‘Ready Player One’ takes readers on a virtual quest through nostalgia

An excerpt of "Ready Player One" by Ernest Cline shows how the book relies on popular culture from the 1980s.
“Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline

Thanks to a film adaptation by Steven Spielberg currently slated to hit the big screen in March 2018, the 2011 science fiction novel “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline is receiving new attention. Thanks to a surprise Christmas present, I’ve had the opportunity to read it, and I enjoyed it.

Pundits on social media deride the the book, claiming it has horrible writing and consists only of nostalgic references to the 1980s. Sure, the references to video games and movies of days gone by tend to give a little redundant, but they do play a key role in the overall storyline. As for the claims the writing is bad, individuals claiming this seem to be missing the point. It is written simply, and the writing could have been more mature. However, the target audience of this novel was a younger clientele. That is why is won one of the 2012 Young Adult Library Services Association Alex Awards, which “are given to ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18.”

So putting aside the criticisms of these online literary scholars, let’s consider the book for what it is — an entertaining read that weaves nostalgia with an interesting premise.

The story follows teenager Wade Watts, who lives in a poverty-stricken area of Oklahoma City in a housing complex called a “stack,” which consists of trailer homes stacked on top of each other. His parents are dead, and he lives with his aunt, who provides little in the way of love and support. Instead, she merely has a roof she allows Wade to live under.

It’s a pretty depressing world to live in with the world’s ills being caused by a world-wide energy crisis caused by the depletion of fossil fuels and the ramifications of global warming, but Wade escapes by spending as much time as possible in the OASIS, which is a virtual reality simulator accessible by players using specialized visors and haptic technology such as gloves and chairs. In the simulation, Wade exists as an avatar, as does every other user. Each user can make his or her avatar into whatever he or she desires. Wade’s avatar is named Parzival.

The key to the entire story is OASIS and its creator, James Halliday, who, when he died, announced in his will to the public that he had left an Easter egg inside the simulation. The first person to find it would inherit his entire fortune and the corporation. Wade hunts for the egg, as do many others. These hunters are known as gunters, a combination of egg and hunter.

Wade ends up being the first person to solve the first of three puzzles that grant the finder access to the keys and clues to finding the egg. A few others solve this first puzzle shortly after Wade, and they all become friends, one of which becomes Wade’s love interest.

The rest of the story follows Wade and the other gunters as they try to find the egg while avoiding the murderous Sixers, who are mercenary gunters funded by the evil Innovative Online Industries (IOI) corporation that aims to turn the OASIS into a cash cow by monetizing everything.

In order to find the egg, the gunters must navigate Halliday’s obsession with the 1980s, hence the heavy use of pop culture references from that time. Though it could be easy to get hung up on all the references to Dungeons and Dragons, Pac-Man, the DeLorean, Ghostbusters, Blade Runner, Rush, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail, those are just vehicles to push the main story. Readers would be wise to not focus too much attention on their use except for how they help the characters complete the quest of finding Halliday’s egg.

So yes, perhaps this book was some sort of love letter to the 1980s. Even so, it was widely entertaining once the plot got up and running. It took me a few chapters to get really pulled in, but once I was jacked into the OASIS with Wade, I didn’t want to put the book down. It was an easy read, and it provided a welcome respite from more “high brow” offerings.

It’s a geek’s dream novel, and it is fun! That’s why it received such high acclaim when it first debuted. And that film adaptation coming later this year? Yeah, the deal was signed the same day the book deal was finalized. The buzz surrounding this work is warranted. As The Huffington Post’s Rebecca Serle said, “‘Ready Player One’ has it all — nostalgia, trivia, adventure, romance, heart and, dare I say it, some very fascinating social commentary.”

That’s the perfect summary of the book. I won’t go as far as saying it is going to end up as one of my all-time favorites, but I definitely enjoyed this book. I would highly recommend it to others, and I think it is a great option for youngsters, especially those that are reluctant to read. The story is exciting, and though a youth of today wouldn’t understand all of the nostalgia packed into these pages, it would create a fertile ground for conversation and inquiry around those movies and games of the past.

Prior to reading this book, I didn’t have much interest in the movie coming out. Now, I look forward to seeing it.

Go read the book. You’ll be glad you did.

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About toddvogts 808 Articles
Todd R. Vogts, MJE, is an assistant professor of media at Sterling College in Kansas. Previously, he taught yearbook, newspaper, newsmagazine, and online journalism in various Kansas high schools, and he ran a weekly newspaper in rural Kansas. He continues to freelance as a professional journalist from time to time. Also, Vogts is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Journalism Education Association, among others. When he’s not teaching or writing, he runs his mobile disk jockey service and takes part in other entrepreneurial ventures. He can be reached at twitter.com/toddvogts or via his website at www.toddvogts.com.