When I picked up Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One from my local Barnes and Nobles, I was excited from the buzz surrounding this book, as well as the promise of a new sci-fi dystopian favorite.
About 50 pages in, the book was living up to the hype. Interesting world building. Unique premiss. Fun 80s references. About 100 pages in, things turned down hill. Static and annoying characters. Easy solutions for every problem. Too many 80s references. Staring down the acknowledgements page, Ready Player One proved to be nothing more than a glorification of gaming culture and a weak attempt at an otherwise interesting stab at the ever expanding dystopian genre.
Ready Player One, the novel turned Steven Spielberg major motion picture, follows Wade Watts (played by Tye Sheridan), a poor kid trying to survive in “the Stacks.” The year is 2045, and after a major energy crisis, the majority of the world is starving and miserable. As a result of the general hatred of everyday life, gaming-aficionado James Halliday (played by Mark Rylance) has developed the OASIS, a virtual reality to which everyone across the globe becomes addicted. Everything is inside the OASIS: school, business, and romance. But what really sets the plot into motion, is the search for Halliday’s Easter Egg hidden inside the OASIS. Whoever can find the three keys and pass the three corresponding gates, not only wins the Egg, but wins control of the OASIS, and inherits Halliday’s immense wealth. Obviously, our boy Wade is desperate for the money to ameliorate his current situation, but more than that, this is a righteous battle of gamer versus supermega-conglomerate corporation ISO, who threatens to turn the OASIS into a money making machine.
The whole concept is pretty cool. However, I wish Ernst had delved deeper into this struggle between the individual and corporations, but instead, ISO is simply rendered an evil corruption who only wants to make more money. How dare a corporation want to make money. Not only that but our supposed “protagonist” is merely a whiny gamer, who falls in love with gamer girl Art3mis (played by Olivia Cooke) who truly “gets” Wade, and the resulting relationship is nothing more than superficial, following a predictable path. Art3mis is revealed time and time again to be just as smart, if not smarter, than Wade when it comes to the 80s trivia crucial to solving the game, and yet she is constantly treated as a second rate character, destined to play nothing more than the love interest.
Now looking at both the book and the movie isn’t completely fair, because they barely resemble one another. Spielberg kept most of the characters, some of the basic plot set-up and then decided to make his own movie. That is not necessarily a bad case in this situation and it should be noted that everyone is entitled to their own artistic license. As mentioned before there are extensive references to 80s video games, and watching someone else play a video game for two hours, doesn’t make for a great movie. One change I did appreciate is the second challenge, in which our characters act out The Shinning, and try not only to survive the simulation, but capture the next key.
I won’t spoil the ending here, though I doubt you haven’t already guessed how this thriller plays out, but the ending truly is one of the more disappointing aspects of both the novel and film. There is such intense build up throughout the story, desperate “gunters” (those hunting for the Egg) willing to do anything to protect their newfound way of life on the OASIS. But fear-not, their lives were never in any danger. Further, author Cline has created an interesting piece of media, one that challenges our relationship with corporation and our dependence on media itself. Instead, it is reduced to a game for which our white gamer guy, although aided by people of color, females, and LGBT individuals, is the savior we truly needed. Despite weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, and collecting millions at the box office, Ready Player One provided the promise of something new and exciting, but only delivered on the same old thing we have seen a hundred times.