Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Ready Player One - A Second Opinion

Greetings friends!

Today I'm here to talk to you about the book Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.

Now before we begin a quick note: this review is based on the audiobook, so there will be certain points addressed which relate only to the audiobook (the narration for example) and likewise there may be some experiences that would come across differently in print. Alas I have not read the printed copy and so am unable to comment on that.

So what is Ready Player One?

It's a book set in the decade of 2040s. Due to our reliance on fossil fuels the earth is suffering from an energy crisis and most people in the world play a game called The Oasis.

The Oasis is a truly immersive simulation much like World of Warcraft, Everquest or Second Life. You can quest, PvE, PvP and all the rest that you would expect. You can also do a lot more including any computer based job, allowing people to work in the office without ever leaving home, and attend education there.

In short it is the closest mankind has come to the perfect game.

The story explains that the game's creator has died and like many game creators before him left an Easter Egg within his game and whoever was able to find it first would inherit his entire fortune as well as controlling shares of the creator's company.
- In other words, you find this egg in a massive scavenger hunt and become the wealthiest person in the world.

The audiobook which I bought from Audible is narrated by Will Wheton; originally famous for being a character on Star Trek TNG but has in recent years gained notoriety for his works promoting geek culture over YouTube via channels like Geek'n'Sundry.

Now I need to say, I've seen his works on YouTube etc and I've found him to be one of the most annoying people on the planet and his association with my most disliked woman only furthers that, however after a quick preview I learned that he narrates this book extremely well and so I have it a shot!

After listening to the book I can confirm Will does a fantastic job of narration. His voice is punctuated perfectly, his tempo is spot on and I found the entire experience a pleasure, which is something I would say is a must for an audio book.


I should probably say here; if I was writing this review last week before I had actually finished the book, this review would have come out very different, but that would have been an incomplete review.


There are many things that the book does very well.

The introduction leads me to understand the world and the technology. After listening to it I understood how the immersion systems used to play the game worked and how/why people used them.

I found that a lot of the early explanations were done in a way to really suck you in as a reader/listener and I believe that even if you know very little about modern tech, videogames and the internet you would still understand how the systems worked.

I also found the storyline engaging even if I did find certain attitudes expressed by certain characters a tad juvenile.
- Saying that, the lead character begins the story as a 17 year old teenager, so I put it down to us seeing the world through his eyes.

An example of this is the portrayal of the main antagonist(s) IOI aka The Sixers. Essentially they are the 'evil mega corporation' of the book who want to turn and corrupt The Oasis via ad revenue and monthly subscriptions.

This was where I started to fall out with the book.

So IOI are portrayed as a faceless corporation who's only interest is money and because of that they are therefore evil.

I found this pretence to be something I really struggled. It's like those people you see walking around town centres with signs saying pointless twazle like "Say NO to TESCO". It's pointless opposition that actually speaks about how GOOD we have it.

Yup, I think the modern phrase would be #FirstWorldProblems.

In other words if your biggest concern on this earth is a big company monopolising the industry then you're pretty high in Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, and this was one of the issues I had with this part of the book; if people were struggling to feed themselves and were living in poverty then the last thing they would care about is whether a company was involved in a VR simulation.

Plus - and maybe this is just me, but I like these companies!

I play a LOT of MMOs, and you know what? The best ones are those that charge a monthly subscription, they are the ones that put out quality updates and pay for good customer service and issue resolution. If you want the game to be free then you have to cut corners and introduce micro transactions which as a universal rule provides worse value for money over a longer length of time.

It struck me that the only people (as I saw it) who agreed with this sentiment portrayed in the book were either socialists or those belonging to the much maligned 'Generation Y', both of which are groups of people I choose not to socialise with where possible due to an inherent inconsolable difference in opinion.

But like I said, the main character was 17 years old, and it was set in 2040something, so chances are this was just the view of a teenage boy who wanted to rebel against society and act out his internal angst against 'the man', so I moved on.

The problem however was that I had a hard time moving on from this, as every other character that was introduced in the story regardless of their background or age all seemed to have the same attitude. It was like diverse opinion was removed from this world and replaced with a single AI titled 'awkward virgin teen 101'.

Maybe this is because of my heavy involvement in the online world, and I admit there are a hell of a lot of kids, young adults and even older adults who suffer from anxiety issues etc, but there are also plenty who are like me, they have no anxieties over this sort of (in my opinion) unimportant crap, they are not socially awkward, oh and they are not stereotypical spotty, virginal basement dwellers.

And this was the main issue that stuck with me...

The writer is clearly a geek himself and a fan of geek culture, but it is almost like he is a 'self hating' geek. At no point did we meet any major character who was well adjusted without some sort of social anxiety disorder or living somewhere on the autistic scale, and depending on how you look at it you could summarise the story as:
the story of a loser who meets other losers, gets laid, goes outside into the real world and stops being such a loser.

It is impossible in my eyes to look at how The Oasis is addressed without drawing comparisons to modern MMOs, and it essentially suggests to me that the writer honestly thinks that anyone who plays these games must be 'abnormal' and if you have not guessed by now, I actually took a great offence to this suggestion.

And this was the major problem for me, as until this (for me) terribly insulting conclusion I was actually really enjoying the story. Yes there was all the socialist stuff, but I could look past that and still enjoy the rest of the story.

But now however, I can't. It was very much like going to the cinema, watching a film that had it's issues but you still enjoyed greatly, before at the very end have the lead character turn to the camera, pull of his face revealing that of the director who in turn spits at the camera before saying. "Go fuck yourself audience!"

I know I haven't really covered a lot of the things that you would expect from a review, but then if you've read my Second Opinion posts before you would know that I don't tend to do that anyway, preferring instead to share my emotional involvement with the medium.

And so it is on that rather melancholy note that I leave you.

I would love to discuss this book more at some point, and there are lots of points and topics that I feel are worthy of discussion, but ultimately this is how the book left me feeling.

Would I recommend you read it? I think it would depend on how much you felt connected to Geek Culture.

On that note, take care and stay safe!

- Your friendly neighbourhood Doctor Loxley

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