What?! A book review you say?! Yes, thepoorassgamer is here to review a book. You know, those things with paper and such? Scribblings similar to a blog posting? Yes. However, I did read this book on my kindle, so I’m not much of a traditionalist. Also I read it completely during down time at my day job, hey I’m being honest just don’t tell my boss…
To those of you in the generation that have simply given up reading again, I want to assure you that Ready Player One to me, has been the most enjoyable reads of my year. Sure, we’re a games and wrestling podcast, but I feel this book fits snuggly into our space, like a crystal key that opens a final gate (hint, hint, this is part of the book!).
Those of you who follow big movie releases probably already know that this story has been adopted by one, Steven Spielberg, or as I refer to him, Señor Spielbergo.
Recently released trailers of the upcoming movie do seem to be taking an honest interpretation of the book. There are some glaring differences, however, I will withhold any judgement until I’ve actually seen it with my own two eyes. So with that out there, let’s get to a review of the story, I’ll do my best to avoid any major plot reveals.
Ready Player One focuses the story on one Wade Watts, a kid like any other, who, with the resulting fall of normal society, is just trying to live his life. Our story starts with Wade just trying to graduate high school. Wade is an avid user of an amazing piece of technology called the Oasis. Also by avid, I mean Wade wants nothing to do with the real world and truly lives within this virtual one. Think of the Oasis as the ultimate VR experience. Users strap on their retina goggles, grab their haptic bodysuits and gloves and are immediately transported to this virtual world. This VR universe is ripe with vast planets and nostalgia galore. After years of development, the Oasis, created by the illustrious billionaire recluse James Halliday, has essentially become a complete alternate reality of the real world. Meanwhile, things outside the Oasis are generally not good, with many countries struggling with basic fuel and food production needs. What does exist is the Oasis. A world of possibilities that gives the user the freedom to become whatever they desire. And ultimately, it offers an unhealthy escape from the horrors of the real world.
I really enjoyed this parallel. I say this as I recently started Destiny 2, which is another example of living vicariously though your avatar. Then again, video games have always been that way: an escape from reality and the ability to live out some otherworldly fantasy. No, I am not really a Titan, but just imagine being so immersed in a game that the world around you ceases to exist and only the game world and those within it become your life. Pretty scary if I’m being honest.
Back to our story: everything gets thrown into fifth gear for our hero when James Halliday dies. Upon his death, a cryptic video of Halliday is released where he explains that his greatest creation, the Oasis, contains a hidden prize that will unlock Halliday’s massive wealth and sole ownership of his company will be granted to the first avatar to complete this quest. Grunters, as they become known, begin to scower the various planets and worlds of the Oasis in search of clues that are mostly call backs to moments in Halliday’s life growing up in the 80’s. Halliday also states that in order to receive the prize, players must collect three separate keys to open three gates along the journey. The gates contains special challenges, each wrought with extraordinary difficulty.
It should be noted, that if you are not a child of the 80’s, or if you have no nostalgia for entertainment from that time that you will probably miss many of the moments of joy associated with those items in this story. Rather, if you have no love for games and media from this time, you’ll want to skip this book. There are various nostalgic moments here: from playing Pac-Man, watching old episodes of Family Ties, or when Wade picks up Joust on his Atari 2600. Funny thing is I never had any Atari consoles in my house so I’m one to talk. Or you could put it how Trey Parker of South Park recently stated: “Now that Spielberg is doing Ready Player One — which is like the most Member Berry thing ever invented — we can’t out-Member Berry that”. So again, if you have no joy in your heart for these things, I feel like this book may not work for you.
Years pass in the Oasis and eventually it is believed that James Halliday’s secret died with the man himself. Grunters still exist in forums and chat rooms, discussing crazy theories and rumors about where to find the first key.
