Ready Player One – Ernest Cline Brings Us Back to the 80’s - Flashback Week


Photo courtesy of misocrazy.

Every writer has the dream of putting out a book that becomes an instant success. Ernest Cline was able to live out this dream when his first novel, Ready Player One, was published. Things seemed to be paved in gold for Cline since the origins of the novel. The day after he sold the book to Random House, Warner Bros. bought the movie rights and planned to make a big-budget film adaptation in the vein of “Harry Potter and Avatar.” Once the book hit the shelves in August, 2011, it quickly became a bestseller and was named one of the best books released that year. Cline became an overnight celebrity.

Strides have been taken to provide you with a spoiler-free synopsis.

The story takes place in 2044 in a dilapidated society. The planet’s oil has finally started to run out and the global economy is in  such disrepair that it makes the Great Depression look like a cake walk. RP1’s protagonist is a high school student named Wade Owen Watts who spends his days in a virtual form of the Internet called the OASIS. This platform allows the user to take part in an alternate reality where everything the Internet offers surrounds them in a three dimensional landscape via cyber-optic gloves and goggles. Watts attends high school in the OASIS and only knows his friends in this alternate world.

RP1 starts off with the death of OASIS inventor, James Halliday, who  leaves behind a fortune that dwarfs that of Bill Gates. Halliday has no living heirs and decides to offer a competition inside the OASIS that involves finding three different keys somewhere inside the online universe. The champion would inherit his money, becoming the new owner of the most popular Internet platform in the world. Since Halliday’s origins were in video game design, all of the challenges included in the competition are based off of video games created in the 1980s. The inventor grew up during that time and always had a special place in his heart for the decade of Reagan and Rubik’s Cubes.

Since such a large fortune is at stake, it’s obviously not easy for a person to compete in the challenge. Halliday only left a clue that comprised a short poem explaining where the first challenge was located to access the first key. Watts, along with millions of other people across the world begin researching Halliday’s life in the hopes of finding clues to decipher the poem to become the owner of OASIS.

It only takes a little bit of research to discover Halliday’s affinity for the 1980’s. As everyone goes Halliday-crazy with dreams of becoming multi-billionaires, the entire world has a flashback en masse 60 years into the past and ’80s nostalgia returns with a vengeance. Dance clubs would blast hits by Dead or Alive, Duran Duran and A-Ha, while people start wearing multi-layered socks and “Frankie Say Relax” t-shirts again. It’s better than anything John Hughes could have ever conceived.

After several years of inactivity before anyone deciphers the poem, things get into full swing with the competition while nostalgia for the ’80s follows the competitors and the reader every step of the way. Challenges, like attaining a perfect score in Pac-man, beating games created by Atari, and a video game that involves reenacting the movie War Games from the perspective of Matthew Broderick’s character, keep the people in the book busy in their quest for victory.

RP1 is a perfect combination of a campy dystopian novel with a time-piece plot involving classic 1980’s pop culture. The result is a seriously fun read. Cline invents a new technology with the OASIS platform and gives just the right amount of detail (without boring the reader) as to how the user interface works to provide a virtual reality. His acute details create such a realistic and plausible construct that it seems believable that we might one day find ourselves using the same technology. He accomplishes this while continually providing tidbits of ’80s music, movies, and video games that bring back fond memories to anybody that had the pleasure of living through that decade.

The best thing to do now is to either dust off the Atari to get a taste of the challenges the characters in RP1 faced, or go pick up the book from a local independent bookstore. It is the best way to relive the ’80s until we can one day revisit it ourselves in a virtual reality setting.