When you ask an avid reader why they choose to spend so much of their time reading, you’re likely to get a variety of answers. Perhaps one of the most common — including my own personal reason — is because we seek to escape out of our own reality and allow ourselves to be placed into that of another. Oftentimes, these realities are what we would call “much cooler and more exciting” than ours. While some find this escapism through reading, others find it through their own hobbies, such as art or gaming. Ready Player One takes the thought of escaping through video games to a whole new level, in the form of a novel.
Written by author Ernest Cline, Ready Player One takes place in the year 2045: following the life of teenager Wade Watts. As the novel quotes, “reality is an ugly place.” Wracked with threats and problems from our current worldly situation, Wade’s Earth has been tarnished by climate change, overpopulation, and poverty. Most people are faced with living in giant “stacks” of RVs and makeshift mobile homes. Their only form of solace comes in the form of a virtual utopia named the OASIS. The OASIS is a virtual reality that can be accessed in ways similar to what forms of it we have today such as the Oculus, PlayStation VR, etc., where people can take the form of an avatar and do whatever their heart desires. The novel’s premise revolves around the allure of what’s called an “Easter egg” that was planted within the OASIS by its creator: James Halliday after his death. Three keys were to be hidden somewhere within the vast reaches of the OASIS, only to be found through a series of clues like the following:
“Three hidden keys open three secret gates
Wherein the errant will be tested for worthy traits
And those with the skill to survive these straits
Will reach The End where the prize awaits”
(Cline, Ready Player One, Pg: 6)
The prize will be given to the first individual to collect all three keys, and go through all three corresponding gates. What is the prize? Just Halliday’s entire fortune, valued in excess of two hundred and forty billion dollars. Nothing big. Not to mention the fact they become the OASIS’ sole proprietor. Given everything at stake, the search for Halliday’s egg became a worldwide phenomenon known as “The Hunt”. With nothing more than the initial four line clue and a collection known as Anorak’s Almanac: “a collection of hundreds of Halliday’s undated journal entries” that range from everyday activities to details about his personal life. In an attempt to get closer to winning the contest, Halliday’s obsessions and interests became vital to anyone joining The Hunt. As a result, the novel is chock full of references to 1980s pop culture. From clothes, to movies, video games, you’ll find it all.
Years pass and not a single person has found the first key. Judging from the looks of it, no one is even close. That is, not until Wade — better known by his avatar: Parzival — becomes the first to crack the clue. The rest of the story follows Parzival as he, along with his friends: Art3mis, Aech, Daito, and Sho race to solve the clues before IOI (Innovative Online Industries) — a shady company, looking to take control of the OASIS only to monopolize their business — solves them first.
The novel spans 39 chapters and just over 370 pages, varying from scenes of intense, otherworldly combat, to scenes of real world assault, contrasting them with scenes of true friendship and romance. Overall, it has garnered a variety of reactions. To many, you either hate it, or love it. A common criticism of the novel’s writing is that it comes off as over-explaining it’s references. A frequently referenced section is as follows:
“Dagorath was a word in Sindarin, the Elvish language J. R. R. Tolkien had created for The Lord of the Rings. The word dagorath meant “battle,” but Tolkien had spelled the word with just one “g,” not two. “Daggorath” (with two “g”s) could refer only to one thing: an incredibly obscure computer game called Dungeons of Daggorath released in 1982. The game had been made for just one platform, the TRS-80 Color Computer.”
(Cline, Ready Player One, Pg: 85)
Some readers feel that the author’s writing often alludes to something — often referencing things previously popular — and then reiterates that allusion by telling you exactly what was being alluded to. They often felt that the constant retelling and blatant description of the novel’s references was far too wordy and unnecessary. I, however, disagree. The novel is written in the first person perspective of Wade, a teenage boy living years in the future from our time period. A time in which being obsessed with 1980s culture is unnatural and only seen in a handful of individuals. The whole premise of his character is that Wade is that kid who will sit and ramble on about things “normal” people would find boring and unnecessary. Sure, it can be a bit much for us because we understand all of these references, but that’s the point. It’s being spoken from the perspective of someone who isn’t as innately familiar with them. To me, the writing is simply in character for Wade, and the fact that his character is so well educated in everything makes my inner geek happy.
