Review: Ready Player One

I read this a long time ago, and I have yet to review it. However, it was so good and made me think about a lot of digital issues that are relevant, that I figured it should get its own post. rpo

Ready Player One is Ernest Cline was one of the most fun, fast-reading adventure books I’ve read this year. In it, Wade Watts is a poor orphaned teen who escapes the horrible junkyard the world of 2044 has become into OASIS, the Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation, a virtual world created by James Halliday – a visionary who was as obsessed with the 1980’s as he was with creating the best video game ever. Like many a visionary in his field, he hid his very own video game easter egg. Whoever solved the mystery, would earn the right to his entire fortune. Those hunting for it – called “gunters” or egg hunters – have been searching since 2014. It took an 18-year-old trailer park rat – Wade Watts – to discover the first key in 2045. Ready Player One is his story. Well his story, and a love letter to all things 80’s, with a special focus on videogames.

But OASIS is more than just a video game. OASIS is a huge simulation that serves many purposes – from educational zone to brothel. Wade himself described his upbringing in the virtual world:

“I was more or less raised by the OASIS’s interactive educational programs, which any kid could access for free. I spent a big chunk of my childhood hanging out in a virtual-reality simulation of Sesame Street, singing songs with friendly Muppets and playing interactive games that taught me how to walk, talk, add, subtract, read, write, and share. Once I’d mastered those skills, it didn’t take me long to discover that OASIS was also the world’s biggest public library, where even a penniless kid like me had access to every book ever written, every song ever recorded, and every movie, television show, videogame, and piece of artwork ever created.” p. 15-16
This is an outstanding dystopian adventure novel. While the geek references are many and varied, it is so much more than its geekery. Cline provides a smart puzzle, as well as thoughtful commentary on topics that are highly relevant, from Internet equality to prejudice in all its forms to the power of information. Here are some thoughts I had as I was reading.

Online Relationships
In Ready Player One, the virtual reality of OASIS becomes a safe haven for those who otherwise live in squalor. Through it, users are able to look however they want and visit places and worlds they would otherwise have never dreamed of visiting. They can receive an education, meet new friends and conduct business, all without leaving their homes. Despite what many have theorized, relationships seem easier to begin and maintain in this future. And while experts have told us that the Internet will sever the social ties among users, the most recent research is finally showing that online relationships do have benefits. An article in the New York Times reports on a Pew Foundation survey which found that teenagers are leading happy, connected lives online. Cline shows how such a truth can be possible through the friendships built by Watts and his cohorts.
Free Access to Information

An incredibly important facet of librarianship is access to information. The idea that information – and the library – is the great equalizer is important to our democracy. Without information, we cannot make informed decisions, which limits our ability to take part in the democratic process on which our country was based. Access to information improves our lives, as does the ability to consume that information (this is known as literacy).

Cline embeds the issue into his story by pitting our heroes against a corporation who seeks Halliday’s fortune to gain power over who has access:

“The moment IOI [Innovative Online Industries] took over, the OASIS would cease to be the open-source virtual utopia I’d grown up in. It would become a corporate-run dystopia, an overpriced theme park for wealthier elitists.” p. 33

The heroes are all individuals whose free access to OASIS has served to help them live better lives. For example, without free access to OASIS, Wade wouldn’t have received an education.

Prejudice

As I have mentioned, OASIS provides you with the ability to look however you wish. Users interact through their avatars, which users get to design. Some base their characters off themselves, but often remove whatever about themselves they don’t like. Wade, for example, made himself thinner, more muscular, and without acne.

On the one hand, this can enforce negative body images. On the other hand, it can allow those who face prejudice in their life to present an appearance that is less likely to incur that prejudice. An African-American character explains it in this way:

“In Marie’s opinion, the OASIS was the best thing that had ever happened to both women and people of color. From the very start, Marie had used a white male avatar to conduct all of her online business, because of the marked difference it made in how she was treated and the opportunities she was given.” p. 320

In the end, Cline provides us with characters learning to accept each other for who they are, because they connect so deeply on the mental level, a level that is not always possible when you are raised in a society that compels you to focus so heavily on what you see.

Cline deftly weaves social commentary into a novel that will appeal to those these issues will impact: Our youth. But, of course, the book is perfect for anyone who has interest in video games, 1980s culture, or those that are curious to see what the future might bring us. Fingers crossed that the movie will do the book justice.

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2 thoughts on “Review: Ready Player One

  1. Pingback: What I’ve been reading, part 3 | Beta Librarian

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