Ready Player One
“In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles within this world’s digital confines — puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them.
“But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take the ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win — and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.” (Blurb on the back cover)
Willy Wonka meets The Matrix
Anyone who has ever played arcade and computer games knows how addictive they are. These days, we can observe relatives at family gatherings slipping off into cyber space via their smart phones and tablets to continue their quest for game supremacy.
This story is the ultimate gamer scenario: not only do you have to locate the “Easter” egg hidden within the virtual world, but you have to play games within games in order to search for the clues to find the keys. A bit Super Mario, to me.
And because this book is an homage to the 80’s, the author has included a panoply of (mostly) American cultural references. Monty Python and the Holy Grail gives us a bit of a clue, doesn’t it? This is The Quest to End All Quests: the winner inherits the fortune and power of the Creator!
Wade’s Avatar is Parzival
In choosing this name for his hero’s Avatar, Ernest Cline signaled that this story is spiritual in nature. There can be no other reason.
The Holy Grail has been the ultimate reward for knights of valor since the beginning of the second millennium. Even now, modern research has tried to understand the obsession that we have with this Holy Relic.
And, just maybe, that is its purpose: to keep us looking for the ultimate Truth.
“Three is a Magic Number”
Numbers are the fabric of any computer program. So, Cline obviously had to make reference to several of them through the pages of his book. Some were obvious: the 1 in the title for example. Others are not so obvious, unless you are used to looking for hidden ‘coded’ messages.
(The binary numbers shown above are equivalent to the numbers 1 to 10 from the decimal system. This will be important to remember.)
The villain of the story is an evil corporation called Innovative Online Industries: IOI (pronounced eye-oh-eye). Their employees ID numbers start with the digit 6, so their enemies refer to them as Sixers. This echoes the Number of the Beast from the Bible, 666. But hidden in plain sight is the number of the Goddess: 5 (as 101). This means that even though everything looks hopeless for the loners and groups of gamers, all is not lost, because the solution to the undoing of the IOI is hidden within its structure.
Also, the top gamers listed on the scoreboard were referred to as the High Five.
Then, when the final gate seems impossible to solve, the number 3 becomes the key to unlocking it. Talk about sacred, eh?
Along the way, Wade as Parzival plays Pac-Man just for the sake of beating Halliday’s (almost) perfect score. His reward is the quarter that has been sitting on the top of the game console. All along he has no way of knowing what value that quarter has for him because he can’t even handle it to inspect it.
At the final gate, the Sixers detonate a device called the Catalyst which wipes out every Avatar within that specific world. That quarter turns out to be the very thing that allows Wade an extra life.
The lesson for all of us is “Practice makes perfect”, because one day it may pay off for us, in the most unexpected way.
This story is a page turner. Make no mistake about that. Like any good game, it will keep you hooked until it’s Game Over. We can only hope that Life does the same for us in this “real” world in which we live.
Here’s a clip from Steven Spielberg’s upcoming movie, scheduled for release in March:
I’ll leave you with the last line from the book. It’s quite telling.
It occurred to me then that for the first time in as long as I could remember, I had absolutely no desire to log back into OASIS.