Title: Ready Player One
Author: Ernest Cline
First Published: Aug. 6th, 2011
“Three hidden keys open three secret gates, wherein the errant will be tested for worthy traits
And those with the skill to survive these straits, will reach The End where the prize awaits”
I went into this book with very high expectations since the hype surrounding it is huge and everybody seems to love it. I was not disappointed!
The story takes place in the year 2044. Humanity had to pay a huge prize for globalisation, the supply of fossil fuels is nearly exhausted and the world is stricken with hunger, poverty and disease. There are a dozen wars raging and the excessive use of energy had the unpleasant side effect of global warming – the polar caps have melted, the sea level has risen and the weather is going crazy. However there is one thing that offers an escape for the people who’s lives have gotten too dreary and painful for them to handle and that is the OASIS.
The OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation) is an open world simulation created by James Halliday. It consists of many different planets and areas and you can turn yourself into anything and anyone you want to be. Want to be an Elf – no problem. Want to be a Wizard – go ahead. And best of all, this virtual playground is basically free of charge.
After Halliday died and his will was made public, he radically changed the face of culture in his world. He was obsessed with the 1980s and he came up with the idea of placing an “Easter egg” in his virtual world and whoever would find that egg would inherit Halliday’s entire estate and the control and ownership of the OASIS. In order to find this egg there were three very difficult riddles that had to be solved and after correctly doing so the player would receive a key (Copper, Jade and Diamond) and with this key they could enter a gate which is like a level in a computer game that has to be cleared in order to get the next clue. Only in obtaining all three of the keys and clearing all the gates it would be possible to find the egg. After he announced the first riddle via video broadcast an immediate fascination with the 80s exploded all over the world and nearly every player in the OASIS declared himself or herself a Gunter, which are players who devote all their time to try and find the egg.
Our story’s protagonist Wade is one of those Gunters. He lives in the Stacks, which is the poorest part of his hometown Oklahoma and goes to school on a planet in the OASIS. He devotes all his time to learn everything about the 1980s, since this was Halliday’s favourite time period, and finding the egg. Wade’s avatar is called Parzival and his best friend is Aech (pronounced like the letter “H”) and they spend a lot of time hanging out in their virtual chat room called the Basement. Through some luck and his extensive knowledge of the 1980s Wade becomes the first person after five years of searching to find the copper key and clear the corresponding gate. This led to him immediately being targeted by the head of a group called the “Sixers”. The Sixers work for a company called I.O.I. (Innovative Online Industries) and they are being paid to do nothing else other than hunting for the egg. The company wants to recruit Wade so he can tell them exactly how to obtain the first key and clear the first gate. He refuses and in doing so learns very quickly that the Sixers will destroy everything and everyone that stands in their way of winning the big prize. They have vast resources at their disposal and are a very dangerous organisation.
Other main players in the game are a female player called Art3mis, who lives in Canada, and two brothers from Japan called Shoto and Daito. Together with Wade and Aech they make up the High Five (the five highest ranking players on the score board). The characters were all quite interesting and the fact that you can’t be sure if they really are who they say they are or look the way their Avatars look surrounds them with an air of mystery and sometimes suspicion. The Japanese players generally have a very tense relationship with the rest of the group, but are quite friendly towards Wade. Art3mis is a famous blogger and Gunter and from the beginning Wade had a huge cyber-crush on her. What I liked very much were the questions raised right from the start of the story concerning friendships and romances. Can you really fall in love with someone you never even met in person? Can friendships that were made online hold up in real life too?
There was one major problem I had with this book though. It took me quite a while to get into it. The first 70 to 100 pages are chucked full with references to 80s music and video games and movies and I sometimes couldn’t put most of them to use, probably because they were mainly aimed at American pop culture and since I’m Austrian I couldn’t really connect with them. Especially all the references and explanations of different computer games made my interest dwindle and I had to restrain myself from not just skipping over entire pages or putting the book aside altogether.
The world Ernest Cline built however is absolutely fascinating, mostly because the energy crisis and global warming and the wars that are raging are not really far-fetched occurrences and there is a lot of social criticism directed at us. The flight into virtual worlds, the censorship of the Internet, the attempt at reducing the right to freedom of expression and the massive commercialism is perfectly represented through the I.O.I., as is the growing power of corporations. I.O.I. clients who are indebted to the company can be recruited as forced labourers until their debt is paid off, which could turn into lifelong slave labour due to the very low wages they are being paid.
Another thing I really like about this book were the opportunities offered to the characters concerning education. The OASIS has an interactive educational program in which people can attend classes through their Avatars. This gives people who for any reason can’t attend school due to health problems or disabilities the opportunity to get an education. It also solves the massive problem of bullying and name-calling.
I really enjoyed this book a lot. It was a completely different read for me and although the story takes mostly place in the OASIS, everything is explained well and it’s very realistic so even if you are not very knowledgeable when it comes to topics such as online gaming, you will greatly enjoy this book. I know I did!
— Alina xx