On Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One”

4 Feb
Go watch WarGames, play Pac-Man for nine hours straight, and the read Ernest Cline's Ready Player One.

Watch WarGames, play Pac-Man for nine hours straight, and then read Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One.

I remember going to Tilt, a cramped mall arcade in Boise, Idaho, as a kid. I remember the feel of a greasy joystick in my hands and the smell of unwashed children and anxious sweat in the air, the sharp scent of quarters, the music of a million lasers and virtual car engines and whirring lightsabers filling my head. I also grew up on Star Wars and Indiana Jones, old anime like “Space Battleship Yamato” and “Mobile Suit Gundam.” I grew up playing Duck Hunt and Super Mario Bros. on the NES, and catching 151 (yes, just 151) Pokemon on my GameBoy. Obviously, I loved all of it. But no one loves their childhood more than Jim Halliday, the maker of Ready Player One‘s central setting, the immersive video game OASIS, which has become both the guilty pleasure of and the primary economic platform for the world in the 2040s. When the multi-billionaire video game creator dies, he leaves behind his entire fortune to the winner of a worldwide competition: the player who can complete three hidden challenges–all dealing with trivia of the 1980s–wins it all. Ernest Cline bases Ready Player One primarily inside this game that everyone and their mom plays, and the game itself seems to be no more than a platform for Halliday’s (and Cline’s) nostalgia.

In the same way Halliday wanted OASIS players to idolize the ’80s the way he did, Cline wants his readers to fall in love with (or already be in an unhealthy relationship with) all the John Hughes movies, Atari games, arcade classics, heavy metal, and Japanese giant robot anime. If readers don’t take up the standard of ’80s admiration, they won’t fully appreciate the extreme geek happening in RPO. I’m a child of the ’80s, but Cline’s pop culture obsession left me feeling alienated many times. The rest of the time, Cline manages to atone with entertaining characters and an epic, if completely predictable, plot.

Thank goodness I watched this movie a few weeks before reading RPO, otherwise I would've been clueless through a third of the book.

Thank goodness I watched this movie a few weeks before reading RPO, otherwise I would’ve been clueless through a third of the book.

Our hero Wade Watts, better known as his avatar Parzival, takes up the challenge for the ultimate gamer Easter egg against all odds by immersing himself in OASIS and in Halliday’s many loves of the ’80s. Wade watches all the iconic movies, listens to the iconic bands, plays the iconic, pioneer video games, all in an effort to crack the biggest competition the world has ever known. The thing is–while Cline creates a darkly poignant and realistic future, and a fascinating premise based on an open world virtual reality–you can read those first two lines of this paragraph and you already know how this book ends. Ready Player One doesn’t bring anything new to the table. In fact, everything and everyone in the book is mired in the past, in the old, in the familiar. The novel is entertainment, pure and simple, and entertainment that follows a very traditional, predictable formula.

Cline's real life dystopia seems pretty cool, but takes the back seat right away. (Pic from ReadyPlayerOne.com)

Cline’s real life dystopia seems pretty cool, but takes the back seat right away. (Pic from ReadyPlayerOne.com)

While it was a fantastic read, and I’ll probably talk the ears off of any who will listen telling them to pick this up, it’s not a book I’m that interested in rereading. At least, until they announce the movie release date. Then I’ll obviously need to read it again so I can be accurately disappointed in the adaptation. (Who will play Parzival? Who will play Sorrento?? Who will play Art3mis???)


6 Responses to “On Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One””

  1. Cathy746books February 5, 2014 at 12:06 pm #

    I loved this in a throwback to my arcade days in the 80’s kind of way. Not a rereader for sure but a lot of fun at the time!

    • litbeetle February 5, 2014 at 12:20 pm #

      I agree! Fills you with a warm fuzzy feeling before you move on to something more meaty.

  2. Michael Shriver (@shriver) February 5, 2014 at 12:31 pm #

    Self-Indulgent Nerd-Baiting at it’s most base. Honestly, I couldn’t finish it so I switched over to one of my standby ‘guilty pleasures,’ The Diamond Age.

    • litbeetle February 5, 2014 at 1:06 pm #

      Haha, while I don’t share your level of disdain, Shriver, I understand it.

      • Michael Shriver (@shriver) February 6, 2014 at 12:29 pm #

        I am a hater, for sure.

      • litbeetle February 6, 2014 at 1:01 pm #

        Go read Kobo Abe’s “The Woman in the Dunes.” I just finished it, and it made me feel better. I mean, it made me feel worse but better, if you know what I mean.

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