Ready Player One
|Audio read by||Wil Wheaton|
|Subject||Video games, Virtual Reality|
|Genre||LitRPG, Science Fiction, Pop Culture Fiction, Dystopian|
|Publisher||Crown Publishing Group|
|August 16, 2011|
|Media type||Print (hardcover and paperback), e-book, audiobook|
|Followed by||Ready Player Two|
Ready Player One is a 2011 science fiction novel, and the debut novel of American author Ernest Cline. The story, set in a dystopia in 2045, follows protagonist Wade Watts on his search for an Easter egg in a worldwide virtual reality game, the discovery of which would lead him to inherit the game creator's fortune. Cline sold the rights to publish the novel in June 2010, in a bidding war to the Crown Publishing Group (a division of Random House). The book was published on August 16, 2011. An audiobook was released the same day; it was narrated by Wil Wheaton, who was mentioned briefly in one of the chapters.Ch. 20 In 2012, the book received an Alex Award from the Young Adult Library Services Association division of the American Library Association and won the 2011 Prometheus Award. A film adaptation, screenwritten by Cline and Zak Penn and directed by Steven Spielberg, was released on March 29, 2018. A sequel novel, Ready Player Two, was released on November 24, 2020.
In the year 2045, the world is gripped by an energy crisis and global warming, causing widespread social problems and economic stagnation. The primary escape for most people is a virtual universe called the OASIS, which is accessed with a visor and haptic gloves. It functions both as an MMORPG and as a virtual society, with its currency being the most stable currency in the world. It was created by James Halliday, who has recently died. His will left a series of clues towards an Easter Egg, hidden behind a series of three gates unlocked with three keys within the OASIS that would grant whoever found it both his fortune and control of the OASIS itself. This has led to an intense interest in all aspects of 1980s pop culture, which Halliday made clear would be essential to finding his egg.
Wade Watts is a teenager who lives in a slum with his aunt. He attends school within the OASIS but lacks the virtual currency or XP levels to travel to other locations. He is a "gunter" (an egg hunter) who spends all his spare time researching films, songs, TV series, and videogames from the 1980s and '90s to aid his hunt. “The Hunt” has been going on for five years, yet no one has been able to find the first key (the Copper Key). Then Wade, who goes by the avatar name Parzival, stumbles upon the possibility that the first clue (known for containing a Dungeons & Dragons reference) refers to the virtual school planet Ludus (on which he is stuck) and after defeating an NPC character at Joust, is given the Copper Key which unlocks the First Gate, and a clue about where to find it and how to access it (by beating the video game Dungeons of Daggorath in a recreation of Halliday's own bedroom). This places him in a simulation of the film WarGames in which he has to recreate the lines of the lead character. After clearing the Gate, he is awarded points and his avatar's name appears on the previously empty scoreboard.
His avatar becomes famous within the OASIS, as does his friend Aech and another gunter named Art3mis who clear the Gate shortly after him. He takes advantage of his fame, endorsing virtual products for credits, and develops a tentative relationship with Art3mis. He is approached by Nolan Sorrento, an executive from Innovative Online Industries (IOI), who want to control the OASIS. Sorrento offers Wade a lucrative job to help IOI finish the hunt, but after Wade refuses, they attempt to assassinate him.
The hunt for the egg continues, with two Japanese hunters named Daito and Shoto gaining points. However, after Wade asks Art3mis out on a date at the Distracted Globe virtual nightclub on planet Neonoir and admits his love for her, Art3mis cuts him off and stops speaking to him, leading to Wade becoming increasingly isolated. Art3mis obtains the Jade Key, followed by Aech, who also gives Parzival a hint about its location. IOI, who had been monitoring Art3mis and Aech's whereabouts using OASIS items, also discover its location. Shortly after, Parzival, Daito, and Shoto also reach the Jade Key (by collecting nineteen treasures in a replica of Zork) but Daito is killed by IOI in real life while helping Shoto find the Jade Key. Sorrento becomes the first person to find and clear the Second Gate by using a Voight-Kampf machine in the Tyrell Building to enter a 3D version of Black Tiger. Clearing the Second Gate gives a clue to the location of the Crystal Key. Sorrento finds the Key first, but Parzival, Art3mis, Aech and Shoto all clear the Second Gate and find the Crystal Key too.
