Friday Reads: Ready Player One

I finished Ready Player One by Ernest Cline at 9:30 this morning – after roughly 10 hours worth of reading since I picked it up yesterday.

Achievement unlocked? 

At first, I wasn’t sure what to think of Ready Player One. I wouldn’t say it’s a genre I typically enjoy – I’m not a sci-fi fan, despite my love of BSG, Doctor Who, and Stargate Atlantis. But it was recommended to me by my Twitter friend Andrew C (with whom I share a nearly identical taste in books and geeky pursuits), so I settled in to give it a fair shot based on that recommendation alone.

I never should have doubted him.

First, a brief synopsis (no spoilers):

Wade Watts is living (surviving, really) in a bleak future where the world has been ravaged by the abuse we humans have heaped on the planet. Our oil is all but gone. Our environment has suffered irreparable damage. Our economy is suffering through a great recession. Basically, humankind is screwed. 

Wade’s only haven from reality is OASIS – an expansive virtual reality MMO (massively multi-player online video game) to where the bulk of humankind has retreated. There, people work, go to school, spend their money, forge relationships, go on quests – basically, OASIS is where they live and where they game. 

And the game changes when creator James Halliday dies without an heir to his vast fortunes. Ever the gamer, Halliday designs a challenging three-part puzzle within OASIS that draws on his love of videogames and pop culture. Whoever completes the quest gets his treasure. But Wade (as his avatar Parzival) isn’t the only one after Halliday’s prize: he’s competing against top gamers – including his best friend Aech and his crush Art3mis – and the evil IOI corporation, who will stop at nothing to take control of OASIS. 

Can Wade figure out Halliday’s puzzles, defeat the bad guys, and get the girl?

This book is basically nerdvana. Every page is filled with references to videogames; comic books; sci-fi and fantasy books, TV shows, and movies; and pop culture from the 80s. At times, the references can be a little overwhelming, as Cline uses them almost entirely to propel the story forward, but they don’t feel out of place. They celebrate geek culture unabashedly, and as an unabashed geek, I approve.

And it was the geekiness of the concept that drew me in right away. What gamer – or reader or movie lover – hasn’t thought at one time or another, “Man, I wish I could [live in Azeroth / go to Hogwarts / hang out with Hobbits]”? No word of a lie, I’ve said on several occasions that I would gladly live in a virtual reality world if such a thing existed. Well, in Ready Player One, it does exist, and it’s better than I could have ever imagined.

In a way, it’s sad that – like protagonist Wade and his friends – I would rather immerse myself in a fantasy world than face the real one, but I understand the motivation. The real world has real stakes, and you get one chance at it. If you die, you don’t respawn. If you fail in your quest (to get a job, to find a mate, whatever), you often don’t get a second try to do things better. It’s hard to be a hero in your own life.

It’s different in a videogame – and Wade proves that as the book, and he himself, progresses. The relationships he builds with the people he meets in-game are real, more real than any relationship he has in the real world. The things he accomplishes are real, and more significant than anything he could accomplish in the real world. The person he is in-game is real – it just doesn’t translate in the real world.

As a gamer – even just as someone who lives online, who makes friends through Twitter, who is more comfortable behind a computer – I relate. In every character I create, I reflect the person I feel I am inside: a brave defender of the innocents and noble hero dual-wielding a couple of daggers.

Well, the only daggers I have in real life are my unfailing politeness and my cunning wit (oh, and my modesty. That too.) In real life, my insides don’t match my outsides, and gaming lets me remedy that.

And I think that’s why Ready Player One resonated so much with me. Setting aside the character development and world-building (both great), this book let me escape into a world where my gaming skills, my pop-culture knowledge, and my love of all things geeky are not only valued but necessary to succeed.

You don’t need to be a geek to like this book – but it definitely helps.

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