With this post I have finished my part of our reading of Cline’s Ready Player One, and will share thoughts. Coming up below are a plot summary, further notes on the novel’s world, and lit prof musings.
I have another post on this book in the works, too.
From here on out is spoiler territory, so don’t read further if you haven’t finished the book.
I: plot summary
Both gunters and villains continue their quest for Halliday’s easter egg. Wade undertakes a risky offline move to hack IOI. Wade and friends meet in person, learning more about their identities, as Ogden helps them out. A spectacular battle ensues. Wade wins the egg, and kisses Art3mis.
There is a lot of 1980s nostalgia.
II: world notes
We learn more about dire offline social conditions, especially through Wade’s arrest gambit. Urban decay continues as a theme, and even worsens:
A thick film of neglect still covered everything in sight. The streets, the buildings, the people. Even the snow seemed dirty. It drifted down in gray flakes like ash after a volcanic eruption.
The number of homeless people seemed to have increased drastically. Tents and cardboard shelters lined the streets… (4826)
Companies can “indent” people for non-payment of debt, a condition somewhere between indentured servitude, slavery, and company town life (4721, 4866). Indents are tagged by tracking devices (4884) and live in a state of Orwellian surveillance and propaganda. They sleep in “coffins”, which is both a grimly Gothic note and a nod to William Gibson’s classic 1984 novel Neuromancer (4914). There are many nods to another 1980s classic, Brazil.
Ironically for the novel’s premise, indent life is gamified.
If I obtained a sufficient number of “perk points” by getting high productivity and customer approval ratings, I could “spend” some of them to purchase the privilege of decorating my cube, perhaps with a potted plan or an inspirational poster of a kitten hanging from a clothesline.(4940)
Wade’s retreat from the world into OASIS is not an isolated thing. We learn from the Japanese gunters that that country has labeled “young people who had withdrawn from society and chosen to live in total isolation” as hikimori (4281).
Technology: by the end of the book we’ve seen several different hardware setups for engaging with OASIS, from Ogden’s high-end immersive pod (“like being inside a giant hamster ball”, 5743) to street people’s haptic gloves. There’s a “bifocal visor” which, like Google Glass, lets users switch between the virtual and physical worlds (5263). We’re also introduced to the neat idea of “dichotomy wear”, clothes with some kind of digital linkage built in (5231).
Guns can be tied to a user’s DNA, and have a cooling off delay built in (5251). Not only are there self-driving cars, but automatic jets (5618).
I’m struck by how geeky is the 1980s obsession. Not just geeky as in “obsessive”, but also in terms of geek culture, exclusive of all else. There is nothing in this book about sports, for example, which might represent the classic nerd versus jock dynamic. There’s nothing about politics, culture, or science. Instead Ready Player One is just about cultural products of the 1980s – and only a subset. The films are sf, not romantic comedies or westerns. The same goes for the lit.
III: lit prof musings
I’m left with some questions.
What is to be done about OASIS? We’ve seen the big red button, and learned how important it is to get offline. Yet winning online means winning offline. We have little sense that Wade’s crew will improve the rotten dystopia. Is the lesson to remain in the virtual world?
What do we make of the invocation of First Corinthians 13:13, specifically the phrase “charity, hope, faith” (5355. 5368)? The game’s creator isn’t a believer, but the passage is still there, even though it’s a link to Schoolhouse Rock and a push for the heroes to attain unity.
Well, the next line does set up the book’s ending: “But the greatest of these is love.” That’s for romantic, not divine, love, but still.
Why The Tempest (6164)? It fits the usual reading of that play as Shakespeare’s final production, much as the easter egg hunt is Halliday’s. It also connects Prospero’s threat to his magic books with Halliday’s offer of the world-destroying button.
Three is indeed a magic number (5375). Three protagonists unlock the final puzzle, and the enemy fights that combination. But two is the final image; it’s only three if we assume Ogden is a kind of supervisory figure.
Should we trust Ogden? If he’s “the Great and Powerful Og” (5481) doesn’t this mean he’s a fraud?
Why the game Adventure, hit on so many times? Is it just the historical resonance?
The book concludes by urging people offline. “Don’t make the same mistake I did,” advises Halliday’s valedictory recording. “Don’t hide in here forever.” (6423) Last line: “…for the first time in as long as I could remember, I had absolutely no desire to log back into the OASIS.” (6553)
Our protagonists turn out to be diverse in terms of sexual orientation and ethnicity, although it’s a classic hero (white, male, cis, American) who wins the day.
IV: over to you
More musings coming up.
But now that we’ve finished it (and if you haven’t, please come back when you do), what did you think of the novel?