Ready Player One… I didn’t like this one. At all. The plot?
In the year whatever, people live in not-World of Warcraft by way of the not-Matrix called the Oasis. It is a strange and dark time in which your pop cultural knowledge actually impacts the real world. So well follow this one couch potato play a video game not through a good plot or intriguing character development but pop culture references.
I was deeply disappointed by Ready Player One when I first read it over Christmas. It had been recommended to me several times over the years, be it by real people I happen to associate with, or our corporate overlords at Amazon. It had been pitched to me as the ultimate love letter to nerds and geekdom. Maybe that was once the case when the book came out in 2011. But now it’s 2018.
There are a lot of faults to this novel. The characters are unlikable, the main character especially being incredibly creepy and one-note. He is painfully designed to be exactly perfect for the world he is set in and clearly a stand-in for many a real-life nerd who wants to be validated that his encyclopedic knowledge of the original Battlestar Galactica, 8-bit video games, and general 80s and 90s cheese totally has an impact on the world as we know it.
The plot itself isn’t too bad as far as McGuffins go. It feels totally reasonable that the weird creator of a video game would make an Easter egg as ludicrous as “solve my puzzle and get my company”. It fits in the world it set up, as pathetic as that world is, being born straight up from the pages of any bog-standard dystopic corporate scifi novel of the 80s and 90s. Which is fine for a throw-back novel but you might at least want a unique twist to it.
And while I could go on, the point of this review was never to critique the novel itself. It’s an important book for many people in geekdom and is seen as a love letter to their hobbies and identity as gamers or geeks.
The problem is this isn’t 2011 anyone, as I mentioned before. A lot has happened since 2011. The ubiquity of social media and YouTube has allowed us a never before possible look behind the scenes and exposure to the ideas and thoughts within people’s heads. Having identified as a geek back in my teens, it not only pains, but rather also infuriates me, in how ugly and toxic geek culture has become, nay, has always been. The signs are there in the novel itself, from the under achieving schlub who thinks the world owes him something, over the objectification of women, to the sad wish-fulfillment nature of the plot. Never mind the fact that the sole black woman in the book is hiding as a white male teenager online not to get bullied and the main character is angry that she never told him rather than think of the horrible implications…
Geek culture is, by itself, not toxic. But obsessive and entitled people who would be toxic either way have used aspects of geeky hobbies to make themselves feel superior to others. The gatekeeping nature of everything geeky that has become especially noticeable over the last five years or so is not in itself present in the book. But the same symptoms very much are.
As I’ve grown older and greyer (seriously, I have like two grey hairs already) it feels inevitable to reflect on your previous interests and start seeing the big picture implications. Geek culture is not different. And the fact that I would have liked Ready Player One five to seven years ago frightens me a bit. It reminds me of the parts of my personality I’m trying to distance myself from, the sad teenager with nothing interesting to say about “serious issues”(TM). Maybe you can disentangle the book from the toxic sub-culture with which I have come to associate it, and that’s fine, I envy you for the ability. If you do, you will have an easily readable narrative with straight-forward prose that can you can just absorb within a day or two.
What I’m saying is: this is male Twilight.