Today, I’d like to talk about a book that I finished recently: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Ready Player One is set in a futuristic dystopian world where society has mostly moved into a massive virtual reality MMO, the OASIS, to escape the bleak and broken world that the energy crisis and climate change of the early 21st century left behind.
I really enjoyed this setting, of a society barely scraping by, just enough to let it stick its head in the sand some more. Alright, enjoyed is the wrong word. It doesn’t give me much pleasure to think that we might very likely be heading in that very same direction, with our collective obstinate refusal to do anything about climate change or the looming energy crisis. (Not all of us are obstinate, but enough are that not much, if anything, is getting done about these approaching issues.)
Anyway, Ready Player One has a lot to offer as a story and as a social commentary on identity and internet culture. It begins with a “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”-esque beginning with a young boy finding the “golden ticket” and being launched into a new world of intrigue and adventure. This rather standard beginning is further held down by the extensive research that Ernest wrote into the first hundred pages as his protagonist brags about his staggering knowledge of 80’s culture, movies, and games.
But once you establish how nerdy the main character is and actually launch into the story, it’s a pretty sweet ride. The subtle commentary on escapism and identity ramps up as the story goes on and you learn more about the setting, all the while kept on the edge of your seat by the rising stakes of the hunt against I.O.I.
Cline waits until the end of the book to betray the simplicity of his characters, making them much more complex and relatable as you finally see the “real” characters. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. I’m really glad that the characters were able to show more depth and identity later in the story, but that still means you had to read three hundred pages to find out that Art3mis has a birthmark that ‘disfigures’ her face. With that much ramp-up, it was almost a disappointment to learn that that was the source of her reticence regarding her real identity and low self-esteem despite her celebrity status. And the social commentary around Aech is staggering, but you can’t explore any of it because you learn the meat of it in a soft lull before the final climax.
Despite this, I think Ernest was right to choose Parzival as his Point of View. Writing as Art3mis or Aech would have changed the entire commentary and meaning of the story. The theme of escapism throughout the story is much more relevant to the setting and story, and it is better served from the perspective of a character that, while not cookie-cutter normal, isn’t bogged down by the social and mental baggage that Aech, Art3mis, Shaito, or Daito might have.