I loved Ready Player One! It gave me a massive nerdgasm, which is always nice thing to have.
Here’s the plot. Wade Watts is an 18 year who lives in a trailer stack in the year 2044. Essentially it’s a trailer park that has gone vertical due to poverty and planet-wide lack of resources. The world has turned to shite. Fortunately virtual reality is awesome and pretty much everyone spends all their time on an online game called OASIS. OASIS is almost as convincing as real life except that is much more fun and doesn’t smell. It’s basically a massively multiplayer online experience. Think Warcraft mixed with Second Life in virtual reality. There are practical applications for this – such as people can go to school there – but it is mostly a huge game.
The game consists of tons of planets each with a different theme that players can fly between (if they can afford it). So there are planets like Dungeons & Dragons, futuristic planets, cyberpunk worlds, social planets, shopping planets, futuristic warzones and so forth. The fact that there is so much variety, that the virtual world is as realistic as the real world, and that the world is gripped by poverty, means the game is played by billions. I know I would play it and my life is pretty awesome. The guy who invented the game is a multi-billionaire genius called James Halliday.
When Halliday dies a video is released. His entire fortune is up for grabs if people can find it. Somewhere in OASIS is a series of clues (known as easter eggs which are found in most games and lots of DVDs). These clues lead to tests and then keys that eventually lead to his treasure and fortune. An epic worldwide hunt is on.
The joy of Ready Player One is that it is such a great idea. Anything can happen. One minute the character is on an orbiting space station, the next he is fighting orcs in a dungeon, the next he is fighting in a huge battle on an alien planet. The whole concept is one that makes me genuinely sad that it isn’t a reality yet.
As I said, I loved Ready Player Onebut I am not 100% sure that everyone will. Most of the clues and a lot of the discussions relating to the hunt are based on Halliday’s obsession with nerdy things from when he grew up. His birthday in the book is given as being mid-June 1972. My birthday is the end of May 1972. I am a bit of scifi/games fan (you may have guessed by my superb website). All the things that Halliday was obsessed with are identical to myself.
This is why I loved it. For example he lists some of his favourite OASIS worlds -Arrakis Middle Earth, Vulcan, Pern, Magrathea, Midworld, Riverworld, Ringworld. If you are unfamiliar with any of these worlds, some of the references may pass you buy. To be honest, for me, they are just entry level Geek. Nerd 101. Later on he references authors: Douglas Adams, Kurt Vonnegut, Neal Stephenson, Terry Brooks, Alfred Bester, Ray Bradbury, etc. Holy trinities: Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, Mad Max, Back to the Future, Indiana Jones, Star Wars. He even loves old Twilight Zone and anything by Monty Python. Basically, if I was going to write a book filled with all my nerdiest obsessions from childhood (and beyond), they are listed here.
Then of course are the games. Not only was he a huge fan of old school D&D (on paper and spoken – the classic RPG) he also loved computer games. All the ones I did. I grew up in Hong Kong and spent a huge chunk of my childhood years in games arcades playing Gauntlet, Pac Man, Rampage, Star Wars, Galaxian, Defender and so on. Another huge chunk was spend on various games consoles and pc games that required a small pile of floppy discs just to play.
The main console in my life from about 7-13, was my beloved Atari 2600. In Ready Player One the whole idea for Halliday’s ‘egg hunt’ is from a game on this very console. A game called ‘Adventure’. I played that game so often that my mum still remembers it just from walking past me. It was basically a very crude fantasy game that had dragons and keys and mazes. One of the greatest days of my young life came when I found a secret room after literally months of play. Atari never allowed game makers to put their name on their work but one programmer hid a room deep in a maze in ‘Adventure’ that was unbelievably hard to find and had the game designer’s name in it. It was a minor sensation in the geek community and only a few of us ever found it. (Probably loads now but this was pre-internet.)
The hidden room in ‘Adventure’ was what gave Halliday the idea to hide his fortune in OASIS in the first place.
If you found any of the above boring or didn’t get any of the references to authors, games, planets, etc., you will miss a lot of references in Ready Player One.
The big question (if you have made it this far,) is: can I still enjoy it if I’m not someone as clearly obsessed with this shit as Scifiward or Ernest Cline or the fictional characters in the book? Will you still like it if you aren’t almost 40, having spent a life obsessed with Science Fiction, (plus games, comics, manga, RPGs, etc, etc)? The answer is yes. The book is a fun adventure in its own right. It isn’t all about games. There are also real life action, narrow escapes, romance and bad guys that blow shit up. Pretty much all you need really.