When I started reading Ready Player One, it was hard for me to instantly fall in love with the strange world and it’s characters. In this science fantasy world, everything revolves around a virtual-reality “safe haven” within a real world that’s crumbling to the ground under the weight of famine, war, global warming, and a general neglect for the well being of the people still trying to get by. This scene immediately helps readers relate because it’s hard to tell whether this is a unrealistic look into our future or if we’re just talking about our future reality. And just like in our real world, for Wade Watts, there is no where to go to escape the bleak reality, except “The Oasis.”
The premise is very simple, in a future where virtual reality simulations took off and became the norm, an 80’s computer genius similar to a modern day Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, named James Halliday develops the largest open world virtual reality simulator where you can be and do anything and where the limits are up to the users imagination. Upon the time of his death, Halliday announces to the world that within The Oasis, he left an Easter Egg and whoever finds the egg will get full control of The Oasis and all of Halliday’s riches. The story revolves around a hunt, as Wade, in his Oasis disguise, Parzival, navigates the many different worlds in search of Halliday’s legacy.
What really makes this novel a spectacle to read is the many actual Easter Eggs and pop culture references that are littered throughout the book and the way it all plays a creative and thoughtful role in the plot. As Halliday was inspired and obsessed with the pop culture of the 70’s and 80’s, his Easter Egg hunt is centered on his knowledge and love of the culture. Thus, all the Easter Egg hunter’s are known as “Gunter’s,” and all pry themselves on knowing as much video game film or comic book lore as possible so they can have an advantage to finding the end. Classic references to popular and obscure material from those decades had me grinning from ear to ear while reading the book.
That’s where the heart of this book is for me, in the relatability. Its hard to compare yourself to a character such as Harry Potter or Katniss Everdeen because their world’s are such a giant departure from ours, where as in this story, Wade feels like I imagine most young adults feel today; living in our little corner of nowhere surrounding by a world that’s all but dying and that doesn’t seem to care about our future. Our only escape is in our fantasy worlds, in our phones or Playstations or DND campaigns or romance novels, it’s where we find freedom, and its ultimately where Wade and the rest of the characters find theirs. But, it’s also about Wade learning that regardless of all the limitless possibilities The Oasis provides, he still has to learn to live in the real world.
Apart from the abundance of pop culture Easter Eggs there are tons of gripping action pieces set both in the real world and in The Oasis, as well as a very touching romance that provides some commentary on the benefits and dangers of forming inter web relationships. As well as the barrier that people can put up while online, seeming one way to hide how one truly is, both to trick others and protect themselves. There’s a nice reveal towards the end regarding on of Wade’s online friends that beautifully illustrates the kind of freedom something like The Oasis would grant people that you wouldn’t get in the real world:
You can be anyone, and save yourself from the prejudice one might normally receive.
All in all, Ready Player One is a thoughtful and beautiful look at the wonders of a virtual paradise while diving into some of the real world problems that go into that. I can’t wait to see if the live action adaptation can live up to the standards the book had set forth.