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Wade Watts spends most of his day plugged into the virtual utopia called the OASIS, a giant immersive online environment which provides a welcomed escape for the poor yet clever and resourceful teenager living in the dystopian landscape of Oklahoma City in the year 2044. Wade has devoted years studying the life and obsessions of the OASIS's deceased creator (an eccentric recluse) in order to find clues to the location of the first of three keys hidden within the virtual universe, keys which lead to a life-changing Easter egg: a multi-billion dollar fortune and complete control of the OASIS! It's been five years since the OASIS creator passed away and the worldwide hunt for the ultimate video game prize began, but no one has retrieved the first key...until Wade's low level OASIS avatar named Parzival shocks the world by completing the seemingly impossible task! Now an instant virtual celebrity, Wade is racing against the best players in the game--and the powerful corporate entities with deep pockets and devious plans of their own--to control the fate of the OASIS!
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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Ready Player One is page after page of nerdgasm for 1980s video game and pop culture fans. For us average folk who trekked through the endless 1980s references without a lot of background knowledge, Cline shared enough expository information to help us along but ultimately left us with a mediocre story. Indeed, my main complaint about the book was how often (and excessively) the protagonist monologued about his 1980s obsession. Wade had a cocky showoff-ness about him that didn't particularly endear me to the character, true to life though he may be to any average teenaged boy. He also had what appeared to me to be an unhealthy obsession with a girl online which scarily rivaled his all-encompassing obsession with the 1980s. Despite these criticisms, I found myself rooting for Wade even though he's a character I don't really like or relate to because while his initial motivations are clearly selfish, he ultimately chooses to fight to preserve something greater than himself.

What I found most interesting about the book was the world that Cline envisioned in which more and more of the human lifespan will be spent working and socializing in a virtual existence, in which culture and commerce integrate seamlessly with the digital world (for better and worse), and the ways in which human connection crosses the boundaries between the online word and the physical one. With increasingly advanced virtual reality technology being produced every year, it's not too difficult to imagine how close the realization of some form of an immersive online environment as conceived in Ready Player One really is. One of the main considerations I've been grappling with post-read is the "realness" of experiences "lived" in a digital space; when relationships are forged or a person expends time, resources, and mental energy creating or existing in the virtual world, how might the perceived truthfulness of an individual's representation of their real selves impact their perception of life? Ready Player One also prompted me to consider how social constructs, such as racism and sexism, might (un)intentionally be carried over into virtual spaces and contemplate the means by which an individual might find freedom in the digital realm while another might find an outlet of oppression.

Overall, I think the book provides an interesting glimpse into one version of a future society where life is lived in the digital realm because humans haven't figured out a better way to remedy or escape the destruction of the real world. Such a technology could foster unparalleled connection and access to information, but at what cost and who gets to decide what is acceptable to sacrifice? These questions certainly aren't the core of the book but they are the concepts I was most drawn to since my ignorance of 1980s games and media preclude me from otherwise nerding out along with the intended audience. I think that Ready Player One is a story that has a little something for everyone to enjoy--action, romance, teen angst, social and political commentary, and, of course, nerd fandom--but like most debut novels there is plenty of room for improvement.