Insert quarter. Ready Player One. Designed by Ernest Cline.
Level One: The story of Wade Watts in the year 2044, as the teen tries to navigate a cruel reality as he simultaneously navigates the much cooler virtual reality of OASIS, a massive multiplayer world that (think WoW X Second Life X Facebook, and then put an exponent around your product) everyone is playing and many have made their preferred existence.
Level Two: The adventures of Parzival, the avatar of Wade Watts in OASIS, as he tries to solve the puzzles hidden by the creator of OASIS, James Halliday. Solving the puzzles will lead to the ultimate Easter egg and the acquisition of Halliday’s fortune. The puzzles are decipherable only with encyclopedic knowledge of everything 80s, the childhood era of Halliday himself. The problem is that millions (billions?) of other people are searching for the same thing, as is one evil corporation, Innovative Online Industries (IOI). And as Parzival becomes more successful at solving these puzzles, IOI starts coming after not only Parzival, but his real-world creator Wade Watts. Levels One and Two begin to merge in dangerous and exciting ways, as Parzival/Wade faces puzzles and “quests” inside and outside of OASIS.
Level Three: A surprisingly thoughtful exploration of the notion of identity in the virtual age. Parzival knows his competitors and eventual allies (Art3mis, Aech, Daito, and Shoto) only as avatars. As the gunters (as the puzzle questers are known) and the IOI operatives come closer in their race to find the Easter egg, Cline presents us with multiple notions of identity. And Parzival/Wade (along with the reader) must come to terms with the disparity between virtual and real identities.
Bonus Level: A frothy wallop of 80’s nostalgia—video games, music, movies, television. Some of it is explained for the benefit of those who are not fluent in Eighties, some of it exists solely as golden coins for those of us who are. The measure of Cline’s skill, however, is that the book works even for those who may not catch all the references. Like a futuristic palimpsest, Cline gives us a classic coming-of-age story, with elements of geek love and the value of friendship, played out in a virtual quest in a world that faithfully recreates the coming of age of its creator. The only thing that could make Ready Player One better is if it came with its own joystick.
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