Nostalgic Porn, aka Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

The year is 2044, and in a depressed United States of America where escapism into the arms of virtual reality is a social norm, life is pretty shitty. A high school kid from dilapidated, metropolitan Oklahoma City dreams of winning the fortune of James Halliday, late inventor of OASIS, the immersive virtual utopia the world flees into. Filled with references to 80’s pop culture, video games, and technology, this 2011 novel by Ernest Cline is every fanboy’s/fangirl’s literary dream.

We enter the story from the perspective of Wade Watts, otherwise known as Parzival through his virtual avatar, and begin navigating his crowded, wasted world with stacked mobile homes making up city slums, as well as global warming, energy crises, social degradation, and all that. Wade, a poor kid, is also in desperate search for the Halliday Easter Egg, which is hidden behind three gates requiring three keys to get to—a puzzle within a puzzle for a grand prize. Five years after Halliday’s death, publicity for the egg hunt died down, until our protagonist stumbles upon a clue relating to Dungeons & Dragons, that led him to a game of Joust, took him through a gate to a simulation of WarGames, and awarded him a slot on the previously empty leaderboard. This sets things in motion, and other competitive egg hunters, or “gunters” as they were dubbed, began appearing on the leaderboard.

The rest of the story progresses with “friendly” competition over finding the keys and unlocking the remaining gates, a gaming corporation entering the race in order to acquire the fortune and monetize off the previously free method of escape/game, and Wade/Parzival falling in love with a fellow gamer/blogger named Art3mis.

If along the way, I lost you with terms like “easter egg” or mentions of Dungeons & Dragons and Joust, then Ready Player One might not be a book for you. Unless, if you’re also fascinated by 80’s pop culture and want something immersive to hop around and play in, then it is.

Growing up, I was a part of the generation of Pokémon and the Gameboy Color. I played Yu-Gi-Oh! cards and Dungeons & Dragons on the weekends with my friends, while we’d watch movies like Star Wars or shows like Transformers and Ultraman. We’d play with Godzilla toys and throw Japanese superhero-robots at each other. Ready Player One tapped into that geeky nostalgia, and wrapped up my childhood within its pages. The world that James Halliday grew up with, the realm that Wade Watts and other gunters analyze and breathe, is, coincidentally, also part of the world I grew up with.

This novel banked on the overwhelming feeling of nostalgia, simply to the nerdy/geeky community familiar with the Reagan-era pop references. It’s a relatively easy read, and while some parts may feel artificial and hastily written, the winks and nods to many franchises that we’d grown up loving made us forgive those other infractions. While reading, often times I would find my inner geek delighted that Cline had made a shout-out to Battlestar Galactica, or a full homage to the showdown between Ultraman and Godzilla. It’s very rare to find a book that actually physically makes you feel a fluttering in your stomach, and this one did it for me. I could have puked from my sweet nostalgia—that was literally how I felt.

The setting of the story, 2044, is realistic and characters are likeable as well. Often times, I’ve noticed within the dystopian genre a tendency for the extreme. It’s all good and fun, but Ready Player One isn’t exactly extreme—it is highly believable for a significant portion of our population to escape into virtual gaming by the year 2044 because of depression and lack of faith in society.

Wade, our main character, is believably flawed—he’s a good person, but he’s no martyr, and he’s had bad stuff happen to him, but he also doesn’t let it entirely define him. Although Wade does, at times, feel like a confused teenage boy (wondering why girls don’t like him and such), all of this is believable and makes us enjoy him as a realistic character. Other faces of the novel, such as Wade’s love interest, Art3mis, and his best friend, Aech, are realistically broken, funny, and human in their own respects. Essentially, these characters are just people growing up in a shitty world, competing for a fortune and dramatically fighting against a giant evil corporation to make their world a little bit less shitty. This is a classic tale of young heroism, like those movies on Disney Channel or Nickelodeon (in the good days, if you know what I’m talking about).

It’s easy for a kid, or young reader to identify with all the media references in this novel, and easy for readers from the generations that grew up to 80’s pop culture and things like Star Wars. At the same time, I will say that the intense number of references also makes the novel alienating for people who simply weren’t involved in those subgroups growing up. This is not a book for everyone. However, for those like me whose nerdy heart jumps at the little nods to Pac-Man and other aspects of the geeky, introverted childhood I grew up with, this is definitely a fun read.

 

Rating:

👾 👾 👾 👾

“No one in the world gets what they want and that is beautiful.”

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