With 5 days to go until the official release of Ready Player One‘s movie adaptation, I thought it would be fitting to share some of my thoughts after finishing its Audible audio edition a couple of weeks ago.
Written by Ernest Cline and narrated by none other than Wil Wheaton himself, the story itself has been enjoyed by millions (?) of fans all over the world — being translated in over 20 languages, and becoming a New York Times bestseller. Heck, I have quite a number of people in my network who swear by the awesomeness of this book.
Despite all the praise surrounding Ready Player One, I’ve always been skeptical of how much I’d enjoy the story. And boy, did I turn out to be right.
I’ll try to keep this review as spoiler-free as I can.
I’m sure most people are familiar with the gist of the story by now. But in case you missed the tons of people talking about it or the numerous trailers that have been released over the past few months (like I have), here’s a summary:
It’s 2044. The world’s gone to shit so people seek solace in a virtual reality world called the OASIS, a MMORPG created by James Halliday. Halliday passes away, announces in his will that he’s left at Easter egg somewhere in the game. First one to find it inherits his fortune. Our main character, teenager Wade Watts, is set on becoming that person.
I thought the premise was interesting enough. I’ve previously been highly invested in the .hack//G.U. games trilogy and enjoyed reading the first Sword Art Online light novel, both of which have similarities with Ready Player One in that they’re set in virtual worlds and have players pitted against each other.
But the two Japanese titles I mentioned both had a physical coma and in-game consciousness aspect to their stories. Ready Player One did not. How the story would play out based on this difference had me intrigued.
And rightly so because it had some really good twists that I didn’t see coming: the real identities of specific characters, how things were resolved, etc. While the entire story didn’t have me on the edge of my seat, it still got me curious enough to listen through to the end.
Its biggest problem, however, comes from its over-reliance on pop culture references to keep the story moving. It was cool at first, learning about the history of many video games, movies, songs, etc. I never got to experience. I’ve always had an appreciation for media history so I had no issues with the mere existence of pop culture references.
At some point in the story though, the references would be dropped so often and regularly became part of crucial exposition that it became difficult to keep track of what was going on. I think I spent more time trying to imagine/understand the reference than actually learning about the characters’ actions.
I’ve talked to some people regarding their criticisms for Ready Player One and one complaint I came across was the lack of character development. Despite the Easter Egg hunt lasting for years, most (all???) characters were the same from beginning to end.
But I personally don’t think enjoyable stories require some sort of character arc. K.M. Weiland actually wrote a great article about this and Robert Wood has a list of situations where this can be used to enhance storytelling. After all, individual stories within the classic Sherlock Holmes series did not have character development for the world’s favorite detective.
There were just two things related to the characters that bothered me:
Firstly, Art3mis. I felt like the romance between her and Wade was forced and that she didn’t make for a realistic love interest. Perhaps it was the way Wil Wheaton portrayed her dialogue, but it seemed like she couldn’t stand being with our protagonist 98% of the time.
The transitions between her being hot-headed and determined to soft and quiet were always quite sudden — as if she could only move between two extremes. Maybe I’m missing something but I really didn’t think the way her relationship with Wade was consummated made any sense. I’ve resorted to pretending the love story portions didn’t exist at all
Secondly, Wade’s takeaway from his experiences in the entire book doesn’t add up to what he’s been through. If Halliday was such a genius and his purpose was to teach that specific lesson at the end of the story, the Easter Egg hunt should have been designed differently — with elements of its philosophy scattered through the game mechanics.
Instead, we get this half-assed “By the way, you should really do this” kind of moral to the story dropped in the final few chapters.
Maybe this and Art3mis could’ve been fleshed out better had there been more space to develop the entire story arc. (Yeah, that’s right, I’m looking at you pop culture reference exposition).
Ready Player One is a good, light story to pass the time with. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that I enjoyed it. I’d say it’s like one of those TV dramas my mom likes to put on while she’s doing chores around the house — just so she has something to listen to in the background. It’s a book that I’d read just for the sake of reading something that doesn’t require too much out of me.
Despite it getting lost in its own pop culture references, it’s still a story that’s straightforward with fun, geeky throwbacks lead into some interesting puzzles and problems to solve, and an epic final battle. I can see why people really enjoyed it!
Personally, it wasn’t for me. But maybe I enjoy stories like this when they’re on the big screen. After all, National Treasure had its fair share of annoyances but I still enjoyed it. I’ve actually watched the series a number of times (thanks, Dad). Perhaps Ready Player One‘s movie adaptation might just change my mind.
That said, I’m interested in seeing how Stephen Spielberg, Ernest Cline and Zakk Penn handled the storytelling for the big screen, and how the legendary John Williams and Alan Silvestri serve to enhance that with their music. How have they compressed the entire book into a run time of 140 minutes?
Regardless of how I end up feeling, however, Ready Player One is set to be a box office hit thanks to the fanfare behind the award-winning book, the big names involved with the movie production, and the countless brands who’ve agreed to let their characters appear on-screen.
We’ll see how it fares. I’ll try getting a ticket for it next week.
- Ready Player One is a truly awful book. I’m really looking forward to the movie. by Todd VanDerWerff on Vox