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Synopsis via Goodreads: In the year 2045, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.
I never had any intention of reading this book, let alone actually loving it enough to award it a five-star rating. So I’m just as surprised as you are. But Tesco had a book sale while I was on holiday and I bought it out of morbid curiosity with the intention of reading a chapter and letting it gather dust afterwards. That obviously didn’t end up happening. So hear me out.
Is this book flawed? Yes, yes, yes. Flaws that I recognised and acknowledged the entire time I was reading. But to be perfectly honest, I just didn’t care. I was having so much damn fun reading Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One that I was more than willing to look past things that I might have hated in literally any other book and instead sat back and enjoyed the ride. Readers either seem to love this book (like me) or absolutely loathe it. I feel both of these groups are more than justified in their opinions. So what exactly was it about Ready Player One that I personally loved so much? How did I go from refusing to read a book to placing it among the Top 5 books I’ve read this year?
First of all, I love video games. I don’t play them anywhere near as much as I did in my teens/early-20s, but exploring virtual worlds has always been a something that puts my imagination into overdrive. I was so obsessed with video games that, in the midst of my 5+ year long World of Warcraft phase, I enrolled in a video game development program at my university. I ended up switching to art history after a couple of years since it wasn’t entirely for me, but my love of gaming preserved. So Ready Player One‘s narrative taking place inside an enormous MMORPG called the Oasis won me over instantly.
The second hook for me was the 80s nostalgia. I know this is one of the things that a lot of reviewers complain about as the book is literally overflowing with 80s references to the point of it being excessive. But having been born at the tail end of the 80s to parents who spent their teenage years enjoying the films and music of the decade, I couldn’t help but love this. When a book references a million things you loved growing up it’s hard to dislike it!
The third reason I loved Ready Player One was the plot. It was paper thin, I admit, but a scavenger hunt through a virtual reality MMO for an ‘Easter egg’ isn’t something I was able to dislike. I liked reading about the different planets, the various technologies associated with entering and controlling your avatar in the Oasis and the history of the game as well as the game’s creators. I give Cline’s world building a solid A+.
Having said all this, I understand why some readers may not enjoy Ready Player One. The characters are really nothing very interesting. Wade Watts, the main protagonist exists in a bit of a protective bubble throughout most of the book and seems to know exactly the right thing to do at exactly the right time. He also has a like… bizarrely photographic memory and despite being a student has enough time to watch, listen and play every single film, television program, album, and video game that came out during the 1980s. Sometimes DOZENS of times.
His fellow Gunters (egg hunters) were also fairly two dimensional and served very specific and obvious purposes within the plot. The only female character, Art3meis, acted as the love interest but at least she had her own goals and dreams that didn’t involve Wade trying to win her over. I personally think she would have made a better protagonist than Wade. The antagonist, however, was fairly bland and boring as an individual character, but I am a sucker for evil organisations in literature so once Wade began uncovering more information about the company attempting to take over the Oasis I began to find that portion of the narrative more intriguing. So yes, it’s very flawed. But I did not care. I was more concerned about what crazy puzzle was behind the next gate and what type of adventure the next clue would uncover. I’ve never been more capable of turning a blind eye to terrible character development than I was with this book. That’s how brainwashed by this crazy plot and world building I was.
So would you enjoy Ready Player One? I honestly have no idea. I’ve read reviews by readers who have the same background and interests as me who absolutely despised this book. And I’ve also read reviews by readers who don’t play video games at all but loved Ready Player One. I never in a million years thought I would enjoy what essentially sounded like The Big Bang Theory of books, but here we are. Like anything, I think Ready Player One is worth giving a chance to, especially if you’re enjoying the recent resurgence of 80s nostalgia in film and television (such as the recent It remake and Stranger Things). If you’re looking for an easy and fluffy sci-fi adventure than this might just be the book for you. If you’re looking for anything on a deeper, philosophical level with complex character development and unpredictable plots than run fast in the other direction. As for me, I’m glad I picked this book up randomly at Tesco last weekend and gave it a shot. I just happened to find a new favourite, so maybe you will too!