Ready Player One reminded me a few other books as I read it.
In the beginning, as the author showed the grim reality of 2044, I got a strong 1984-feeling. More people lived in poverty than ever before, there were neighborhoods with trailers stacked on top of each other like dysfunctional Leggo towers and many sought refuge in the OASIS, an advanced virtual reality. It’s not that it was anything like 1984 (more like the opposite in several cases, since in that world, you can enroll in online school without giving your real name), but I definitely had the creeps. If the energy crisis blows out of proportion and the unemployment sky-rockets, I can see all that crap happening. Plenty of us are already hiding behind one screen or the other, and using the Internet to “connect with people,” while we’re pretty much just shouting in the void.
Another book I thought of was The Hunger Games: Our heroes are a group of young people trying to win a contest. With a prize of riches beyond imagination. The difference, of course, is that they enter it willingly and they don’t realize that they’re in real mortal peril until the bad guys catch up to them. It definitely doesn’t feel as dark and depressing either. I’m grateful for the humor that the protagonist Wade Watts and his friend Art3mis bring to the page. (Aech, Shoto and Daito are beautiful characters as well.) Their vast knowledge of video games and 1980’s trivia showed some realistic sides to being introvert geeks: One, Wade was overweight from his sugar-inflated poverty diet and his continuous game-play; Two, neither of them had any real friends outside the OASIS because they didn’t spend much time outside. The passage that stood out to me the most in the entire book was:
Standing there, under the bleak fluorescents of my tiny one-room apartment, there was no escaping the truth. In real life, I was nothing but an antisocial hermit. A recluse. A pale-skinned pop culture-obsessed geek. An agoraphobic shut-in, with no real friends, family, or genuine human contact. I was just another sad, lost, lonely soul, wasting his life on a glorified videogame.
But not in the OASIS. In there, I was the great Parzival. World-famous gunter and international celebrity. People asked for my autograph. I had a fan club. Several actually. I was recognized everywhere I went (but only when I wanted to be). I was paid to endorse products. People admired and looked up to me. I got invited to the most exclusive parties. I went to all the hippest clubs and never had to wait in line. I was a pop-culture icon, a VP rock star. And, in gunter circles, I was a legend. Nay, a god.
It becomes so easy to feel bigger and more powerful than you actually are when you’re being some alter ego in a game. Last summer when I had two crappy minimum-wage jobs, I would try to forget about my day by turning on Skyrim or Mass Effect and go on quests, fight criminals and save people. Video games is sort of the modern day version of playing Cowboys and Robbers. But towards the end, I like that Wade and his friends begin to realize that even if they find the Easter Egg and win the contest, the world hasn’t changed. There’s still poverty, famine and so forth. The only difference now is that they have the power to do something about it.
As for Wade and Art3mis, who by the way is an amazing female character, I love how their relationship develops over time. It has its ups and downs and it doesn’t feel unnatural or forced. They show that a simulation can only do so much for a person; humans need true contact with each other. Even if you talk about everything between heaven and earth, it’s not until you spend time together that you know them.
I loved the book (five out of five)! Ernest Cline managed to tell a story nicely with characters who could have easily become stereotypes, but he made all of them interesting and appealing. The plot itself was clever, not to mention the riddles within the contest.
There were only a few times when I blanked out during the extreme nerd rage or video game monologues, but that’s mainly a personal taste; it doesn’t make the story any less good. I know next to nothing about the 1980’s so I had to mainly “tag along for the ride” and trust that Wade knew what he was talking about. Honestly I think even if the reader knows nothing about that era either or doesn’t play video games, they can enjoy the story nonetheless because of Wade’s fun, witty and smart narration.