A cool concept with divisive writing: A Ready Player One Review

Someone needs to bless the rains down in the comment sections on sites because it seems like everyone has an opinion about Ready Player One.

The first time I heard about the novel Ready Player One all I kept hearing about it was how cool the concept was. There existed three layers people seemed to be in a tizzy about. The concept of a virtual reality, the nostalgia factor, and the dystopian genre.

Now, the dystopian genre is still something people enjoy, but it’s one that many have expressed of seeing a lot of. You could walk into the YA section of a bookstore, close your eyes and spin around, and when you reopen your eyes you’d most likely be facing a dystopian book. Maybe even an entire shelf of them. Yeah, it was definitely a thing.

So when Ready Player One came out, people jumped at it because of the interesting take of the dystopian society. I was definitely intrigued at how a society could be so engrossed in virtual reality and still be in disrepair.
The allusion to our cellphone/internet obsessed lifestyle wasn’t lost to me, but I appreciated how the message wasn’t bonking me over the head.

However, the dystopian aspect of the novel didn’t age well as more and more people started to search for different fads. I have definitely heard more than once people saying about the book, “Another white male savior dystopian novel? No thanks.”
Yeah…there’s definitely a lot of that sentiment going around.
And while I’d love to unpack that, that’s definitely a whole other post in itself.

For now, I’ll say that I don’t agree with that notion. On the surface level it’s right, but Ready Player One is self aware enough to know that it’s protagonist is a white male, and it uses that narrative, and flips it over and over, and that really changes the discussion.

Yet, the novel harkens back to 80s movies to describe the path it decided to go down. This is where Ernest Cline starts to shovel out the nostalgia page after page. Readers are reminded that, yes, awesome movies, games, and music came out during the 80’s.
And with the 80’s plethora of media, white male protagonists were all around to see. From Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to the original Star Wars trilogy.

It became very apparent that Cline was framing the novel with this; trying to highlight and rave about media from the 80s while simultaneously creating an 80s movie narrative.
It worked for me, and it worked for others who were swept up in the cheesy yet cute 80’s inspired journey.
For others though, Ready Player One became another white male nerd victory story because of this surface level narrative structure.

I won’t lie, there were times when the nostalgia factor got overwhelming. There was only so much information about a video game or a movie that readers can retain before it starts to feel like we’re reading from a nerd textbook. Or Video Game Mansplaining 101.

I don’t doubt that Ernest Cline is smart. I don’t doubt that he knows a lot about 80’s movies, video games, and music. And I also don’t doubt that a lot of people would not know the trivial details surrounding these things. Even so, Cline should have trusted in his readers more and left out some of the explaining. A trivia detail here and there would be okay, and I especially loved when those same details played into the plot, but we really don’t need to feel like we’re reading Wikipedia: the book.

There are different ways Cline could have achieved this with his writing, but perhaps he didn’t know how to. The writing in Ready Player One was definitely divisive, with some people relishing the opportunity to pick apart sentences and dialogue. The two biggest faults with the writing seems to stem from Cline’s insistence that Wade Watt’s journey fit into the 80’s narrative framework. The story hums along, hitting different beats, like Japanese characters speaking as though the feudalist days were last year, and chasing the girl Wade has a crush on (practically with a speaker playing music).

People hated these things.
They definitely fall under a certain kind of crude, a blemish of unpolished writing.

What I was surprised people weren’t talking about was the theme of friendship. 80’s movies loved showing a group of friends going on adventures, and discovering stuff. The journey with Wade and his online friends felt very real, speaking as someone who has had online friends greet him almost every day. It was completely endearing to read about online friends having a place in fiction that was still about how alone the protagonist is in the real world, but isn’t limited to that trope. Wade, Aech, and Artemis, felt very real, and their virtual journey together stood out because of that.

It’s a huge part of the novel that not many people give credit for, and it was definitely the biggest highlight for me. I loved every second of reading about these kids logging in everyday and trying to solve this elaborate treasure hunt. What made it even more incredible was the 80’s nostalgic feel that zipped along, framing this journey. Wade’s friendship was celebrated, and not in the way that antisocial gamers who ‘live in their mom’s basement meeting people’ is depicted, but celebrated as real people in different cities or countries forming a bond over a mutual interest. It’s a phenomenon that my generation doesn’t even think about. A whole world of people who are interested in the same things you are, and you can talk and interact, and form a real relationship with, even if you can’t physically be next to them. It’s that positive opportunity technology has given us. Almost like magic. And Ready Player One was eager to tell us how amazing these relationships truly are.

At the end of the day, it’s whether the good of the novel outweighs the bad. Sure I didn’t like some of the cringe worthy dialogue, handling of certain characters, and the block after block of useless trivia information. But I definitely love the expansive virtual journey, the theme of friendship being at the forefront, and how whimsical the 80’s nostalgia could feel when done right.

The search for the three keys and the all or nothing prize is a journey that will stay with me, dancing in the background of my memory every time I listen to Toto’s Africa.

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