Monday, August 18, 2014

Ready Player One (Ernest Cline) - a superb retrospective blast through 1980s gaming and culture

Ready Player One is a both a cracking tale and a much appreciated dredge back through all that was good about growing up in the 1980s.

When the co-creator of a vast virtual world OASIS dies, he sets enthusiasts the challenge of solving his puzzles in order to take over control of the company that runs the software. Think Second Life on steroids with 3D goggles and haptic suits. Total immersion in an online environment that freely educates children reduced to living in stacks of caravans in the modern day favelas of 2044.
The OASIS quickly became the single most popular use for the Internet, so much so that the terms "OASIS" and "Internet" gradually became synonymous ... Before long, billions of people around the world were working and playing in the OASIS ever day. Some of them met, fell in love, and got married without ever setting foot on the same continent. The lines of distinction between a person's real identity and that of their avatar began to blur.

Not that far fetched!

Wade has very little of value in real life except his wits and an ability to learn. In OASIS his avatar Parzival starts of with few artefacts or special powers. His gamesmanship together with his friendships help Wade grow into a powerful player. Like an enormous multi-round adventure game, Wade and his other high-scoring searchers uncover many of the secrets. But a commercial army of Sixers are determined to use brute force and murderous tactics - both online and in real life - to solve the giant easter egg first. In a world of fake identities and virtual relationships, who do you really know and who can you really trust?

References to WarGames [what a great movie and book] abound, along with Zork, phone phreaker Cap'n Crunch [aka John Draper], a DeLorean car, a spaceship called Vonnegut, Serenity, 80s music references, and countless home computer machines, gaming platforms and arcade games. It's a total geekfest - male and female - and will tickle everyone who borrowed and devoured the copy of Hackers Handbook in their local library (the original 1985 edition, not the later more populist and sanitised Steve Gold-edited versions).

Written by Ernest Cline, published in 2011 and sitting on my bookshelf since Easter 2013, I brought the book on holiday ... and its 374 pages lasted less than a day and a half. I'm looking forward to the stories he creates in his forthcoming new book.

Recommended for 40 somethings who've seen a TRS-80 or played Dungeons & Dragons, or spent too long in an arcade or at home trying to get the perfect score in a game they've already completed. £3.95 on Kindle or £6.29 in dead tree format from Amazon, and no doubt available from all good local (second hand) bookstores too.

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