The Geekery Guide: ‘Ready Player One’
By now you’ve likely seen the trailer for upcoming Steven Spielberg film Ready Player One. In the event that you haven’t, voila!
If you’re on this site it’s very likely that you’re at least familiar with the novel but to some it must be quite confusing. A kid is putting on a VR visor and then…there’s the Iron Giant? And Freddy Krueger and Duke Nukem and Doc Brown’s time machine? Some have commented that it just looks like an onslaught of CGI. So for those who don’t know…
In a Sentence: A shining example of the power and marketability of ‘nerd porn’.
The Backstory: American author Ernest Cline has a history of incorporating geek culture into his writing. Cline established himself as a beat poet and earned recognition in the online community with his script for the movie Fanboys. in 2011 he sparked a bidding war amongst publishers with his ode to nerdism Ready Player One.
Spoiler Warning: This Section Includes a Plot Summary
The novel takes place in 2044, and the global economy and infrastructure has all but crumbled following the exhaustion of fossil fuels. Wade Owen Watts lives in the ‘stacks’, ramshackle towers of trailers, RVs and shipping containers that house a dozen or so people each. Like the majority of the population Wade escapes into the OASIS, a mind-bogglingly huge virtual reality simulation where people work, attend school and play out sci-fi and fantasy adventures. OASIS is free to access and largely open to the public to alter, leading to huge swathes of the universe given over the recreations of Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings planets, video game based planets and anything else the public have deemed worth the effort.
We begin the story with the brains behind the OASIS, famous recluse James Halliday, passing and leaving his billions of dollars and controlling share of the OASIS in the hands of the person who can complete his ‘quest’. Three keys need to be found and three gates opened, with only a riddle to point people in the right direction. Millions search, some dreaming of leaving the dystopian they’re trapped in or investing in a better world, and others are part of a major telecommunications company looking to monetise OASIS. Years have passed and no-one has solved the part of the puzzle.
Wade – or ‘Parzival’ as he’s known in the OASIS – has dedicated his teenage years to trying to solve the puzzle. When he discovers the location of the first key right under everyone’s noses he prompts an international frenzy of like-minded people, some who are willing to kill, wanting to take the prize. He forms a shaky alliance with the other top competitors, or ‘gunters’ to rival the evil telecommunications company IOI.
Warner Bros. won the rights to adapt the story in 2010 prior to publication. Cline wrote a script that was reworked first by Eric Eason and then by Zak Penn. Spielberg came on to direct and assembled a solid cast and crew to bring the sprawling world to life.
Why is it so Popular?
Have you noticed how much geeks love pointing out the Easter Eggs and references that appear in films and whatnot? If you haven’t try taking a geek to see the next Marvel movie and ask them to explain all the references to you. We love that shit. It acknowledges the aspects and details that fans love to pick up on. It’s a major reason why they still slip a Stan Lee cameo in every film and take the time to recreate famous imagery.
Ready Player One is an entire story built on that concept.
Halliday, the character who set the quest, was obsessed with 1980s pop culture. To complete his challenges players have to be familiar with Zork, Joust, War Games, Dungeons & Dragons, Monty Python the Holy Grail, Pac-Man, the band Rush and even popular cereals of the decade. All this is set in a world where nerds with enough time and dedication can build simulations of their favourite brands and franchises to live in, and a quick look at Minecraft will tell you what that could lead to. Ready Player One is an avalanche of pop culture references, mostly from the ’80s, for middle aged geeks to giggle over. This is a world where the leading government figures are ‘Boing Boing’ co-editing and author Cory Doctorow and Will Wheaton (who, incidentally, read the audiobook edition).
Whether it’s Wade flying about in a Firefly class spaceship auto-piloted by Max Headroom, characters demanding that each other “answer the question, Claire” or an appreciation for the history of gaming consoles there isn’t a page of this novel that doesn’t feature trivia or nods to nerd culture.
On top of that, the whole concept of OASIS sounds like the kind of thing most geeks want to see gaming and the internet moving towards. An entirely immersive world where you can dictate who you are, what you look like and has almost no limits one what you can achieve within the realms of science-fiction or fantasy…yeah, sign us up.
Obviously there’s a movie on the way. It was going to come out this year, but it’s been pushed back to avoid competing with The Last Jedi. The initial concern of fans of the novel would be how many of the pop-culture references can be jammed in. In addition to the trailer showing us the Iron Giant, the DeLorean, Kaneda’s bike from Akira, Freddy Krueger and Duke Nukem (if you watch the right side of the screen) we can expect to see KITT, characters from DC Comics, Lord of the Rings, The A-Team, Mad Max and Christine.
With Zack Penn helping develop the script and Spielberg at the helm the film should be worth a watch. The trailer is certainly plenty of fun and the action looks bonkers. But there’s going to have to be some major changes to how the story unfolds.
Spoiler Warning: More Detailed Character Information and PLOT TWISTS
Ready Player One is definitely a page turner, a great set up and a fun read but what its not is well told. Roughly about the 25% of the book is flat exposition. There’s a lot of world to set up, but rather than work it into the story or have us discover it with a character like the Harry Potter series Cline settles with having the protaganist explain the context, history and details of the setting across a number of ponderous opening chapters. Whenever a new part of the story needs explained everything comes to a grinding halt so Wade can explain the missing information.
There has been some criticism levelled at the story for the depiction of female characters, and there’s some validity to this. After Wade/Parzival the most developed character love interest ‘Art3mis’ and by developed we mean not developed at all. If being a female geek was fetishised (who am I kidding, this is the internet – there’s a website for it somewhere) than this is a defining example of it in action. Art3mis isn’t like those other girls who just want to be skinny and blonde, she’s curvy! And raven haired! And quotes Monty Python and likes video games! This isn’t exactly what the book says but it’s very close. Art3mis has little in the way of personality beyond being an attractive nerd. The twist is that, outside of the OASIS, she has low self-esteem because of a birthmark.
Then there’s ‘Aech’ (pronounced ‘H’), Parzival’s best friend in the OASIS. These two guys partake in standard macho past-times such a competing at video games, insulting each other and talking about girls. The big twist in the book is that Aech is, in real life, an overweight African-American lesbian! That’s all there is to that character. The other heroes are Daito and Shoto, who are Japanese. You can tell because they keep bowing and talking about honour.
So the characters have the depth of a melted ice-cube and the plot unfolds as naturally as a bowling ball. But as we’ve stressed already it is super fun. Hopefully the talent involved in the movie adaptation can iron out the bumps.
Cline has discussed writing a sequel – Ready Player Two – but it has not eventuated. His follow up effort, ‘Armada’, was not as well received.
How to Piss Off the Fans: “What game is it based on?”
Is it Worth Checking Out?
Yeah, it’s fun and easy read. Geeks will have a blast with the references and trying to solve the puzzles ahead of the characters. Hopefully the movie is equally enjoyable.