I’ve had several people tell me to read this book and it’s been sitting in my “to be read” pile for a while. When I realized they were making it into a movie, I knew I had to move it to the top of the pile.
I’m not a huge gamer. Played plenty of video games when I was a kid–Tetris was a personal favorite, but beyond some drunken Golden Eye on the N64 in college, my adult life has not included gaming.
And of course, this book is about a massive multiplayer virtual reality simulation that people across the globe access on a daily basis because the real world had become so bleak. So, admittedly at first glance, I wasn’t sure if I’d get into it. Holy crap, am I glad I gave this book a chance.
First of all, the 80s references are absolutely amazing. I used to consider myself pretty good at handling the obscure 80s trivia but Ernest Cline made me feel like an amateur. Second, the writing is just good. The dialog, the internal turmoil, the good versus evil, David and Goliath archetypes are woven in so smoothly.
We meet Wade Watts, a teenager whose parents have both died and is now living with his aunt in a trailer with about 12 other people. This trailer is in what is known as the stacks–trailers packed on top of each other. He has a hideout where he logs onto a virtual reality called OASIS daily. He goes to school in the system, his friends are all other people who are logged in and he’s never met any of them in real life.
And they’re all Gunters – the creator of OASIS died 5 years prior to the start of the novel and just after he passed away, he released a video telling the world that he’s buried an Easter Egg somewhere inside the game and there are clues to find 3 keys to open 3 gates to win the egg. The winner inherits his massive fortune. Think Warren Buffet and Bill Gates combined rich. People have search endlessly for this Easter Egg–they became known as Game Hunters, and then shortened to Gunters.
Five years had gone by–and people had given up hope of finding the egg. Then one night, Wade (known as Parzival inside OASIS) finds the first key. There’s a scoreboard and his name goes to the top–it’s instant news and renews the fight to find the egg by everyone. Clans that had formed, vowing to work together to better their odds, individuals, and of course the evil corporation hell-bent on winning so they can gain control of OASIS and churn out tons of money from it. The clan from the evil corporation is called the Sixers (cue old school l33t speak where others call them the Sux0rs, etc).
Once Parzival clears the first gate, 4 other gunters do the same and they become known as the Top 5. They get endorsement deals, are begged to be interviewed, all while no one really knows who they are–just their avatars.
Parzival strikes up a relationship of sorts with Art3mis, the only female gunter in the Top 5. Aech (pronounced H) is Parzival’s best friend and teenage tension is created between the three as Parzival tries to figure out how to maintain his friendship but is consumed with his first girlfriend.
The Sixers lead bad guy in charge is a guy named Sorrento and there’s nothing this guy won’t do to win. He has unlimited resources at his disposal, a massive team of experts on the 80s, video games, movies, and more to make it easier to decipher the clues left to find the keys and pass through the gates to win. To say nefarious things are done to the Top 5 to thwart their efforts to win would be an understatement.
Again, I hesitated because while I played video games as a kid, I was never a gamer. I love the 80s and I know more than my fair share of Star Wars trivia (let’s just say I was not one of the popular kids in high school), I thought I’d miss to many of the references or that I’d be bored by the gaming aspect of the story. Turns out I was dead wrong.
I found myself remembering how many of the games mentioned were played and all I wanted was for Wade to beat that jerk Sorrento and get the girl. And I came away with a new appreciation for the hard-core gamer/computer type because it really is a lot of information to learn and recall at a moment’s notice. While I might be able to tell you anything and everything about Star Wars or which play a Shakespeare quote is from or some other obscure story telling factoid, gaming is a similar talent and just because it’s different from my forte, it doesn’t mean that one is better than the other.
I’m now one of those people who desperately hopes that the Spielberg version of this story lives up to the Cline version because it’s so, so good. If you haven’t read it yet, do so. If you don’t read, at least go see the movie. And appreciate the inner nerd that lives within all of us. Nuture it. Never know when you’re going to need to know all about MTV’s Max Headroom to live through the night.