Last week I touched on how a lot of us find our free time sucked up by surfing the web, and I didn’t even touch on the subject of MMORPG’s and the like, which is THE time-suck for many a gamer. This week I’m going to review a book that is related to last week’s post; Ernest Cline’s ‘Ready Player One’.
Maybe you’re already read it or read the reviews from such sources as iO9.com, Entertainment Weekly and The Huffington Post. Wil Wheaton himself recorded the audio book; you can’t get a better review than THAT fact. Winner of the Alex Award and the 2012 Prometheus Award, Ready Player One has been touted as a social commentary on our eventual destruction due to our dependence on dwindling fossil fuels and our apathy as we’re all more concerned about ourselves than the future of our people or our planet. Who cares about the impact of economical wars fought over dwindling fossil fuels when there’s something to distract us through technology?
Wait… aren’t we already there?
Ready Player One is set in the not-so far off future of 2044, where reality is ugly, harsh and unfair. The fossil fuels have been exhausted, and the global economy has tanked as a result. Civil unrest, widespread poverty and catastrophic climate change have pushed nearly every human being to take solace in a virtual utopia known as the OASIS; an MMO that grew to become a massive social network where people go to virtual school, work virtual jobs, and then take their avatar out to socialize and play video games to level up, if you have the online credits for it. Although OASIS was made to be free, typical consumerism has made its home there, and players have to pay for everything from teleporting from one location to another to equipping their avatar with the latest trends or risk being mocked by your online peers (hey, just like real life).
This is where we meet American Wade Watts, a typical kid who lives in the Stacks; literally stacks of trailers piled Jenga style on top of one another as to cram as many people in one tiny space as possible. The ghetto of the future; where murder, muggings, and rape are as commonplace as the poverty and squalor found there. Life revolves around hiding in the Oasis and hoping to land a job so you can pay for the finer things online, and maybe food and rent in the real world. The Government allows for Wade to have access to education, and with his tech skills he manages to make a little cash on the side refitting old computers. He built himself a secret safe house in one of hundreds of abandoned vehicles where he has rigged a power source to his PC, his lifeline to the OASIS.
This kid is smart, but life is stacked against him. That is until he figures out the first part of Halliday’s hunt for the Easter Egg. Halliday is the genius mind responsible for the creation of the OASIS, and when he died, his online will announced that his fortune, and more importantly the rights to the OASIS would go to the person who won the ‘game’ of discovering his Easter Egg hidden somewhere in the OASIS, creating a generation of gunters, or Egg hunters. Everyone wants to find it, including the IOI, a multinational corporation that is the ISP for most of the globe and seeks the Egg in order to control and monetize the OASIS. Once Wade’s avatar name Parzival appears on the Egg’s leaderboard, it’s open season. Everyone wants to know him, offer him endorsement deals, and try to figure out how he did it. He’s approached by IOI employee Sorrento, who offers Wade a job as a Sixer (a gunter on IOI’s payroll and generally looked down on as a sellout online). Wade/Parzival rejects it, as IOI wants to make it so the poorer classes can’t even afford jacking in to the OASIS, and Sorrento’s response is an assassination attempt based on their knowledge of where Wade is registered, killing an entire stack worth of people. Before long Parzival’s name is soon joined by his best friend Aech, his secret online crush Art3mis, and a brother duo called Shoto and Daito, and they become known as the High Five. Unfortunately, IOI gets tipped off and Sixers’ names begin to fill up the leader board.
I had a hard time putting this one down. Any sci-fi fans know of the love affair of virtual reality worlds- look to Tron, or the Holodecks in the many inceptions of Star Trek for examples. What I liked was the spin Ernest Cline put on the OASIS; it’s a futuristic virtual reality, but because the creator Halliday so loved the 80’s of his childhood (and everyone figured the Egg riddles would be solved through the knowledge of his life), gunters eat, breathe, and play nothing but 80’s nostalgia. From old 8-bit classics like Pac Man, to quoting 80’s movies and songs, everyone in the future is obsessed with the past.
The way the OASIS is organised is also very appealing, as different areas are viewed as their own world or planet. Going from one world to another, like Wade/Parzival leaving the world where he attended school to a world where he could search for the Egg, is treated like interplanetary travel, where you can pay to warp from one warp zone to another (or if you’re lucky and have a vehicle, fly there). Different worlds have different rules; some are PVP, some disable magic skills, and so on.
Cline touches upon many good points, such as how human interaction is impacted when everyone is jacked in for their waking hours, and the more touchy subject of our environmental impact in the name of progress and the mighty dollar. He warns us of what could be, but doesn’t beat us over the head with it.
It’s a good commentary on how we bury our heads in the sand instead of dealing with the harsh reality of real life, and even his protagonist has to learn to take himself out of his safe place in order to progress and grow as a person. Even the hot button of internet privacy is touched upon with IOI’s abuse of it leading to the assassination attempt on Wade, among more offences later on- I don’t want to ruin it for you.
For a book about video games it hits hard. That’s why I love it.
Sidenote: Warner Bros. bought the rights to a film adaptation in 2010, but I suppose we’ll have to wait and see if they make a move, and if their film does the book justice.