Ready Player One
By Ernest Cline
An homage to geekdom by a self-styled uber-geek, and a paean to pop culture by an obsessive fan of the same, Ready Player One is entirely representative, and perhaps the fullest expression we have, of the now dominant paradigm in global entertainment.
As a political statement I find it pernicious. The world has gone to hell (collapsed economy, environmental catastrophe) but that’s OK because capitalism has provided a virtual reality that is preferable to the real thing. Society’s losers, like Wade Watts, can now be winners in a world of make-believe built by corporate interests. If you invest enough of your time and labour into playing their game you have a chance to become rich beyond the dreams of avarice. And you’ll get a kiss from one of the cool girls at the end.
As a culture artefact it is of its time. The film rights were sold a year before publication and it was duly turned into a Steven Spielberg blockbuster. The texture of its world is the plastic, CGI, virtual reality that is now so ubiquitous both on page and screen. What is real? Nothing worth caring about. Wade is an orphan, for example, living in a slum of stacked trailers. Even death has no sting, as he has an extra life.
A blurb on the paperback edition calls it “Harry Potter for grown-ups.” Strange. I’d thought Harry Potter was Harry Potter for grown-ups. Or for grown-ups who don’t want to grow up. This is kidult, which we might as well call the new YA, publishing’s latest sweet spot.
The writing seems directed at this same mental and emotional demographic. Meaning it is very easy to read. It is, in all respects, an emblematic work of today’s pop culture: entertaining, superficial, formulaic, and childish. All served up with a large dollop of nostalgia. When did growing up become such a terrible thing?