Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One has reached crazy levels of popularity within the geek community. Cline’s book managed to take a love of classic video games, eighties movies, and pop culture and meld it into one of the most inventive books of the past few years. Understandably, it’s kind of become a mega-hit among the geek crowds (it’s even being read by the Geek and Sundry book club). But what makes this book truly remarkable is how it is not only able to appeal to the geek community in general, but it’s also managed to bring in readers from outside of the so-called geek’o’system. In a way, it’s created a sort of bridge between the two groups.
I have a co-worker at my day job who is in her sixties. We’ll call her Patty. We sit right next to one another, so we naturally try to strike up some sort of a friendship to avoid constant awkwardness. However, I’m in my twenties, I have no kids, and I tend to shy away from reality TV and prime-time soaps. Patty, on the other hand, has kids, grandkids, and only ever wants to talk about Survivor and Nashville. Creating any kind of a friendship beyond that horrible small talk of the weekend and the weather has been challenging to say the least. That is, until she read Ready Player One. She stopped by my desk one morning and asked if I’d read it, causing me to GUSH about the book, the audiobook (read by our own intrepid TableTop host, Wil Wheaton), and the upcoming movie. I told her it was one of my favorite books, and though I wasn’t sure if she’d enjoy it as much as I did, I highly recommended it. I didn’t really expect her to read it, honestly. I chalked it up to another one of our failed attempts at striking up an office friendship.
But she read it, and I couldn’t believe it. Patty raved about how much she loved the book. She admitted to not being much of a gamer herself, but that she would sometimes play a game or two in the eighties, so she appreciated the allusion to those older games and films. However, what really got her excited was how Ernest Cline managed to take so many aspects of pop culture and weave them into this amazing, dynamic universe. She was blown away by how creative the world of OASIS was, and she thought the Willy Wonka-like story of the Gunters searching for Halliday’s eggs was amazing. She couldn’t wait to see the story brought to the big screen. A movie fan herself, she thought the intricate, imaginative world of the OASIS would be amazing on-screen.
The next day, she stopped by my office to talk about this “new virtual reality thing” she had heard about (she was referring to Oculus Rift). She thought it was just like OASIS, and she was so excited to hear that technology was advancing towards OASIS without the decimation of modern society and having to move her family into The Stacks.
It was amazing to find common ground in a book that, on paper, you wouldn’t expect to speak to a reader like Patty. But for whatever reason, the book is helping two groups of people find something in common where they normally wouldn’t.
That’s what makes Ready Player One such an amazing book. While the story is amazing and the book is one of the most fun reads I’ve experienced in a while, it isn’t so niche that it only appeals to people who identify as geeks or gamers. Sure, Cline talks about distinctly niche things, heavily quoting from films like Monty Python and the Holy Grail and War Games and using bits from old video games like Joust and Dungeons of Daggorath, but despite the very specific, often obscure references, Cline manages to talk about that stuff in a very welcoming way. Those who are more familiar with the properties will be more “in” on the references, but he makes sure to never alienate readers who are new to the universe.
Cline presents a world where all the things he loves are placed center stage in the book’s adventure. He thinks this stuff is awesome, and he wants to be sure all of his readers do, too. The welcoming, bridge-building aspect to Ready Player One is what makes the book so amazing. It’s smack in the middle of the dystopian/sci-fi genre, and it seems like it should be niche enough to alienate anyone not familiar with that landscape. However, the book manages to not only celebrate games, movies, and 80’s pop culture, but it also introduces it in a non-threatening way to newcomers in the space.
At the heart of it, Ernest Cline simply manages to tell a great story, which is what truly carries the book and helps it build bridges. Cline makes you care about Art3mis, Diato, Shoto, Aech, and Parzival. You want them to find the egg, even if you have never played a video game in your life. Ready Player One uses its solid storytelling to open up a new world of experiences to people who would have otherwise had no inclination to check out something like vintage video games. It’s opening doors, building bridges, and helping awkward twenty-somethings make friends with their sixty-something co-workers, and I think that’s awesome.
What do you think of Ready Player One? Have you been able to use it to relate to someone you’d otherwise have nothing in common with? Let me know in the comments!