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.