Way back in the by-gone era of 2011 a book was released called “Ready Player One” written by Ernest Cline. The book received critical praise and quickly became a “New York Times” bestseller.
The book was a quirky adventure story following Wade Watts, an 80’s reference-obsessed boy who escapes his dystopian reality by entering a virtual reality world known as OASIS. There he goes on a quest to find a mysterious “Easter Egg” left by the world’s founder. Whoever holds the Egg gets full control of OASIS and becomes heir to an expansive fortune.
It’s your typical adventure story. Only the twist on this one is that the steps to finding the Egg involve various challenges associated with 80’s video games and movies. Thus creating a future where everyone in 2044 is obsessed with 80’s pop culture and only the most diligent have a chance at fame and fortune.
With an upcoming Spielberg adaptation on the horizon, the book is once again in the spotlight. Only this time there seems to be a lot more criticism coming from the book as people begin to reexamine the text. When you pull away from the nostalgia filter that drives the story, the problematic aspects of the book become as obvious as the references themselves.
The references are the main draw of the book and its main gimmick. It’s something that isn’t the easiest to achieve in a text-based form. This leads to some rather cringe-worthy paragraphs where Cline has to explain all the references in precise detail to the reader. There are parts of the book that just involved the main character listing out famous pieces of media from the 80’s in long run-on sentences.
That brings us to our protagonist, Wade Watts, who has somehow found time to watch nearly every TV show, movie, and video game that OASIS founder James Halliday put in his book. He uses this information in his quest for the Egg.
In fact, this knowledge of pop culture seems to be Wade’s only defining character trait. He never really strives for anything more out of his life, and it’s his one-note obsession that leads to him gaining fame, fortune, and a hot girlfriend by the end of the book.
Wade is a nerdy self-insert who exists for wish fulfillment and not much else. He never really grows as a character. He goes through is going from a shallow-elitist with nothing to a shallow-elitist with money.
Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with self-inserts and wish fulfillment. In these times of strife, there’s no harm in wanting a bit of escapism every once and a while.
What rubs me the wrong way is how other types of wish fulfillment narratives, like “Twilight” and “Fifty Shades of Grey,” are lambasted by the general public, but because “Ready Player One” is a male based fantasy it gets a free pass. It’s a frustrating double standard, to say the least.
“Ready Player One” comes off as very “stuff” oriented. It’s all about characters trying to get stuff using their knowledge of other stuff. It’s hard to say that the book is meant to be a tribute to media when the actual content of the properties that are referenced are second to how much trivia the characters can spout off. The book almost seems to peddle the idea that consuming of pop culture is some kind of grounds for superiority.
The biggest defense I see of this book is that it’s “fun.” All it sets out to be is a good time and anyone who criticizes it should just take it for what it is. In fact, a lot of people see it as a guilty pleasure, and that’s all fine and good.
The problem is, it’s hard for me to see the book as just harmless fun when there are some genuinely problematic aspects of the text. Whenever the book tries to portray anyone that isn’t a straight white male this gets really obvious.
The female love interest, Art3mis, is a pretty typical “strong female character” in that she’s good at video games, like our main hero, but not so much that she ever stands a chance at upstaging him. She’s the perfect “geek girl” whose character motivations are second compared to how hot the main character thinks she is.
There’s a rather uncomfortable part of the book where Wade’s elaborate stalking of her after she breaks up with him is treated as pathetic but ultimately harmless. You know, instead of horrifying.
It gets even worse when Ernest Cline tries to portray any non-American cultures. There are two Japanese characters known as Daito and Shoto who are portrayed exactly how you would expect someone whose knowledge of Japanese culture only extended to 80’s anime to be portrayed.
You get the sense that Cline was really trying to be inclusive with this book. But the ignorance of these portrayals shows just how little this book is concerned with anyone outside of its very specific demographic.
“Ready Player One,” says a lot while having very little to say. At the very end of the book, Cline tries to tack on a “don’t waste all your time on video games” message. This would be nice, except that message isn’t really reflected in the book at all. It’s Wade’s single-minded consumption of pop culture that leads to his success.
I have one word to describe “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline, readable. It was a book I was able to get through with merciful quickness. As far as I’m concerned the Spielberg adaptation has nowhere to go but up.
Overall, I would describe this book as kind of like a cheese puff. Sure, it went down easily, but you still have that cheesy residue left on your fingers that doesn’t seem to come off no matter how many times you wash your hands.