I loved Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One” when I read it this year. It’s a geek book (but remains accessible to non-geeks) and at the risk of incurring the wrath from the thing atop the place it feels somewhat like a boy geek book. (And regular readers will know my aversion for anything that gets labelled as being “for boys” or “for girls”, stuff should be “for people”)
I don’t say it’s a boy geek book just because it’s filled with references to video games, virtual reality, ’80s pop-culture trivia, geek heroes like E. Gary Gygax and hours and hours of gaming. It is. Sometimes reading a book I can feel like the book is looking me in the eye and thinking “You’re not my target demographic” (that’s how I felt reading 50 Shades: page after page of the book sternly looking at me saying “You’re not my target demographic. You’re not my target demographic”).
The book sounds like something I’d get involved with. A billionaire tech genius dies and leaves a mysterious riddle clue and the person that cracks all the clues and riddles/puzzles will inherit his fortune. Sign me up, I’m in. After playing The Stone and Perplex City this is the sort of game I’d want to play. I’d probably not win but then I didn’t win either The Stone or Perplex City but for me that wasn’t the only point of playing. I enjoyed meeting the community of players and am still friends with people who played along. I started playing The Stone at university in 1998(ish) after buying a pyramid shaped box in Hamleys in London and continued playing until the website shut down in 2008. My brother put me onto Perplex City by sending me a sticker that simply said “Lost: Cube. Reward £100,000” and then gave a link to the website. All online games have a gateway/rabbit hole through which you have to pass, it requires you to rekindle that part of your childhood that indulges in “let’s pretend”. During Perplex City there was a live event where players of the game flooded the police department of Perplex City with fake police reports. It was a huge amount of fun reporting animals escaped from a zoo to a real live person in Perplex City (we phoned a number in London that “got routed” across “the grid” to Perplex City. [Hush, the science of this alternate world didn’t/doesn’t matter] I also hugely miss the characters from the game that chatted back to players. They were an almost daily part of my life for nearly two and a bit years, they became as real to me as other online friends. Shoutout to Von, Violet, Kurt and Scarlett) and then seeing those reports pop up on the police department website. There’s a moment in doing it where I know this isn’t real, the person on the other end of the phone knows it’s not real but we’ll both hover in that moment of possibility and look the other way because something interesting will come from it.
The book, Ben, the book….
Set in a dystopian vision of the future most the characters in Ready Player One spend their time in an online role playing universe. (Think Second Life meets Dungeons and Dragons only not rubbish) It’s hard to talk about the book without drifting into spoiler territory but the book is witty, well paced and mines 80’s pop culture references like it was the ultimate Golden Age. It’s slated to become a movie and I’ll be interested to see how that crosses the online/offline divide.