identity”, to have the mask of anonymity when online. And whether or not true anonymity is real or not. As our world becomes more and more digital, will we lose ourselves in it, or hold on to who we really are?
I really can’t recommend this book highly enough. Let me put it this way: if a book references Blade Runner, Pac Man, Star Wars, The Lord of The Rings, Back to the Future, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Mobile Suit Gundam, Firefly, and Cowboy Bebop, it’s going to be pretty awesome. I had so much fun reading this book, and I hope you will too.
Written by Cooper Sivara.