Meanwhile, Wade is simply trying to finish high school without failing out and attempting to be the first to solve Halliday’s puzzle. Wade has a tremendous advantage over other grunters, as Halliday’s life has almost become his own. Wade has given his life for this quest. He spends hours mastering classic video games and watching and learning dialogue from movies like Sixteen Candles and War Games. He spends even more time watching and then re-watching favorite shows of Halliday’s as well as reading Hallidays biography for clues. In short, Wade gave up his real life because there was nothing left for him in the real world. By winning Halliday’s prize, he has the opportunity to become whatever he desires.
Of course this is just the type of rosy future that a high schooler would picture for himself. Just solve a tremendously difficult series of puzzles, win the wealth of the most profitable company in the world, and of course all your problems are solved, right? RIGHT?!
Well it turns out for Wade that this isn’t the case. Wade eventually becomes the first to find the Jade Key and unlock the first gate in Halliday’s quest. However, unbeknownst to Wade, he has already become a target. IOI or Innovative Online Industries, seek to gain control of Halliday’s wealth and are kind of like your current day Electronic Arts. They want to nickel and dime you and charge for everything. Once they obtain sole ownership of the Oasis, it’s just a matter of turning on the loot boxes. It’s also important to note that the Oasis has become such an integrated piece of technology that schools and universities decided to set up shop instead of using traditional buildings. In short, even the idea of a free education would change if IOI takes over, and Wade isn’t about to let that happen.
It’s also important to note that Wade is rarely if ever referred to by his real name. Just as in the current online video game universe, players in the Oasis go by a screen name. In the case of Wade, he is commonly known as Parzival. Parzival will shortly begin to team up with his close online buddy Aech. There are interesting backstories for the creation of each of these character’s online screen names, but I’ll leave that for the reader. Once Parzival unlocks and completes the first of Hallidays challenges, it becomes clear through an attempt on his life that he and his friends are the only hope for a peaceful new world. I find it funny that the hopes and dreams for a better world rest on the shoulders of teenagers, but hey, this book reeks of 80’s nostalgia. It’s like this books story was a lost movie from that time, that it should have been made, but without modern film making it wouldn’t cut it. Again, I reserve judgement until I see Spielberg’s next movie, but I have high hopes it will meet the mark.
Another larger part of the book deals with identity, more so than you would think when analyzing how an online identity affects Wade. See, once you enter the Oasis, regardless of how you look in the real world, the player can choose to look exactly to their specific desires. This means that simply meeting someone online is wrought with the pitfalls that we can see even in today’s world. I’m fairly certain that the book even calls up this issue, just in the way that Catfishing can happen now. This begins to cause issues with Parzival, when he encounters an online personality, a fellow grunter herself, Art3mis. Art3mis, like everyone else, wants to solve Halliday’s quest first. After Parzival becomes the first to solve the first gate, Art3mis becomes a close confidant. Parzival constantly questions getting close to someone that could be anyone through the Oasis. It’s a interesting thought, we struggle with this same issue in today’s world, but ultimately for our hero, it eventually works to his favor as Art3mis and Parzival eventually start a relationship.
Even still, Parzival struggles with identity as a result of his time in the Oasis. It becomes clear very soon that he no longer has any relationship with the real world. He has becomes a fugitive, those around him who have any expressed relationship with him soon become targets of IOI. As a result Wade has walled himself in from the outside world. He uses his online fame to become famous himself within the Oasis community. This allows him to purchase upgraded defenses from IOI, high end gear for accessing the Oasis, even his food is delivered to him with no human interaction. Wade becomes a fugitive to the world and lives only for the completion of Halliday’s quest.
Ready Player One is a suped-up Hero’s Journey story. If you have read about the Hero’s Journey and know how the basic parts and pieces work with stories like that, you’ll be happily satisfied with the ending of this story. There are ups and downs with this story, and I’m left with a good feeling replaying the story in my mind. I always think a great book is one where the stories create this vivid image in your mind, the stories themselves become stories you can play back in your mind after having completed it. Ultimately I can look back on those memories with this story and say this book felt just like a summer blockbuster movie. It plays back like a non-stop action film, remixed with all of the favorite moments from 80’s pop culture. Ready Player One simply put was just fun to read.
Here’s hoping the movie will be just as good!