I’m a little behind in the reading but I have a ton of reactions to the first third of Ready Player One. I’d like to start off with a more literary analysis that has little to do with video games. I read a book last summer called Oryx and Crake which reminds me of Ready Player One because of its setting. Both are dystopias, and while Oryx and Crake takes place in a post apocalyptic world, most of the book is a retelling of history from before that time. The main difference between the two books is that in Oryx and Crake, the world has become a large petri dish of infective parasites and diseases that feast on humans. To counter this, large companies have created walled off, secure compounds to protect their employees and their families. The bleakness of the situation is very reminiscent of the world in Ready Player One. The glory days are in the past and the future looks incredibly bleak.
That being said Ready Player One has struck me as a geek novel written by a non-geek. I am a geek in many regards, I look deeper into things than most people do. I have seen most episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine and all of the movies. One of my favorite blogs obsessively follows every uniform change in every major sport, no matter how small. Additionally, I latch onto games and play them for hours and I am spending my summer programming at my internship. While the characters in Ready Player One are undoubtedly geeks, the author has presented too many discrepancies in presentations of nerdiness to really pass as a geek to me. For example, at one point Halliday and Ogden are compared to Jobs and Wozniak, but seeing as the book takes place in an alternate timeline and Halliday and Ogden are actually a duo before Jobs and Wozniak would be, this really makes no sense. The other discrepancy that bugged me was that its made a point that Hallidy made sure that under privileged children around the world were given an OASIS terminal so they could go to virtual school. But the OASIS terminals are free, so how does his money help get these kids OASIS terminals. Sure the shipping cost could be something he could subsidize, but getting terminals to more people is more a business move than anything else. Its these little things that bugged me.
While these small discrepancies bothered me in the beginning of the book, once the action started I quickly forgot it and actually began to analyze what OASIS itself is in terms of a video game. There are two things that really strike me about OASIS. First, we already have our own version of OASIS and its called Facebook. I realized this when the author was discussing how Halliday was the nerd king and my mind immediately latched onto Mark Zuckerberg. Both geniuses, both had ground breaking ideas/inventions and both started when they were young. The obvious difference between the two is obviously that the OASIS has a visual interface, but after that, they are eerily similar. OASIS is described as a place where people go to hang out with their friends, Facebook is a place where people hangout with their friends. You can play all sorts of games on Facebook, from Candy Crush Saga, to a multitude of sports games. People use Facebook to escape all the time, its on every screen that you can imagine, whether it be your TV, computer or cell phone, and at any point when you see a person looking at their phone during an awkward social interaction, its probably a good bet that they are on Facebook.
Second, the OASIS has absolutely zero traits that McGonigal describes in her book as what makes games special. One of the biggest things that stood out to me in McGonigal’s book was that people in the work place are starting to use them as a distraction to feel productive, but there is no productivity in the OASIS. The OASIS is an extension of life, and the way it is presented it isn’t like World of Warcraft where you are given missions. You basically pay a quarter and then And the other main thing, that you have more or less unlimited chances, isn’t really true either. OASIS is not a video game in the traditional sense, its basically a web browser. Since the whole thing is based on the internet, its just another interface to access the internet with, albeit the internet has been expanded to be 3D and a little more awesome, but its still the internet none the less.
I also have an issue with one thing. It is obvious that this world is a dystopia, and the OASIS is consistently praised as a savoir in this book because it allows people to get away from the hopelessness of their lives. But I’d like to present the argument that these people that are spending the majority of their time in the OASIS are unhealthy and probably a part of the reason the future is so bleak. The OASIS is obviously a great tool, it allows people to explore all sorts of different worlds and has made education more affordable and easier to take care of. But when you get people that are stuck in this virtual interface all day, how can they fix any of the numerous problems their world has. So to finish I would like to present a question and see what some people have to say. There have been multiple mentions of a Great Recession in the novel, and it seems that this reality mirrors early 20th century depression times. So, do you think that the United States, or the world for that matter, would have ever broken out of the great depression if the majority of the population was spending 1/3 to 3/4 of their time buried in a virtual interface? I don’t think they would, but lets see what you guys think.