Ready Player One

I recently read Ready Player One over the Christmas break. As it had been descibed to me, it was a book about what happens when everyone plays WoW, loves video games, and pretty much worships the 80s. As an avid WoW player, a rabid reader, and a child of said decade, I figured, why not, it seems to be right up my alley. Ready Player One: Target audience: me.

So how did I like it? Should you read it?

1. Do you like old video games and like impressing people with your encyclopedic knowledge of them?

2. Do you like movies made between 1980 and 1996 and like impressing people with your encyclopedic knowledge of them?

3. If there was a multi-billion dollar scavenger hunt through a virtual world, where all the clues were directly related to question 1 and 2, would you take part?

If you answered yes, to any of these questions, you will likely like RP1. RP1 is an orgy of pop culture, video games, and geek culture on the level of ComicCon. If ComicCon were a virtual world like Second Life where pretty much everyone spends all of their time. The book is one long scavenger hunt, about a socially awkward and nearly outcast boy, who becomes a hero, without ever really changing who he is. Never is the nerd forced to stop being a nerd. In fact, his nerdiness receives him praise and admiration from all who encounter him.

Wait, scratch that. RP1 is every nerd/geek/dork’s wet dream. A virtual school where you can mute bullies? Yes, please. The ability to make yourself appear normal, as opposed to fat, short, red haired, bespectacled, or so thin and pale you look like a drinking straw? Why in God’s name would I ever ever meet people in real life again! RP1 is absolute porn on a stick, dipped in chocolate and deep fried for those of us who loved all the things the characters in the book revere. The ability to be famous because you can beat a video game? The chance of winning unlimited wealth because you can recite a movie from heart? Becoming the hero, not because you slayed the dragon, but rather because you did something relatively inconsequential that later turned out to be the magical macguffin you needed to save the world? Okay, well maybe we are getting into spoiler territory with that one, but seriously, anyone who has ever played a graphic adventure knows the truth of “If you can pick it, it’s gonna be important later.”

RP1 is set in a future where virtual technology has advanced to the point that people can easily enter a virtual world, called OASIS, where they can do… anything. Kids are given access so they can go to virtual schools. People show up to virtual work. Chat rooms are more like hang out spots. It’s like WoW mated with Second Life and had the perfect love child. Of course, the author points out a few of the social ramifications of such a creation. No one interacts in real life anymore. Poverty is widespread, escapism the reality. The government is second to the virtual government. The sad thing is though, the author notices these huge, monolithic social issues, and then completely ignores them in favor of more anime references. Yet another video game name drop. The fact that the big bad in the book, IOI, is an internet service provider and wields more power than anything else even mentioned is terrifying, and yet even at the end, when the credits roll, they are still in charge of the access. They are still alive as Glados would say, because she would totally be a part of them.

The book is great. Fairly well written, with a few odd pacing moments. It has some truly unbelievable conceits that one just accepts to move on with the story, but in reality, it’s a nice fun romp through a virtual world every nerd wishes they could live in. But then the crippling truth of the book is… it only appeals to us. Those of us who want to live in OASIS, not the real world. The main character isn’t really a hero, despite saving the virtual world. He is given the tool to save the real world. The one with crippling resource shortages, wide spread starvation, and more social problems that could ever be solved, even if all it’s members weren’t spending most of their time plugged into computers.

This book could have been a fantastic philosophical discussion. It could have been the cautionary tale of allowing ourselves the ultimate fantasy. How everything a human thinks they want is really what is absolutely worst for them. The fact that the “hero” is given the tool to save the world, the real one, not the virtual one, and he glances at it, then WALKS AWAY, just proves this book was written by a nerd for nerds. He would rather make more references and more jokes than face and deal with the very real and very terrifying truths his tale reveals in the dangers of virtual fantasy fulfillment. The dangers of living in video games, movies, music, and tv shows. He would rather end on the hero sitting next to the girl, happy to not want to go back into the virtual world, not realizing that only having one person change isn’t going to change the horrid truth that their world is still dying. It’s still on the brink of chaos and destruction. The author ignores the philosophical, moral, and religious ideas that his book touches on in favor of another video game joke. True discussion and thought could have come from this work, with a bit more gravitas.

It’s a great adventure book for nerds/geeks/dorks, who worship Steve Jobs, Richard Garriott, and Shigeru Miyamoto, instead of the nerds who want to step up and make these men look like idiots. The nerds who want to figure out how to make cold fusion a reality. The nerds who want to find the Higgs Boson. The nerds who aren’t content playing other people’s games, watching other people’s movies, and listening to other people’s music, but instead strive and seek to create their own. The people who would be fixing RP1’s world, instead of practicing Pac Man and watching Pretty in Pink.

I guess I shouldn’t admit that despite it’s faults, I really liked this book. Oh well. I am going to go re-watch Lord of the Rings now.

I am a Browncoat.

Copied from my journal from September 20th 2002.

