Book Review: Ready Player One
Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One” is a book filled with references to video games, virtual reality, ’80s pop-culture trivia, geek heroes like E. Gary Gygax, and funny-sounding cult items like Frobozz and Raaka-Tu. They are interested in that time period because of a billionaire inventor, James Halliday, died and left behind a mischievous legacy. Whoever first cracks Halliday’s series of ’80s-related riddles, clues, and puzzles that are explained in a film called “Anorak’s Invitation” will inherit his fortune.
A kind of Second Life mixed with World of Warcraft/other MMORPGs, OASIS was the crowning achievement of game designer James Halliday. When Halliday died, he left a video message to the world that somewhere within his vast online universe, he’d hidden three keys that open three hidden gates. The first player to conquer the greatest Easter egg of all time wins control of OASIS and infinite wealth. But as years go by and nobody can find a shred of viable info on the keys’ location, publicity dies down.
The book’s narrator is a school kid named Wade Watts, but Wade’s real circumstances are not exciting. He lives in a tall block of stacked mobile homes and escapes to an abandoned van to adopt his online persona. He goes to school because he has to; his video console and virtual reality visor will be taken away if he flunks out. But his school avatar is often seen slumped at its desk, sleeping. That’s because Wade is busy being an alter ego called Parzival.
In “Anorak’s Invitation” Halliday mentions one of his sentimental favorites, the Atari game Adventure, and the Easter egg that its creator, Warren Robinett, incorporated into it. One of the problems with the book is it requires a pretty decent understanding of ‘80’s popular culture and people who don’t know that much about the decade may be unfamiliar with the huge frame of references in the book. Halliday has deliberately created an occasion for egg hunting. A great many egg hunters, known as “gunters” for short, do nothing but try to find Halliday’s eggs.
Ready Player One lends itself easily to mash-up comparisons, since in its more complicated bits, it amounts to a long string of cultural references pumped through well-worn story arcs. The adventure comedy somewhat reminded me of both the Gerard Butler movie Gamer along with Willy Wonka, except all of the cynicism has been replaced by sheer geeky love.