Ready Player Fun

Ready Play­er One is the first-per­son nar­ra­tive of Wade, a geek, a pre­dictably dis­af­fect­ed young man who spends most of his life under the pseu­do­nym Parzi­val. (Rest assured, no spoil­ers will be giv­en away here.) Who is Parzi­val? He’s an avatar inside the vir­tu­al meta-MMO named OASIS. Wade named his char­ac­ter for the Grail knight Per­ci­val, but that name was tak­en long before Wade signed into the real­i­ty where he tru­ly lives. And why wouldn’t Wade aban­don real­i­ty? Ernest Cline’s remark­ably pre­scient world of 2045 is an absolute mess: a world in apoc­a­lyp­tic eco­nom­ic decline, in a decades-long Great Reces­sion cou­pled with a post-ener­gy cri­sis econ­o­my. America’s trail­ers parks have grown so over­pop­u­lat­ed with food ration-book depen­dent denizens that the dou­blewides now sprout upwards in stacks rem­i­nis­cent of San Pao­lo and Mum­bai slums. Hence Wade, and much of the world’s pop­u­la­tion, escape to a bet­ter, whol­ly vir­tu­al, exis­tence. The only oth­er option is to embrace wageslav­ery or fall into debt-based cor­po­rate inden­tured servi­tude, with all of the pri­va­cy-deny­ing elec­tron­ic mon­i­tor­ing that would delight Orwell.

Mean­while, the vir­tu­al escape offers a cor­nu­copia of delights that his char­ac­ters and I find irre­sistible. Some­how escap­ing a host of impos­si­ble-to-solve legal issues, OASIS includes every intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty (film, music, and video game) that has ever exist­ed. For OASIS is an MMO, cer­tain­ly, with class­es, lev­els, AI mon­sters, and expe­ri­ence points. Yet it includes and exceeds every def­i­n­i­tion of what we would call a sin­gle game. With time or mon­ey, you can engage in every activ­i­ty you can imag­ine, be it eco­nom­ic, polit­i­cal, cre­ative, or sex­u­al. An absolute vir­tu­al real­i­ty. PvP can be enjoyed in the right (or wrong) zones, though you should be care­ful. OASIS is a per­madeath serv­er; once you die, it’s time to make a new char­ac­ter.

More impor­tant to Ready Play­er One’s read­er, inside OASIS you can find a re-cre­ation of every fan­ta­sy world ever con­ceived (Tat­toine, Mid­dle Earth, Nor­rath, Aze­roth, Grey­hawk, Vul­can, etc.). You can play any video game ever made, from Tem­pest in coin-op to Yars’ Revenge on the 2600. You can watch any movie or TV show. Or hell, you can dive into Wargames and play it as David Light­man. You can lis­ten to any song. It’s this breadth and depth that makes the Cline’s book so damnably fun to read. I count­ed more than two dozen cul­tur­al allu­sions in the first chap­ter alone, and I’m sure that I missed some. Cline’s nov­el embraces geek cul­ture, espe­cial­ly 1980s geek cul­ture in a way that only Stephenson’s Snow Crash with its Meta­verse came close to approach­ing.

If you know me, you know I love Snow Crash. It blew my 20-year-old mind, and I still love it to this day. Ready Play­er One did some­thing a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. It kept me in a smile for a sol­id cou­ple days. It tick­led my fun­ny bone. I laughed out loud, repeat­ed­ly to the annoy­ance of a girl­friend try­ing to sleep. Final­ly, it made proud to be a geek, and ridicu­lous­ly and over­ly proud to have grown up a child of the 80s. If you’re any­thing at all like me… you will total­ly enjoy it.





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