I’ve never played Second Life but I imagine the world of Oasis that Ernest Cline created in his debut novel Ready Player One is what the developers hoped their online world would become someday. Set in the year 2044 and the world is pretty much a shambles. Most people escape the reality of their lives by logging in to Oasis, a massive multiplayer online universe, created by James Halliday and Ogden Morrow that allows them to immerse themselves in traditional MMOs, become a character in their favorite movie, or just explore fantasy or science fiction settings in whatever way strikes their fancy. Gregarious Simulation Systems, the company who runs the Oasis, also allows schools, churches and employers to use the universe. The best part is that it’s mostly free to play, with options to buy up on gear and extras. People can literally have everything they need delivered to their homes and spend their entire waking life immersed in this online universe. It’s as close to a perfect life as any average person in this dreary future can hope to have.
And then James Halliday passes away leaving no heir to the billion dollar company and universe so many people rely on. At the point that Halliday dies, Ogden Morrow no longer has anything to do with the company. Instead of leaving GSS to simply become a stock holder owned company, or selling it off to the highest bidder, Halliday’s video will (sent to every person with an Oasis account) announces a contest for his estate. An “Easter Egg” hunt through the Oasis universe where three keys must be found to unlock three puzzles to be solved. Whoever does it first inherits Halliday’s entire estate and control of Oasis and GSS. People devote their lives to the contest. Egg Hunters become known as Gunters. Five years pass and no one has even found the first key. In addition to Gunters, the company Innovative Online Industries (IOI) also actively hunts using their employees in a loophole of the quest rules that they are using to try to win and gain control of GSS and Oasis for, you know, the usual Evil Corporate purposes. Enter the hero, Wade Wyatt, an 18 year old with not much to look forward to in life. He’s a dedicated Gunter who’s spent his free time learning every detail he can on Halliday—the games he played, the movies he loved, and everything about his life and history. Because Halliday was a child and teen in the 80’s, and because so many people are like Wade in his obsession with finding clues in the man’s past, the 80’s has once again become popular. But it’s that kind of obsession that will lead Wade and four other Gunters into a race to beat IOI to the holy grail that is Halliday’s treasure.
There are references to post 80’s MMOs and enough description of what has become of the world (the grand divide between the haves and the have not’s) that’s just enough to make you realize why everyone would rather spend their lives in a virtual world instead of the real one. But if you grew up in the 80’s, and especially if you were a geeky kid of the 80’s, this is a wild nostalgic ride. A reviewer on Goodreads called it “nostalgia porn”. It’s exactly that and so much more. There is something from nearly every facet of the 80’s that pops up in this book. Remember Zork? What about Ladyhawke? Or Dead Man’s Party? You will find a lot of descriptions of old console game systems like the original Atari and some of the first home computers like the Commodore 64, but you’ll also be treated to reminders of the movies and music that were popular in the 80’s. I found myself more than once reading a passage and smiling because I hadn’t thought of a particular song or movie in a while. This is also one of those books where you find yourself justifying all the time you’ve spent memorizing movie quotes, pop culture trivia and walk throughs of video games you love—it’s not a waste of time, SOMEDAY there could be a billion dollar contest that requires the exact combination of “useless” knowledge you have in order to win it. The book is an adventure I highly recommend you take. So, are you ready player one?