Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Ready Player One - Yep, I'm ready.

Ready Player One
Author: Ernest Cline
Publisher: Broadway Paperbacks, 2011
Genre: Scifi

It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune—and remarkable power—to whoever can unlock them.

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday’s riddles are based in the pop culture he loved—that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday’s icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes’s oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.

Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt—among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life—and love—in the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

A world at stake.
A quest for the ultimate prize.
Are you ready? 

Ready Player One…Yep, I’m Ready

Ready Player One is by far the best book I’ve read this year. It’s funny, has pop culture references up the wazoo, and makes my gamer freak flag fly like no other. The story kept my eyes glued to the pages for hours on end and just when I thought nothing else could surprise me, I turned a page and there I was again laughing at some new ingenious thing and picking up my jaw at another clever twist in the story. But Ernest Cline’s story is not all fun and games. There are dark undertones throughout the narrative, mostly where it concerns humans and their addiction to virtual reality.

In Wade Watt’s world humans have embraced life inside the virtual world of OASIS. Wade says, “We live here, in the OASIS. For us, this is the only reality that has any meaning” (Cline 243). The real world has been pushed aside somewhat and left to decay. The OASIS is presented as a prison for human kind, “a pleasant place for the world to hide from its problems while human civilization slowly collapses, primarily due to neglect” (Cline 120). But thought this message is made clear at various times in the novel, Cline certainly made me think twice about how ‘bad’ OASIS really was. There were three major things about OASIS that I couldn’t see as anything but improvements to the real world…

The School System and Classes

This was one of my favorite parts of OASIS and, in my opinion, one of the biggest perks. When Parzival goes to class, he describes how in World History they went to King Tut’s tomb, then in Biology they traveled through the human heart, in Art they visited the Louvre, and in Astronomy they took a trip to Jupiter’s moons (Cline 48). The OASIS class experience becomes richer since the students can experience what they’re being taught. Plus they have unlimited resources given that books and materials are virtual and completely free.

The school is also a totally safe environment. There are restrictions that prevent bullying and distractions in the classroom. You can mute other classmates when they bother you and the schools are a no PVP zone (Cline 30), meaning there are no fights or bullying. The system also prevents students from accessing any data or programs that aren’t authorized by the teacher or school (Cline 61), meaning there are no distractions and students have no choice but to pay attention and learn. There’s a movement block during class hours (Cline 69) and a profanity filter (Cline 70). No one can tell me that this isn’t an improvement from our current school systems.

Wade’s Exercise Routine

A huge part of the concern with people who spend their days in front of the computer is the health risk this entails. But here, Cline provides a smart solution. Parzival installs an exercise program which monitors his daily food intake and makes sure he burns a certain amount of calories every day. Failure to do this locks down his access to OASIS. In other words, if he wants to play he has “no choice but to exercise first” (Cline 196). Now, if only our computers did this too.

The message here is clear. People forget their physical bodies, their mortality, once they enter the virtual world. Thing is, they can’t. Parzival realizes this and grudgingly accepts that taking care of his real self has to be priority. Still, he finds a fun way to do it. Through OASIS he makes exercising a less tedious job. And who wouldn’t want to exercise on a running trail that goes through space? I’d have my tennis shoes on and ready to go in a heartbeat.

Friendships through OASIS

Aech’s revelation and story was one of the things that surprised and moved me. Online gaming creates a blank slate for everyone, meaning you’re never sure if the person is female or male or what age, gender, or race they are. It erases all preconceptions and discriminations because there’s just no way to know. Parzival says that he connected with Aech on a “purely mental level” (Cline 321) and it really didn’t matter that he turned out to be a she. Their friendship transcended that.

On chapter 17, in the long chat conversation between him and Art3mis, Parzival writes, “This is the OASIS. We exist as nothing but raw personality in here.” And it’s true. Only your brains and personality enter virtual reality. Isn’t this a better way to form friendships? Without physical details that others can use to classify, judge, and stereotype? I think so.

So…OASIS or Reality?

I don’t think Oasis is the worst thing that could happen to us. In some ways it’s bad, because humans forget real life and neglect it. But in other ways, like the ones I’ve mentioned above, it’s actually better. Halliday’s final message to Parzival is, “Don’t hide in here forever” (Cline 364). As I see it, Halliday saw OASIS as something both good and bad. He understood that there was a risk OASIS would eventually destroy the real world, but some people still needed that fake reality to do better. To boost their confidence through the completion of virtual quests and achievements (like Parzival) just until they were ready to take on the real world. Or, like Wade and Samantha, until they found a reason to stay in the real world.

I’m not a hardcore gamer and I like my real life, but I’d love to live in OASIS if only for some time.

Cline, Ernest. Ready Player One. New York: Broadway Paperbacks, 2011.

Favorite Quotes:

~Troubled Dreams~ 
“I don’t believe this! I’ve been trying to beat him for five goddamn weeks!”
“But a minute ago you said it was three weeks—”
“Don’t interrupt me!” She gave me another shove. “I’ve been practicing Joust nonstop for over a month now! I’m seeing flying ostriches in my goddamn sleep!”
“That can’t be pleasant.”

“Competition brings out the best in me,” she replied. “It always has. And now I’ve got some serious competition.”
I glanced over at the magical barrier she’d created. She was over fiftieth level, so it would remain in existence for the spell’s maximum duration: fifteen minutes. All I could do was stand there and wait for it to dissipate. “You’re evil, you know that?”
She grinned and shook her head. “Chaotic Neutral, sugar.”

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