Firefly, my new replacement for Buffy, is not Whedon’s best work. To be honest it was confusing, jumbled, and how the hell did the chick get out of the box? I feel like I missed something. Is this even the first episode? I am sure I didn’t miss one… but, it feels wrong somehow. The only redeemable part is when this dude gets kicked into the atmospheric engine. (Though oddly this doesn’t seem to hurt the engine at all.) Other than that the show is a confusing wash of characters and actors I don’t know why I should care about. I kind of like Kaylee. And River (the girl in the box) is delightfully weird. Ah well. I suppose I will keep watching it if Ben does. Also I hate the theme song.

I cannot even begin to describe the hilarity of my review of Train Job, the first episode aired on TV for Firefly. To be fair, it was in fact a replacement episode written in a weekend to replace Serenity, the true first episode. After weeks of commercials showing the girl in the box I was curious about her and here came the first episode and she isn’t in the box. I was less than impressed. If not for a dearth of other programming to watch during my college time I am sure I would not have continued. But there wasn’t anything better to do on a Friday night in a dry county so I kept watching. As each episode progressed I came to care for the characters and truly enjoy the show. Right about the time I felt it was good enough to encourage my family and friends to watch it, it was canceled.

I have trouble letting go. I started participating in letter writing campaigns and massive Internet petitions. Once the show came out on DVD, I purchased it on day one, then proceeded to purchase a half dozen other copies for friends and my mother. No one I convinced to watch Firefly thought it was a bad show and many of them became fans just like I was. About this time Universal was rumored to be thinking of making a movie. It was gas to the fire of my fandom. I emailed Universal insisting that if they made a Firefly movie, not only would I see it in theatres at least 3 times, but I would also buy the DVD the day it came out in stores. I am pleased to say I kept both promises.

I was quite lucky. Universal did 3 rounds of pre-screenings of Serenity. The third round included a showing in my hometown. I missed the ticket sales, but a Firefly fan in AL had purchased tickets he could no longer use and I got them. My mother, brother and I showed up for the 10pm showing at 6pm, and started the line for the movie. Needless to say, we were *quite* excited. We had even made t-shirts, with the Serenity logo on the front and River quotes on the back. It was June 23, and Joss Whedon’s birthday, so we all signed one of those huge cards to send to him.

That fall when the movie came out I went to a midnight screening. And then again the next day. And then again the next weekend. I bought the shirt Hot Topic sold. I bought everything with Firefly on it.

Once it came out on DVD I not only bought it, but I also purchased the UMD copy, and the HDDVD versions, despite not having either player. I bought the toys, I bought the shirts, I bought the posters. I tried to vote with my wallet as loudly as I could. I loved Firefly and desperately wanted it back.

To this day I buy shiny new Firefly things that come out. I buy the shirts, books, comics, figures, ornaments… I buy each new version of the DVDs. Even the bluray ones, without having a bluray player.

While in grad school I built a level in Quake 4 that was a modified Serenity. The sheer number of phone interviews I have gotten off of that one piece of work is amazing. The number of times Serenity and Firefly come up in interviews and at work is unbelievable.

I love Firefly, and believe it may in fact be Joss’ greatest work.

Movies and DVDs

Now that we are deep in the midst of Summer Movie Season I am once again reminded of a singular annoying trait of of Movies. They are awesome and I like to watch them multiple times.

Seems kind of backwards? Well it should. I am one of those types that eagerly anticipates movies and often goes and sees a movie on opening weekend, if not opening night. The ritual of picking the proper t-shirt, going out to eat, but saving room for popcorn, then getting the tickets, managing to get the center of the center seats, finally to snuggle down into the seat, gleefully watching the trailers and munching my popcorn.

I am one of those who gets really annoyed at people who don’t silence their cell phones, text during movies, or chatter. (For the record there is a difference between chatter and quick quiet comments to the person sitting next to you. If anyone further than 1 person can hear you, you are too loud.)

But I still love going to the movies. I will go see a great movie a few times. I am also one of those people who would pay 20 dollars for a ticket if it meant it was in a theater with no one under 21 admitted that served alcohol and food. (There was such a theater in Memphis and in Dallas, I wish now I had taken greater advantage of them.)

So why does a movie being awesome mean it has an annoying quality? During the Summer Movie season, when the time a movie is in theaters is cut purely due to the large number of large movies being released, even good movies are out for maybe 4 weeks. If they are popular. Unless you live near a Second Run theater, you are out of luck for seeing a movie after it has been out for a month. Then comes the long long wait until it comes out on DVD and you can watch it again. I have been dying to see Watchmen again for months… I am already beginning to feel the desire to see Star Trek again. I try to console myself with Iron Man, Batman and other big movies from last Summer, but it isn’t quite the same. I can even remember walking out of several movies and saying… When does this come out on DVD again?

I know that all of the industry seems to fight the idea of shortening the time from theater to DVD, but with a few changes this could quite wonderful for all us movie goers. Adapt current theaters to be “starred” quality, much like hotels, and then have the DVDs follow at most two months after a movie begins its run. At this point surely they see the value of DVD sales when considering how well a movie does. Surely theaters would like to have a better delineation of their market and be able to fill their customers needs better. Also, why is it do you suppose that theaters have never gotten in into the habit of selling DVDs? Not of the movies they are showing, but of new releases. Think of it, a small counter with a few shelves of the last months new releases, for your Home Theater!

Let the movie revolution begin!