“No one in the world gets what they want and that is beautiful.”
– Wade Watts
With the anticipation of the new Stephen Spielberg blockbuster hitting screens, I decided to pick up a copy of Ernest Cline’s bestseller, ‘Ready Player One’, and find out just what the fuss was all about.
It’s 2044. After suffering an ongoing energy crisis, and feeling the effects of global warming and immense overpopulation, the world turns to a virtual utopia known as the OASIS to escape from the crumbling reality they face. But when renowned developer James Halliday dies, that safe haven is suddenly turned into a game of life and death. Before his death Halliday sets a motion in place to handover the rights to the OASIS to the user who completes the ‘Easter Egg Hunt’ that he has placed throughout his virtual world. But when global conglomeration, IOI, want to gain control of the OASIS to turn it into a subscription service, it’s up to our protagonist Wade Watts and his cohort of allies to put a stop to their mastermind.
When I first heard about the premise of the film, I was more than intrigued. But the thing that surprised me the most is how unintentionally ahead of its time this book is. At the time of publication (2011) virtual reality was a mere blueprint of potential. But Cline’s imagination allowed him to take that concept and turn it into something close to the reality we’re facing; ahead of its time. Through his words we are physically transported into the OASIS, into a world within a world. We almost take on the persona of Wade. We feel what he feels, we experience what he experiences. It’s almost as if we are physically wearing a virtual reality headset whilst reading. You get so submerged into the events of the game, that you don’t realise until you look up that you’ve been reading for 3 hours straight and it’s now 2 in the morning on a work night – actual thing that happened to me.
It also covers the theme of free access. Something that we are currently seeing a dramatic increase in, with subscription services becoming more and more across a number of mediums. We now pay a monthly fee to stream our TV and films, music – and this is slowly sneaking in to our community platforms. YouTube now has specific paid-for content, our games consoles require us to pay more for ‘exclusive’ bonus content. Soon will come a time where not even Facebook is free.
This book is first and foremost for the nerds. Taking elements from 80’s pop culture, across a number of platforms; books, movies, video games, music, technology, and amalgamating them into one 385 page nerdgasm. As a book about easter eggs, the pages are filled with some of the greatest 80’s references you can think of. From Back to the Future, WarGames, Ghostbusters, The Breakfast Club and Iron Giant, to Dungeons & Dragons, Pacman, Atari, Billy Idol, as well as Spielberg himself (so many references as you can imagine). You name it, Ready Player One probably references it.
But whilst its main focus is its homage to the 80’s, this book also has a lot of heart, and a true and important message that can be applied to present day society. As James Halliday so aptly reminds us in the final moments of the novel;
“…as terrifying and painful as reality can be, it’s also the only place where you can find true happiness. Because reality is real.”
– James Halliday
Whilst so many of us spend our days with our heads firmly fixed to 5 inch screens we hold in our palms, we miss out on so much of the real world. We miss the sights, the sounds, the smells, the people. We are too consumed by remaining “relevant” in the online world, that we forget to remain relevant to the physical world.
However, one positive to come out of all of this is the immense story of friendship and camaraderie that we are subjected to. The idea of ‘online communities’ is nothing new to us, with social media consuming most people’s lives through the use of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. When we first meet Wade he is a complete loner in the real world, with little family left to care for him, and he submerges himself within the virtual to feel a sense of belonging. In the OASIS he has friends, he has people with similar interests to him, he can be the person that he wants to be. As the book goes on those people become friends in both the online and offline world – something that I, and many other people can probably relate to.
I’m already aware that there is a complete shift in the storytelling for the film, something that was clearly obvious whilst I was reading the book. There were many exclamations of “Surely it wouldn’t be possible to do that?” as I went along. But I’m confident in Spielberg that he’ll bring the right tonal balance of sci-fi, adventure and heart that we get from the book, whilst also completely blowing my mind in unexpected ways.
Ready Player One is in cinemas now, starring Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Lena Waithe and Ben Mendelsohn.