Sunday, January 22, 2012

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

I learned of this through the Geek Girls Book Club on Twitter (and the founder's blog) and Facebook. I joined in December, this is the book for January. Be forewarned, if you are not a nerd or geek, or a child of the 80's, much of this book's charms will likely be lost on you. I enjoyed it immensely, but some of the inside jokes about video games were lost on me. I actually learned a few things about computer and video game history while reading it.

Ready Player One takes places in 2044, it is a world that might actually come to pass if the economy and environmental issues that we face today aren't dealt with. We have depleted the fossil fuels and most of the world's population is living in refugee camps in major cities. There are no jobs to be had, so most live off government rations. The only escape from the harsh reality of life is OASIS, a free immersive online experience. Kids can attend school for free within the virtual universe. OASIS has replaced what we know as the internet today, Second Life is similar in concept, though not in scope. The creators of this world are James Halliday and Ogden Morrow. Halliday dies and has a very unique and interesting will. He will leave control of OASIS, his company, and his entire fortune to the OASIS player that can find an Easter egg he has hidden in the game. (For those that don't play video games, an Easter egg is an item or scene that is hidden in the programming for a player to find as a bonus.) It is like a giant internet scavenger hunt, geo-caching on an infinite scale. The player must solve a series of riddles to access three keys and gain access to the egg. At the opening of the tale, it has been five years since Halliday's death and there has been one progress.

The story is told from the perspective of Wade (aka Parzival), the main character, and the eventual winner of the prize. No spoiler here, we are told this in the first few pages. Even knowing the eventual outcome, I got wrapped up in the tale and the character's adventures. I admit that hearing many of my favorite shows, movies, and video games mentioned didn't hurt my enjoyment. There were some games that I never played as a kid, that I now want to find a copy so that I may enjoy them now.

The people that are hunting the Easter egg become known as gunters. In addition to individuals, you have clans of gunters that pool their resources and information. The biggest antagonist is the mega-corporation IOI, there entire mission is to win the egg and take control of OASIS. They plan on charging a monthly fee and adding all sorts of building restrictions. Needless to say, the majority of OASIS users are against this. Many of them basically grew up in this virtual world, this is where they hang out with friends, attend school, even have jobs. IOI gaining control would mean OASIS becoming a place only the wealthy could afford.

Mostly this book is a straight-forward science fiction adventure, though Cline briefly touches on the issues of the economy and environment. Another issue that comes up is the pervasive presence of technology in our lives, how much is too much? Social networks and smart phones have already altered the way people interact, and many are concerned about the changes. Cline mentions both sides of the argument in passing when it's relevant to the story, but draws no conclusion.

I confess that much of my enjoyment of this book came from the feelings of nostalgia it brought forth. At one point, laserdisc players are mentioned, this excited me because my husband and I were the only people I ever knew that actually owned one. Cline's descriptions of the various virtual worlds and actual video games were quite detailed. I'm sure that if I opened up one of the old games described, it would look just like he detailed it in the book. The characters do not feel flat and you can care about them by the end. I actually look forward to the day when the internet is an immersive experience and we have moved past the flat web pages of the present.

Happy nerdy reading all!