As one of the best page-turners I’ve read in years, I couldn’t be more excited to introduce everyone to our generation’s nerd/geek manifesto: Ready Player One. This book perfectly balances the nostalgia of the games of the past with a fascinating take on the technology of the near future. Ernest Cline relentlessly references early gamer/nerd culture and bits of 80’s and 90’s pop culture. In fact, it is difficult to think of a game, comic, or show he does not mention or at least allude to. The spectrum ranges from cult classics like Dungeons and Dragons to the universally known Pacman. Throughout the book we learn lots of little bits of trivia about our favorite games growing up. Although this book is clearly fiction, I found myself learning many fun facts from actual history. For those of us who can remember the excitement of beating an arcade game for the first time, this book is a must read.
Although this book is set in a dystopian world, dystopia is hardly the appeal of this book. Wade Watts (aka Parzival) is a poor teenager living in the stacks. As the world has for the most part run out of fuel, everyone needs to live closer together. The stacks are the same thing as a trailer park except the trailers are stacked 20-30 trailers high. Both of his parents are dead, he doesn’t have any friends, and his aunt refuses to even feed him. While Wade’s life seems terrible, it’s actually fairly common. But while the real world is a dark and miserable place, there is a universe full of adventure in the OASIS. The OASIS is a tech platform similar to the Nerve Gear in the famous anime Sword Art Online. It is a virtual world that users feel like they actually live in. Businesses have virtual offices. Kids have virtual schools. Musicians play and practice on virtual instruments. And gamers play virtual games. Even if you want to watch on old movie, you watch it on a tv in your virtual living room in the OASIS.
There is a lot of Sci-Fi out there that portray a world where everyone is kept under control by a universally used technology. Ready Player One is not one of those. The creator of the OASIS, James Halliday, was a philanthropic man who made the OASIS free of charge and kept it privately owned to keep governments and corporations from taking control. Wade’s story starts when Halliday’s ends. After Halliday’s death, he leaves behind a will stating that the winner of his tournament would inherit his fortune and the OASIS. The tournament is basically a massive scale “easter egg” hunt that can only be won with a thorough understanding of 80’s nerd culture and expert level gaming skills. The problem is, a particular corporation with more sinister ambitions has its sights on winning the tournament and will do anything to gain control of the OASIS.
Wade has his work cut out for him. Within the OASIS are thousands of worlds and galaxies in which a player needs to find three keys to win the tournament. You could spend your entire life just exploring the Star Wars or Star Trek galaxies. It is mind boggling to think of where to even start. On top of that, you have billions of competitors. Despite the odds, Wade is the first person to find a key, and that is where the story of Ready Player One begins.
Love Thine Enemy: Or In This Case, Empathize With Those You Disagree With.
There is no confusion about Ernest Cline’s political and religious leanings. As far as politics, readers run into one byte of pro-liberal propaganda after another. As far as “religion” Cline makes his naturalism/atheism clear from the beginning through the voice of Wade who wishes that someone would have told him as a child that there is no God. In Cline’s bio page on his personal website he shows a series of pictures with captions. One picture shows him wearing a suit as a child and with a caption saying,
Every Sunday morning boy is dressed in ill-fitting monkey suit and forced to attend primitive Judeo-Christian rituals centered around shame and remorse. Scars never fully heal.
Although I disagree with much of the worldview presented in this book, I would never label it as a “bad” book. Rather, I try to empathize with Cline. The fact is, lots of kids who grew up going to church feel scarred by their experience. Although I don’t know Cline’s story, I know many others. Some kids grow up in a home where they are viewed as the perfect family at church while at home they are yelled at and beaten. Some people experience the trauma of finding out the pastor they looked up to was stealing church money and cheating on his wife. Some kids simply never saw the love of Christ extended to them through people in the church. All they ever received were judgmental glances, criticisms of their life choices, and old people telling them to tuck in their shirt. It is not at all uncommon for kids who grew up attending church to want nothing to do with it as adults. In fact over 50% of kids who grew up in the church stop going when they start college. The fact is there are millions of people who never saw grace, love, and hope in the church they grew up in. So they looked elsewhere. And I don’t blame them.
When hear stories like Cline’s the last thing I want to do is say that he remembers wrong, or deny that these experiences actually happen. Or worse yet, I could try to imply that it’s his fault that he didn’t like church and simply didn’t try hard enough. If someone had a terrible experience with the church I want to hear their story and say I’m sorry they went through that. If their worldview has swung the complete opposite direction of mine, I want to know precisely what it is that they now believe and understand it. Why? Because I care. Because Jesus would care. If Jesus could dine with tax collectors and prostitutes then I can take the time to try to understand an atheist and where he is coming from.
Any “conservative” could easily come away hating the underlying beliefs contained in this book and attack any aspect of it they don’t like. I would suggest a different approach. I feel like I can better empathize with Cline’s point of view after reading Ready Player One. I still absolutely disagree, but I hope that the next time I discuss matters of religion and politics with someone from a different point of view I will be more patient to actually listen to what they have to say.
Living In The Real World
One thing I love about this book is that even though it portrays an amazing virtual world where anything is possible, it is clear that the best things in life take place in the real world. Even in a dystopian world, love, acceptance, and a sense of accomplishment far outweigh any joy that can be found even in the OASIS. Readers love their fantasy worlds. Netflix junkies love binge watching their favorite tv series. Gamers love staying up all night battling, strategizing, or just hanging out online. But in the end, we all live in the same world. A world God created. A world full of possibility. “Adventure is out there!” -(from Pixar’s UP)
You can contact Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org