What does the world’s greatest video game designer do when he amasses a large fortune, builds a technological legacy, and has no heirs to leave it to? Create a video game contest, of course! Ready Player One by Ernest Cline sets the standard in using geek nostalgia to write a fun and engaging story.
Ready Player One is set thirty years in the future. The Great Recession and the energy crisis hve crippled the progress of humanity. Times are tough, and the only escape is the OASIS: a revolutionary massively multiplayer online game that has evolved into the world’s preferred internet experience. Due to its ease of use, The OASIS is used for work, shopping, and provides primary and secondary education. Accessing the OASIS is also free. In a dangerous world where resources are scarce, the OASIS is there to shape a new way of life.
James Halliday is the co-creator of the OASIS, as well as its chief programmer. Upon his sudden death, a video of himself is released to every OASIS user, informing them of The Hunt: a video game contest to find Halliday’s Easter Egg within the vastness of the OASIS. The prize for finding the egg: Halliday’s fortune, which is worth billions, as well as control of Gregarious Simulation Systems, the company responsible for controlling the OASIS.
Wade Watts is a teenager living in poverty, and spends most of his time in the OASIS, as it provides him entertainment, as well as his education. Wade barely knew the existence of James Halliday, but the day Halliday’s video played for the world, he immediately joined The Hunt. The clues to finding the easter egg lay in Halliday’s potent obsession with 1980s and 1990s popular culture, science fiction and video games.
Wade immerses himself into every aspect of 80s and 90s pop-culture, as many Egg Hunters do, since anything within the nostalgic material can be a clue. It soon becomes a race against time, as a rival company, Innovative Online Industries (IOI), has been seeking control of the OASIS for years, and is using the contest to get closer than ever to their goals. Should IOI gain control, they will implement drastic changes that will forever corrupt the OASIS. With billions of dollars at stake, IOI is willing to do ANYTHING to find Halliday’s Egg.
Ready Player One was an incredibly fun experience. I would argue that it’s not just about video games and 1980s references, because real issues are tackled in this story. In one example, author Ernie Cline paints a bleak vision of the future, using recent economic and environmental concerns as ingredients for the world he builds. However, that’s contrasted with the world inside the OASIS, which is a mecca of science fiction landscapes. Despite the harsh condition of the real world, Cline finds the perfect balance between fun and bleakness.
Cline also tackles issues such as internet friendships and romance. The book’s protagonist, Wade Watts, is a loner in his late teens, and is obsessed with finding Halliday’s Easter Egg. His only friends are other players inside the OASIS, and they share his obsession with The Hunt. These are people he’s never met in real life, yet he’s faced with trusting them, especially when things get rough, and the stakes are incredibly high.
This is Ernie Cline’s first novel, but he also wrote the screenplay for Fanboys, about a group of Star Wars obsessed friends on a quest to steal a rough-cut of Star Wars: Episode One while it was still in development. Cline is also a 2012 John W. Campbell Memorial Award finalist. The Ready Player One audiobook is read by Wil Wheaton, and he was the perfect choice. His voice lends to the geek-obsessed material very well, and his narration hits the mark every time.
You don’t have to be a hardcore gamer to enjoy Ready Player One, however, I think it’s necessary to be familiar with how massively multiplayer online games work in order to follow along with the story. The story’s strength is in the characters. It’s rare that I find a protagonist that I can fully relate to, and it was fun to watch Wade progress from an awkward loner to having the courage to stand up to a dangerous foe.
The Ready Player One hardback, ebook and paperback is available now. To coincide with the release of the paperback, Ernie Cline has launched a contest inspired by Ready Player One. The grand prize being…a restored 1981 DeLorian, with a true-to-movie flux capacitor replica.