Published in 2011 and Ernest Cline’s first novel, Ready Player One focuses on Wade Watts’s—or Parzival as he’s called online—quest to track down James Halliday’s easter egg within the virtual reality MMO system called OASIS. The novel is set in 2044, and while the OSASIS is a thriving wonderland, the real world has gone to pot thanks to war and famine brought on by crude oil depletion and over population. Watts/Parzival teams up with other characters throughout the novel to stop Nolan Sorrento and his army of Sixers, who are backed by Innovative Online Industries (IOI) and plan to take over the free-to-use OASIS and monetize it. Wade and his friends must solve the puzzles left behind by the OASIS’s creator in order to save the alternate reality they love so dearly.
That’s the short summary for Ready Player One. The book uses old Atari 2600 games, tokusatsu series from the 1970s and 1980s, 1980s American films, and loads of other geeky pop culture to create the idyllic and fantastical OASIS. The made-up reality of the OASIS is an escape for the citizens of the real world, and anyone can access it because it is entirely free to access. As I mentioned earlier, the real world sucks. And as Wade/Parzival continues on his quest for Halliday’s Egg, he learns about facing the real world and all of its sorrows and pitfalls.
Ready Player One’s main theme involves using fantasy to escape from emotional pain, but in process of escaping this pain, there is the loss of opportunity to experience emotional joy. Another theme involves friendship, specifically online friendship. There is a sentiment among some people that friendships made and experienced entirely online are not valid relationships. Ready Player One throws that sentiment out the window because Wade and the other characters only know and interact with each other through the OSASIS until the last section of the novel.
The novel also touches on consumerism, and rampant and unethical corporatism. IOI indentures people who have debt, which is a probable nod to the United States of America debt problem among her citizens because there are people who like to spend more than they earn or who have crippling student, medical, or other loans they need to pay off but are unable to. In an instance of the novel, an unnamed character bought a weapon from an OSASIS market his avatar cannot use, which is a nod to blind consumerism. These themes are not as prevalent as the motifs Cline uses to push them, but they work pretty well within the context of the novel.
One last theme the novel hones in on thoroughly involves nostalgia. The novel is chock full of nostalgia, and I got the vibe Clines likes and enjoys nostalgia, but he does not deify it. There’s a lot of focus on the past in the novel, specifically from the 1980s. As lots of people will agree, the 1980s was a pretty fun time in the realm of gaming (except the Video Game Crash of 1983: thanks for saving gaming Nintendo!), film, and television to a lesser extent. Cline focuses specifically on the Atari 2600 gaming console, the Commodore 64 personal computer, and movies to drive this theme (and the plot in certain instances). There’s very little discussion about the future of humanity in the course of this novel except between the characters Wade/Parzival and his love interest, Art3mis. I want to say this dwelling on nostalgia and longing for the good ol’ days is perhaps Cline’s biggest criticism about modern society he brings up in the novel, and he levels it right at the reader in big and bold messages, but it is all part of the fun.
I recommend the book to anyone who considers themselves a geek. If you pick it up, make a game about how many of the geeky references you recognize. If you’re not a geek, still pick it up because Cline does a fairly good job of explaining several of the really important references within the novel. Overall, Ready Player One is a good novel. It’s a fun read, the action is paced well, and following Wade’s quest is delightful with all of its emotional ups and downs.