In March of 2018, a film adaptation of Ready Player One was released, directed by Steven Spielberg. Cline worked alongside the filmmakers and is accredited as a screenplay writer, however he’s stated that he initially had no idea how the novel was going to be made into a movie. The biggest challenge to overcome was the amount of direct references to pop culture within the novel, ranging from Pac-Man, King Kong, Dungeons & Dragons, and several famous authors, game creators, and artists, the list of required clearances for a movie would have gone on for miles. Regardless, the movie was successfully created, and now has references to pop culture from more recent years as well. Minecraft, Sanrio, Overwatch, and more are all seen referenced in the film, perhaps making the film more marketable to those not entirely tuned into the 80s heavy references in the novel.
Those who have read the novel and seen the movie know that there are some pretty drastic differences between the original writing and the film. While the storyline remains the same, along with the fact there are three keys to be found, the quests that must be completed to acquire said keys are entirely different. In the novel, the quests consist of battling a lich — taken from the D&D module Tomb of Horrors — in a game of Joust, being placed into the movie Wargames as the main character and having to act out the movie scene for scene, and more. They’re all incredibly elaborate, and take the characters months to figure out, whereas the movie’s quests appear to move quite a bit quicker, and start off with the first already being discovered. The movie’s MarioKart style race is nowhere to be found in the novel, nor is the character’s quest through the world of The Shining, though there is a slight nod to them having to work their way through the realm of a film. The final quest — in which the player must play through Adventure, but not win, rather find the game’s Easter egg of the creator’s name — is referenced in the novel, but it is not seen as a specific quest for a key. While the reasoning for these major changes does tie into the previous notion of copyright issues, Cline listed that another reason the quests were changed was due to the nature of the elaborately themed tasks themselves. “You have somebody reenacting an old Dungeons and Dragons module or playing a perfect game of Pac-Man – things that work in a novel but are not visually engaging at all and would stop a movie dead.” Cline says.
In slightly less drastic comparisons, certain characters had more (or less) of an impact on the movie’s plot in contrast to that of the novel. First and foremost, the characters all make contact with each other in the real world far earlier than they do in comparison to the novel, where they aren’t seen to meet in person until the very end of the novel. Art3mis (known to the real world as Samantha Cook) is shown to have an intellect equal to that of Wade. In the novel, we’re restricted to Wade’s point of view, so her influence on the story is significantly less in comparison to the amount of contribution we see from her in the movie. Daito (known as Toshiro Yoshiaki) has a completely different role in the movie, given the fact that he’s killed off in the novel at the hands of IOI, his death played off as a suicide. Of course, the reasoning for that change is perhaps a bit obvious, having a character thrown off the balcony of their apartment would have put an extremely dark turn on the movie. However, the fact that Daito is given more of an opportunity to aid the group in the movie is not to be overlooked. Other characters have slight alterations that can be found in backstories — Aech (known as Helen Harris) is said to have gotten the nickname: “H” from her father, however in the novel, this nickname was given to her by her mother. — or even a name change. Sho actually has a completely different name in the novel when compared to the name given to him in the movie. In the novel, he introduces himself to Parzival as Akihide, while the movie has Toshiro introduce him as Xo.
There are quite a number of other alterations between the two versions, such as location changes, plot points being swapped around between characters, and some characters not even existing to begin with. But when it comes down to it, both the movie and the novel still portray the same message.
At its roots, Ready Player One is a thrilling, sci-fi adventure that reminds readers and viewers the importance of teamwork while touching on the dangers that come with getting entirely invested in escaping from reality. Although getting lost in the pages of a novel or the riveting gameplay of video games, there will always be a distinguishable line between fiction and real life. As in the words of James Halliday himself:
“Reality is the only thing that’s real.”