I found myself staring at the words INSERT COIN. I clicked the button. I was playing Google’s Pac Man doodle, and as the game started, I maneuvered the little pizza around hesitantly. I lost. I played again. I lost. I played again. Seized by a mad determination to win the game, I played for over half an hour until I won. What if the world was like a video game? I wondered, grimacing as the words GAME OVER appeared again on the screen. What if the world was a video game?
Ready Player One is a science-fiction novel written by Ernest Cline. A hundred years in the future, it depicts Earth as a wasted place where life is miserable. To the orphan Wade Watts, reality is only made bearable by the OASIS, a huge virtual reality platform, which was created by James Halliday. But when Halliday dies, a video is released in which Halliday challenges OASIS users to find three keys and three gates. The winner of the challenge will win untold riches, and so Wade embarks on a virtual journey that puts both his virtual and his real life in danger.
James Halliday was an intriguing character. An antisocial genius, he loved everything having to do with the 1970s and 80s—videogames, movies, music, and the like. In fact, he often references old movies and songs. But Halliday’s life is also a tragedy. He was shy and gawky, and spent so much time immersed in his games that he didn’t know how to act in the real world. In fact, he hated reality—the greatest tragedy of all.
After reading this book, the difference between virtual reality and the real world seemed disturbingly small. As Wade’s friend Aech proves, racism and sexism are a big part of the OASIS. Although you can choose how to style your avatar, the character that represents you, the body shapes range from perfect supermodel to perfect supermodel. The female avatars are grossly exaggerated—unnaturally perfect. Is this really an improvement? Is a world full of stereotypes a healthy world?
Ready Player One is a nostalgic novel that raises some thought-provoking questions about video games, the internet, and virtual reality. It is just as addictive as a Pac Man game—but I think I still prefer books to little hungry pizzas.
High-school science fiction, ages 14 and up.
You can buy this book here.