Ready Player One – Ernest Cline

Ready Player One was a novel that I wanted to read from the second I heard about its premise. A futuristic apocalyptic society where the common escape from reality is a massively multiplayer online game that uses haptic equipment and virtual reality? And to boot, it focuses on retro video games and movies from the 1980s? Where do I sign up!?!

Needless to say from my brief capsule overview above, I was excited about this novel and would have been sorely disappointed if it hadn’t delivered just a tiny portion of its massive potential. Luckily, I wasn’t let down by Ernest Cline, who has crafted a wholly believable and organic world that is at once both technologically advanced and downtrodden. Nuclear catastrophe has wiped out parts of the world and dust bowls have returned worldwide as a great recession has gripped the entire world. Trailers have been stacked to create slum apartments around the few remaining habitable parts of the world. Currencies have pretty much been inflated to the point where the online credit has become the de facto monetary unit worldwide to supplement a bartering system already in place. The multiplayer game (OASIS) has become the refuge of most humans who want to escape the horrors of reality.

Welcome to 2044.

The founder of OASIS has become the world’s richest recluse (a la Howard Hughes, but with way more money). The OASIS programmer input a challenging treasure hunt within the game itself with the prize for the winner being his entire estate including all property real, virtual, and intangible, monies, and whatever else he possessed. Obviously, this sparked a worldwide hunt for the ultimate ‘Easter egg’, and the people treasure hunting for the required items are considered to be ‘gunting’ (egg-hunting). A Gunter is a person who has dedicated himself to analyzing every facet of the founder’s life, his cultural tastes, and in short, the nerd-geek culture of the ’80s. Movies such as WarGames and Ladyhawke play a prominent role. Games such as Adventure, Joust, Zork, and other classics are also central to the plot itself. In short, if you know more about the video game culture of the 80’s and cult-classic movies beyond just Pac-Man and The Goonies, you’ll rather enjoy this novel.

While the real world has essentially been turned into a desolated wasteland with outposts of humanity scattered throughout, the virtual world has multiple planets, and an infinite number of things anybody can create. As such, there’s an entire universe to explore online. However, just moving around (transporting) between worlds costs real money. That’s how the company makes its money when the game itself is essentially free for anybody to join and play. Some people attend virtual mega-churches. Others visit tawdry places, while still others lose themselves in recreated memories of the past.

The majority of the action takes place within the simulated world of OASIS. If you’ve ever spent any time playing any sort of MMORPG or even a MUD, you’ll recognize how authentic the descriptions of the OASIS experience are. And if you’ve got any sort of experience with the video games in the book itself, several nice memories from the past will pop up and probably give you an itch to start playing some ‘classic’ video games from your own past. And they won’t necessarily be the ones mentioned in the book itself.

While reading the book itself, I was reminded of several classic arcade-rooms and arcade-games from my past, conjured up by some paragraphs describing how older people on OASIS had recreated the arcades from their childhood down to the games contained within there and the shabby theadbare carpet. In my childhood, I loved the arcade, especially the wide variety of games that could be found in the random assortment of establishments that I frequented. One of them even rented out time to play home consoles such as the NeoGeo and TurboGrafx-16. Now you may be wondering why we’d even bother paying something like $1 to play five minutes on a home gaming console. Well, the console itself for the Neo Geo alone was $400 USD. And the games were $200 each!

This is also the same reason why you’d see the advent of those Neo Geo “Pick 10” standalones in places such as Pizza Hut. Since the machine stuffed 10 different games into one box, Pizza Hut would often just have this machine alone, or perhaps two arcade games with Pac-Man being the other one. Most of the Neo Geo games have been classics that have held up very well over the years, to the point where the original console and games have actually somehow appreciated in value. Most other game consoles and games at least had a dip in value somewhere along the line, but apart from a few outliers, most of them haven’t retained their value well.

Back from the tangent – I enjoyed playing Samurai Showdown and of course all the Metal Slug games. The TurboGrafx-16 also got some love, mainly for Bonk’s Adventure. But this specific arcade also had several other classic games over the years, to the point where I think it was curated by a genius. Dragon’s Lair? Check. 720°? Check. Street Fighter II Turbo? Check. NARC? Check. Smash TV? Check. Even the apparently rare Pigskin 621 A.D.? Check. And it had an unusual assortment of several different rotating games that included WWF Superstars (1991). About the only thing it never had was one of my favorite games of all-time, Ivan ‘Ironman’ Stewart’s Super Off-Road. That was an addictive game and usually only found in odd places, such as roller-skating arenas.

Anyway, if any of my rambling diatribe about a very specific arcade that contained these items interests you or sounds familiar to you, drop everything and go pick up Ready Player One. You’ll love the novel. While it’s not a literary masterpiece, it reads fast, smooth, easily, and of course, is an excellent read. So far, it’s retained the title of ‘Best 2012 Read’ into mid-February. I don’t want to give away more of the plot itself, but suffice it to say that even if you’re not familiar with all the offbeat references, you’ll still enjoy this novel if you enjoy fantasy, science fiction, or even just a thriller. It can function as all three genres at once.

The edition that I reviewed was the first edition hardcover.

Edition: Crown (August, 2011) – 1st ed.
ISBN: 978-0307887436
Binding: Hardcover with dust jacket
Page Count: 384
Original Language: English
Overall Grade: A

Since March Madness is nearing upon us, I also have to express my great disappointment that The Morning News did not include Ready Player One in its bracket for the Tournament of Books, 2012 edition. While I can understand some of the books selected, I really can’t fathom how Ready Player One couldn’t replace some of the books selected, such as The Devil All The Time, Green Girl, The Cat’s Table, or even State of Wonder. Oh well. Even though I know Ready Player One wouldn’t have won the literary contest, it’d still have been nice to have been invited to the dance.

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