By Katie Stockdale
Ernest Cline set out to create a world for the nerd in all of us, and he went above and beyond this goal in his novel Ready Player One. His transformed world where geek is chic is set only a few decades from now in the mid-2040s, when all of the decadence of the last few centuries has caught up to humanity.
Thanks to global warming and wars, life in the real world is now horrible. Cities are unsafe and falling apart, with giant trailer-parks-turned-slums surrounding them. Coined “stacks,” this humanitarian crisis is where we meet the protagonist, Wade Watts. Wade spends most of his time hiding from his aunt, since she does her best to sell everything he owns for more food. It’s also where we learn a surprising fact about this new world: OASIS, an interactive online mainframe that basically took over the internet, is a part of nearly everyone’s lives. Even the poor have access because OASIS is free.
And since OASIS’s virtual reality is now a part of every facet of life, everyone, including our out-of-luck Wade can have a chance to be great. School can now be completely virtual, jobs are handled completely online as well, and if you want it to OASIS orders your food. People meet and get married in OASIS, all without ever meeting in the physical world.
For today’s world, this may sound more than a little horrifying. Humanity, regulated to sitting all day with visors and gloves on that strap them into the internet? People no longer interacting with actual people, instead interactions devolving to a giant social media? People growing lazy and complacent, sitting in floating chairs and staring at screens all day like in Wall-e (2008)? Not that this is an unprecedented problem.
But somehow, OASIS seems more like a gift than a curse. It offers free education to everyone, free educational games, access to more jobs, and in a dying society, an escape from the overwhelming pressures of reality. And then, it offers the biggest gift of all: the chance of inheriting the fortune of OASIS creator James Halliday, and control of OASIS itself. The only catch? You have to find Halliday’s Easter Egg by going on a devious six-part quest.
And so enters Wade, the wise-cracking, sarcastic, self-proclaimed grunter (egg hunter) who guides the reader through his hunt. Wade is brutally honest, even about himself, which makes for an entertaining read. His sarcastic voice is strong from the first page as he describes the current state of the world, holds strong through his condemnation of non-grunters and his description of his colossal love-life failure, all the way through the end.
As Wade searches to find the egg, and then struggles to thwart the corporate IOI who are trying to take over OASIS through loop-holes in the competition, we learn about ourselves. The book serves as warnings in multiple ways from the ramifications of our current lifestyles, to the dangers of obsessions. Wade struggles with multiple obsessions through the novel, and it’s generally not until he steps back from them that he can move on.
But the book is more than just a warning, it serves as a reminder as well. The book celebrates ‘80s culture (Halliday’s competition is based on it) and all of the creative spirit that comes with it. It’s a celebration of innovation, technology and above all: nerdiness. The book serves as a reminder that it’s okay to be a nerd. That it’s okay to have slightly unhealthy obsession with something, and that it can be fun to know those random obscure facts that make people look at you funny when you start spewing them out. Ready Player One celebrates everything from Star Trek (1966) to Monty Python (1975); AC/DC to They Might be Giants; Vonnegut to Tolkien. It’s basically a nerd’s paradise. And even if you’re not that into the ‘80s you’ll get into it from how much the characters just genuinely, unironically love it.
Besides promoting living life to the fullest and celebrating humanity’s achievements, Ready Player One makes a strong argument for judging people by their personalities. Wade’s never met any of his best friends in real life or seen pictures of them. And since OASIS avatars can be anything, avatars could look exactly or nothing like the person who controls them. And so Wade connects with his two best friends mentally, in his words, “… in the most intimate way possible. We’d connected on a purely mental level.” In his mind, nothing as “inconsequential” as “gender, skin color, or sexual orientation” could change or break their friendships. In other words, the trappings of the real world, the prejudices people still today get hung up on, can be erased. People can finally an actually be appreciated for who they are inside. It’s a victory cheer for all of us who feel most ourselves inside the creations we love best.
Ready Player One is in movie production, and is slated to come out in 2018 with a screenplay written by Cline himself, and Steven Spielberg as director. Most of the main characters have been casted, with Tye Sheridan as Wade. Whether you enjoy stories by print or the big screen, Ready Player One is not one to miss.
Katie Stockdale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.