Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, and I want to share some of my thoughts on a book filled to the brim with pop-culture references. My hope is that Scott and I will discuss the book in greater detail on the podcast at some point. It rightfully stands out among other young-adult novels in its unabashed glorification of "nerdy" videogames, television, movies, books, music and more, particularly the classics (for better of worse) of the eighties. The book is of and for the first generation that grew up on videogames and therefore casts light into the cultural space from>whence many of us come.
To give a quick plot synopsis of the work, Ready Player One takes place in a dystopic future in which the world has fallen prey to environmental degradation, an immense economic collapse, corporate power, and a general malaise. The vast majority of citizens spend all their time hiding from reality in the OASIS, an MMO in which the laws of fictions are routinely broken and players can visit thousands of worls to have adventure, shop, or even go to school. When the game designer dies, he leaves behind a set of riddles and puzzles themed around the pop-culture artifacts of his time and promises that the winner will inherit his fortune. Ernest Cline takes the premise of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and writes a love letter to the art of his era, from John Hughes' oeuvre to every game published for the Atari 2600.
I will avoid detailing any more of the plot or themes from the book. If you are reading this blog, I assure you the book is well worth your time.
It is strange reading a book that feels intentionally written for you. I will admit, I was born in the early eighties, so I was still a child when a lot of this book's cultural icons took shape. While a miss many of the book's references, most make my smile and laugh at the fondly remembered canon of my youth. Ready Player One is filled to the brim with nostalgia. Every time the protagonist casually makes a Star Wars reference or relies on Dungeons & Dragons knowledge to overcome a challenge, it feels immensely rewarding. In the real world, I carry with me a lingering sense that the media I consumed as a child was a waste of time, that my mind is filled with useless limericks and crudely drawn dungeon maps. In the world of Ready Player One, trivial knowledge is invaluable. The book is an ultimate vindication of a youth spent in front of the television or around an arcade cabinet.
Yet the book's protagonist is a hero because of his actions when tested, not his collection of 80s pop-culture information. Cline manages to avoid glorifying the "otaku" image of a nerdy kid isolated from the world while also praising the cultural artifacts of an era. We partake in the stories we have consumed, be they games, books, or literature, and they have rewarded a bounty of lessons and, yes, even escapism. I welcome the nostalgia of Ready Player One because it is familiar, sure, but also because it finds value in the artifacts of the past and, most importantly, it wants to share them. At times when playing a game, I am struck by a sense of eager jubilation, and I want nothing more than to share this particular moment with the world, spreading my enthusiasm for a game, a piece of writing, or even just a digital vista. Of course we cannot always do that. But Ready Player One tries anyway. It creates a world born of many of our shared experiences, a love letter meant to share an appreciation of the media that helped raise a generation.