Ready Player One Review (Book)
Set in a dystopian future; economic and environmental catastrophes have resulted in a huge worldwide resource shortage. Anyone who can afford it escapes his or her poverty stricken existence by plugging into the virtual OASIS, an immersive Massively Multiplayer Online Game.
Upon his death, the creator of OASIS, wills his entire fortune, billions of dollars and controlling shares in the OASIS Company, to the first person that can find the three virtual keys he has hidden inside the game. Massive treasure hunting fever sweeps the world.
Five years later, not a single key has been found. Until Wade, a young man who, like most of his peers, grew up plugged into the OASIS simulation. He discovers, through luck, tenacity and a bit of brains, the first of the three keys. Pandemonium ensues and we get to come along for the ride.
This Holy Grail of a quest samples a veritable cornucopia of 80 culture, including music, movies, geeky heroes, and computer games (a bit overdone on the name dropping). And though most of the references are a bit before my time, they still made me smile and are obviously very dear to the author.
That is what makes this book appealing. The author clearly loves this material. He paints a vivid picture of the world and weaves an incredibly fun story, filled with action, nerdyness, and even romance. After having finishing the book, I felt like I had completed a really fun and satisfying Dungeon and Dragons/Shadowrun/GURPS campaign.
Sadly, the ‘sitting across the table’ style doesn’t read as well as it sounds. Though comfortable and conversational, the writing left me disappointed.
The characters and their development felt equally as glossed over. The heroic protagonist fails to have any real internal struggles. Though faced with plenty of external struggles, which he handles quite well, he is not given the opportunity to have internal growth and mature as a person.
As I wrestled with my ‘this is not Neal Stephenson’ comparison, I had an epiphany. ‘Read Player One’ is a Young Adult book. It has the appropriate language, maturity level, and material to qualify. No wonder I was disappointed, I was expecting ‘Neuromancer’ (and yes I know that is written by William Gibson). After this realization I enjoyed the book far more.
(I haven’t been able to confirm that this is a YA book, though I truly feel that it should be categorized as such.)
Having rearranged my expectations to fit within the books parameters, I was more then happy to gloss over the lack of personal growth and pitiful attempt at social commentary and just enjoy.
What I wasn’t able to let go of was my huge disappointment in the design of OASIS. The lack of instancing and day long monster respawn reeked of outdated game design. OASIS was supposed to be the end all and be all of games, and yet sounded more like a simple conglomeration of already existing IPs with archaic game mechanics.
The list goes on, but probably the largest and most glaring idiotic game mechanic is that death results in the complete loss of your account with your one and only character on it. Since your account is also your data storage location, it’s as if your computer’s hard drive gets wiped when your character dies.
Who would play that? This is where the book failed miserably for me. I never believed that anyone would play this game, much less that it would remain the only computer game left in the world, especially since the treasure hunt didn’t begin until much after the release of OASIS.
If this is the near future, we know that OASIS wasn’t created in a vacuum, what happened to EA and Activision, Microsoft and Sony, etc.? We all know Blizzard would have made a much better version of OASIS, eventually.
Speaking of evil corporations, I didn’t quite understand the ‘we must save the OASIS from corporate take over’. Sure, it would have been a bummer and everyone would have had to start paying more money to essentially escape reality, but honestly maybe it would be better for everyone to unplug for a while. Maybe they could start working on some of the larger issues that the world faced instead of wasting their life on grinding out levels.
Makes me wonder if the ending really is a happy one.