Eventually, the Third Gate is discovered by IOI (located inside Castle Anorak on the planet Chthonia) who are unable to open it, having missed a previous clue saying that the Gate cannot be opened by a single avatar, but by three instead. They barricade the location with an impenetrable force field, so Wade infiltrates the real-world headquarters of IOI, accesses their databases, and hacks a IOI droid to bring down the force field from within. He enlists the help of all the gunters in the OASIS to launch a coordinated assault on the corporate forces, while he, Aech and Art3mis activate the Third Gate. During the battle a doomsday device is activated by the hacked IOI droid, killing every avatar in the sector, but Parzival had unknowingly gained an extra life artifact earlier in a side-quest and survives. While the sector is empty he solves the final puzzle, clears the gate and claims the egg. He gains control of the OASIS, including the ability to switch it off forever, by pressing the “Big Red Button” hidden in Anorak’s study.
In real life, Sorrento is arrested for his crimes while Parzival and Art3mis finally meet in person and kiss.
- Wade Owen Watts a.k.a. Parzival: The viewpoint character, an orphan living with his aunt in the "stacks" surrounding metropolitan Oklahoma City. Wade names his OASIS character Parzival after the Arthurian knight involved in the quest for the holy grail. Wade's character was based on a mix of Cline as well as his geek friends.
- James Donovan Halliday a.k.a. Anorak: The creator of OASIS. His avatar's name is based on a British slang term for an obsessive geek. His character was initially inspired by Willy Wonka who Cline described as a "rich eccentric holding a fantastic contest". Cline used the personalities of Howard Hughes and Richard Garriott, and placed Halliday's birth year around the same as his own so that his pop culture interests would coincide with Cline's "and the other middle-aged uber-geeks I know".
- Aech (pronounced like the letter HCh. 33): Wade's best friend, fellow gunter, and rival in the quest to find the egg. Although Aech's avatar is an athletic white heterosexual male,p. 38-39 Aech is played by an African-American lesbian named Helen Harris, who grew up in Atlanta, Georgia and is about the same age as Wade.Ch. 33 Aech is based partly on Cline's friend Harry Knowles as well as himself and other geeks, both men and women.
- Art3mis: A famous female gunter and blogger; Real name: Samantha Cook. She chose her avatar's name from the Greek goddess of the hunt.[a] Like other characters, Cline based Art3mis on himself and other geeks, both men, and women.
- Ogden "Og" Morrow a.k.a. The Great and Powerful Og: Co-creator of the OASIS and best friend of James Halliday. His appearance and personality are described in the book as being "a cross between Albert Einstein and Santa Claus". Ogden's character and relationship with Halliday were inspired by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, with Morrow being more like Jobs as a "charismatic tech leader", while his avatar's name is inspired by the Wizard of Oz.
- Daito: One of the two Japanese gunters who rise to the top of the scoreboard early on in the hunt, working in a team with his "brother" Shoto. He took his avatar's name from the name of the long sword in a daisho set, which is a katana on its own. They are both based on otaku: Japanese geeks who enjoy movies and anime, as well as hikikomori: people who live as recluses inside their family's homes, referred to in the book as "the Missing Millions". Daito's real name is revealed to be Toshiro Yoshiaki after he is killed by the IOI.
- Shoto: The second and younger of the two Japanese gunters working as a team in their quest for the egg.p. 129 He took his avatar's name from the name of the shorter sword of a daisho set, which is a wakizashi on its own. Shoto's real name is Akihide Karatsu.p. 292
- Nolan Sorrento a.k.a. IOI-655321: The head of operations at Innovative Online Industries (IOI), the multinational corporation that serves as an Internet service provider for most of the world. Cline said that he named Sorrento after Nolan Bushnell, founder of the video game company Atari and said "Not that I think Nolan is a bad guy or anything. It’s meant as a subtle tribute!"
Ready Player One was a New York Times bestseller. Among those praising the book were Entertainment Weekly, The Boston Globe, The A.V. Club, CNN.com, io9, and Boing Boing. USA Today wrote that the novel "undoubtedly qualifies Cline as the hottest geek on the planet right now." NPR said that the book was "ridiculously fun and large-hearted". Cline "takes a far-out premise and engages the reader instantly" with a "deeply felt narrative [that] makes it almost impossible to stop turning the pages." Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote that "The book gets off to a witty start" but noted that it lacks at least one dimension, stating that gaming had overwhelmed everything else about this book. Rebecca Serle of HuffPost described the book as "the grown-up's Harry Potter" and that it "has it all – nostalgia, trivia, adventure, romance, heart and, dare I say it, some very fascinating social commentary."
