“Ready, Player One” is what the OASIS System blinks at you the first time you put on the haptic headset and log in. It’s a call-back to arcade games of the 80s in the most advanced virtual reality system ever designed. The OASIS is what allows Wade Watts to embark on the biggest easter egg hunt in the world, designed by James Halliday, the eccentric inventor of the OASIS, with a grand prize worth billions. At the beginning of the book, no one has solved the first riddle of the hunt since Halliday announced it – five years ago.
That is where Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One begins: it’s the year 2045 and the future has become so bleak that everyone would much rather spend their life playing a video game. Not just any game, though, The videogame. The Oasis. It serves as a secondary world within the book that serves as background for much of the plot. It is a massive, and massively multiplayer, virtual universe. Everything is possible, and anything can be bought for just a few credits. This allows Ernest Cline to flex his imagination in designing the backgrounds for his story, and the results are impressive. From massive steampunk structures to a planet covered entirely with schoolgrounds. From a nightclub without gravity to a planet filled with detailed recreations of James Halliday’s hometown. The Star Wars and Star Trek Universes right next to each other. The world outside the OASIS is never fleshed out too much. The reason behind this version of Dystopia is left intentionally vague, because it’s not really important to the plot. What’s important is what you do now, and just about everything in this world gets done inside the OASIS. Players can do just about anything they want, if they have the money. They can build anything they want, if they have the money. They can do anything they want, if they have the money. That’s where our main character, Wade Watts, comes in.
Wade Watts is somewhat of a typical mold for your teenage boy hero these days. He’s shy and nerdy outside of the OASIS, doesn’t have very many friends, or parents, and has an alliterative name. However, what I particularly like about Wade is that he doesn’t just get his powers. He’s not the chosen one, or the son of a Big Bad, and he doesn’t get bitten by a radioactive spider. He gets his powers through five years of hard work. Those powers? An encyclopedic knowledge of 80’s tabletop games, video games, and pop culture. Because nothing’s more terrifying to an evil villain than being able to recite War Games scene for scene.
But seriously, Wade has developed this knowledge to help him in The Hunt. The massive easter-egg hunt created by James Halliday, who programmed the OASIS. Halliday was… eccentric, to say the least. To say the most he was 80s-obsessed nutball, whose madness was rivaled only by his genius which lead him to create the greatest video game ever, while alienating friends and loved ones along the way. To have such a character pulling the strings, though, appears a clever move on Cline’s part. It justifies the display of Cline’s own worryingly encyclopedic knowledge of 80’s pop culture, which in turn makes the book a delight to read for any fans of pop-culture, movies, TV, video games, or just self-identified nerds.
The nature of the OASIS and the Hunt (which I won’t go into too much detail with because it would give too much away) is what really makes this book special. Not just on the first reading, but on the second and third, because this book warrants re-reads. There’s so much color and detail packed in on black and white that you’re bound to have missed something on the first read-through the story. The gunters (a portmanteu of “egg hunter”) make a good cast. You have Wade, the shy, socially awkward teenage hero coming of age; Aech, his fast-talking, good natured, but skilled best friend and competitor; and Art3mis, the aloof, accomplished gunter who Wade has a huge, geeky crush on. They’re all pleasant to read about, have enough idiosyncrasies to make their characters identifiable, and are just that bit different from the cliche’s they appear to be based off of. The villain is less remarkable, as its less a person than the evil Innovative Online Industries Corporation (IOI, in the book), because nowadays: corporations = bad. It’s a bit generic, but, for me, it’s all redeemed by the fantastic world and premise that Cline sets it in.
A virtual world, filled with 80s-obsessed people trying to solve a set of riddles to find a billion-dollar prize set by an 80s-obsessed programmer seems like a world ripe for creativity, and Cline does not disappoint. Certain story elements are a bit generic, and what one could call the “message” of the story isn’t particularly unique. But the setting and premise lend itself so well to the action, witty dialogue, and puzzles that really make this book endearing. The movie comes out in 2018, directed by Steven Spielberg (that’s good) and I really hope they portray the OASIS and its inhabitants with all the heart and creativity that it deserves.
Credit for the amazing fanart goes to Florian De Gesincourt