“Going outside is highly overrated.”
Virtual Reality has been the stuff of science fiction for a long time. Simulated worlds, offering everything that real life simply can’t. And as a society that is closer to achieving the immersion into these worlds than ever before, I think the idea of exploring these virtual worlds is more important than ever.
Not only do I find the idea behind virtual reality so fascinating, but honestly, I am slightly in love with anything that is fully dystopian ready. And virtual reality screams dystopia. An entire system that appears on the surface to be utopia, exploited or manipulated by one or the many to be turned into a nightmare. I think the question we need to be asking ourselves is why there isn’t MORE virtual reality dystopias in the world!
Ready Player One shows us a grim future. A world where resources have dwindled, forcing people to build gigantic towers of haphazard homes near cities for the hope of power, food and water. It’s a dismal world, where reality is unpleasant. The only thing most people look forward to, the only thing that makes life bearable, is the alternate world of the OASIS.
“For me, growing up as a human being on the plant Earth in the twenty-first century was a real kick in the teeth. Existentially speaking.”
The OASIS is an entire virtual world, or worlds, where people work, go to school, vacation, and live their best lives. People don’t choose to spend time in reality. They choose to spend their time in the OASIS.
“You don’t live in the real world, Z. From what you’ve told me, I don’t think you ever have. You’re like me. You live inside this illusion.”
The world building alone in this virtual reality system is something I easily could have spent hours reading about. The level of detail and imagination that went into the systems, and these worlds was incredible. This is an example of writing that could have become bogged down with too much information, but Cline was smart in how he wove in the details of the world to be relevant to the plot. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by details, I was instead transported into a lush landscape that is mind-boggling in scope but sharp in focus.
Wade, our protagonist, is just trying to graduate his virtual high school and find his way in a world where jobs are scarce. His only plan is to find Halliday’s Easter egg, a hidden prize embedded deep within the OASIS world, coded by Halliday himself, and found only by solving a series of clues and puzzles. The person who finds this egg wins the entire fortune of Halliday, which means billions of dollars.
Here’s where the fun of this book begins. Rather than take us through a meandering bombardment of virtual worlds, Cline instead focuses the hunt in a specific way.
“The Hunt, as the contest came to be known, quickly wove its way into global culture. Like winning the lottery, finding Halliday’s Easter egg became a popular fantasy among adults and children alike.”
The creator, Jim Halliday, grew up in the 80’s. A time when he met his best friend and co-creator, Ogden Morrow, and they started a little company that grew into one of the largest corporations in the world. When Halliday died, an email with a video and a link to his website were sent to every player in OASIS. The only clue was an obscure riddle and a link to an Almanac. The Almanac itself was over a thousand pages long and went into Halliday’s thoughts on movies, music, video games and all things pop culture 80’s.
Suddenly, a decade once looked down on for it’s decadence and abundance, one that would have been forgotten, is thrust into back into relevance and popularity. Personally, I thought this twist was pure genius.
The 80’s was not the end all be all for science fiction, or video games, or even technology. So I get why some people may not see the connection between the future we are reading about and that particular decade. But, the 80’s was known for its greed, for its excess. To show it as an obsession in a time that knows only poverty and thin resources was subtle but brilliant.
Beyond that, the main competitor and threat to Wade after he stumbles on the answer to the first clue isn’t other gunters, the name he and fellow egg hunters are known as, but IOI, a giant corporation willing to throw any and all resources at finding the egg and owning OASIS. They want to take something that is very inexpensive and available to the masses, and turn it into a money making machine where only the privileged few can really thrive. Which fits in with 80’s greed. We may see that behavior in corporations now, but that mentality was born in the 80’s.
The writing is full of wonderful dry sarcasm, and there’s a subtle mocking tone to the absurdity of living life in a virtual world woven throughout the plot.
“It suddenly occurred to me just how absurd this scene was: a guy wearing a suit or armor, standing next to an undead king, both hunched over the controls of a classic arcade game.”
It also carries a really good analysis of what technology can do to a civilization. Or rather, the possibility of what can happen. The entire plot is carried primarily within a virtual world, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t see the wasteland the unvirtual one has become.
“It had become a self-imposed prison for humanity,” he wrote. “A pleasant place for the world to hide from its problems while human civilization slowly collapses, primarily due to neglect.”
I find that good dystopian shows us both the good and the bad of the world it presents. It may carry a message, or even a warning, but the information is merely presented for us to digest and interpret. We are given characters to embody the arguments and it is then up to us to form our opinions. Ready Player One does this spectacularly.
Ready Player One is fun science fiction. It takes us into a future that on the surface seems to be going backwards, but has the technology to move it forward. While it will appeal to video gamers by its sheer plot subject alone, I think even non-gamers will delight in falling into the virtual world Cline has created. I also cannot wait to see what magic Spielberg gives us on the big screen.