The book has also polarized readers. Nick Shager, writing for The Daily Beast, offered a scathing review that criticized the book's narrative style by stating "It’s... a terribly written piece of adolescent fantasy that, at heart, exemplifies everything wrong and repellent about modern nerd culture" and challenged its coming-of-age premise by calling it "a stunted-adolescent story". Regarding the abundance of pop culture references, Shager called the book "an unbearable celebration of nostalgic juvenilia". He summarized his argument against the book by stating "It’s a lionization of immature things (and immaturity) as an end to itself, rather than as the building blocks of more mature – and worthwhile – creations". Shager also lamented the book's "Peter Pan-ish infatuation with childishness, which comes coated in a stench of stale Doritos, Jolt Cola and lowbrow smugness".
Michael J. Nelson's and Conor Lastowka's podcast series 372 Pages We'll Never Get Back dissected the book, criticizing it for defective worldbuilding, repetitive and excessive pop culture references in place of descriptive writing, and weak plot. The book has been translated into over 20 languages. In an interview with Fortune, Cline said that his book had inspired designers at companies such as Oculus VR which recommended the book for their new employees. Oculus has also invited Cline several times to sign books and demo hardware. The Ready Player One: Oasis beta, developed by Directive Games Limited, was released on March 23, 2018 alongside the Steven Spielberg movie and consists of four experiences made for virtual reality headsets. The game is currently available for free on Steam and Viveport.
In 2018, the book garnered negative reception from critics who believed it pandered too much on the male demographic, which many online publications later refuted. Writer Chris Isaac of Tor disagreed with the criticisms, stating "So, if you don’t like Ready Player One and have criticisms about it, that’s totally understandable" while adding "I’ll certainly point out the issues I have with his stories, but I’m not going to delight in mocking his work or hoping for his failure like many did with Meyer and Twilight." Constance Grady of Vox described in an article about how Gamergate have changed the perception of the book over time: "For readers in Cline’s target demographic in 2011, that message felt empowering. For readers who weren’t, it felt like a harmless piece of affirmation meant for someone else. Everyone deserves a silly escapist fantasy, right?" to "But in this world [...] only things that affect straight white dudes really matter". 
As early as 2015, Cline has been reported to be working on a sequel to Ready Player One from screenwriter Zak Penn. Cline confirmed the sequel was in progress by December 2017, and would have a different story-line involving all of the characters, while still exploring pop culture references like the first book. Penguin House released the sequel, Ready Player Two on November 24, 2020. The plot follows Wade as he embarks on a new quest after discovering a new technology developed by Halliday. For the second week of December 6 that year, it was number one on Amazon's fiction chart.
In other media
Easter egg hunt promotion
Ten months after the first edition's release, Cline revealed on his blog that Ready Player One itself contained an elaborately hidden Easter egg. This clue would form the first part of a series of staged video gaming tests, similar to the plot of the novel. Cline also revealed that the competition's grand prize would be a DeLorean. The Easter egg was a URL hidden in the book for anoraksalmanac.com. This was the first stage of the contest where the 2011 Atari 2600 game The Stacks by developers Mike Mika & Kevin Wilson was featured. The game Ultimate Collector: Garage Sale by Austin-based developer Portalarium was featured in the second stage of the contest. The final stage of the contest was announced on August 1, 2012, and was to set a world record on one of several classic arcade or Atari 2600 games. This was completed on August 9, 2012 by Craig Queen, who set a new world record in Joust. He was awarded the DeLorean on the TV series X-Play.
The film rights were purchased by Warner Bros. on the same day Cline finalized his publishing deal with Random House, one year prior to the novel's publication. Dan Farah brought the project into the studio and produced it with Donald De Line. Cline adapted his novel into a screenplay. Over the years, Eric Eason and Zak Penn assisted Cline with rewrites.
Steven Spielberg signed on to direct in March 2015. Spielberg and Kristie Macosko Krieger of Amblin Partners also joined Deline and Farah as producers. Warner Bros. initially announced a release date of December 15, 2017. On February 9, 2016, the release date was pushed back to March 30, 2018, to avoid competition with Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The movie began production in the spring of 2016 and was filmed in both the United States and the United Kingdom.
On June 9, 2016, Variety stated that Spielberg's regular collaborator John Williams was planning on composing the film's score. However, scheduling conflicts with another Spielberg film, The Post, led to Spielberg signing Alan Silvestri for the score.
The film stars Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Waithe, T. J. Miller, Simon Pegg, and Mark Rylance with Philip Zao, Win Morisaki, and Hannah John-Kamen in supporting roles. It premiered at South by Southwest on March 11, 2018, and was theatrically released by Warner Bros. in the United States on March 29, 2018. It received generally positive reviews from critics who praised its visuals and brisk pacing, the performances of Sheridan and Rylance, and noted it as an improvement on the book. This film received criticism for its lack of character development and its "achingly regressive" view of pop culture fans.
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