READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline — a Review

I had many friends recommend READY PLAYER ONE to me. I was born in 1980. I grew up playing video games. I can quote a ton of movie references from that period. And a good bit of my ipod playlists are made up of new wave hits. You’d think I’d love this book, but no. READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline was a fun read, but it didn’t live up to the hype in my opinion.

It is a fun adventure story, but the protagonist didn’t make sense to me, and the plot was weak, relying on an almost literal deus ex machina several times. In the end, I think READY PLAYER ONE relies far too heavily on readers smiling and thinking “I get that reference,” while they gloss over the story’s weaknesses.

It’s the story of Wade Watts, who, like many in 2044, escapes the ravaged real world by jumping into the OASIS–once an online game, now an all-immersive online experience. OASIS was founded by James Halliday, who, upon his death, reveals that he has created a hidden, three-step-puzzle based around his love of the 80s. The person who solves these puzzles will receive billions of dollars and a controlling interest in OASIS. When Wade Watts is the first to solve the first step of the puzzle, his world is turned upside down. Can Wade Watts trust his friends? Can he evade the all-powerful rival company that is racing him to the finish while also trying to kidnap or kill him?

I won’t spoil the story for you, but I will raise the following points. When people are trying to kill Wade Watts or beat him to the finish, what does he do? He spends time flirting with a girl and hanging out at parties in OASIS. He almost forgets about the contest entirely. And while I can sympathize with the passions of young love, I grew very frustrated with him during this stretch of the novel. At best, this was a comment on how a sudden fame can make a young person grow complacent. At worst, it didn’t make a lick of sense.

And the rival company with nearly infinite resources can’t unpack a clue that a freaking Google search would answer? Google must not exist in the future, I guess. And years of research and nitpicking and memorization don’t seem to work either.

Ernest Cline sets up Halliday as someone obsessed with the 80s, but Watts takes time out to research things that didn’t come out until the 90s or 2000s? (My suspicion is that Ernest Cline included these things because his readers like those things, but I have no way of knowing for sure. But the fact that the inclusion of these “anachronistic” items don’t move the story forward was frustrating). Heck, Ernest Cline even used the phrase “This might just work” in his story. I could go on and on, but I will limit myself to one more point: most upsetting, the book relies on an almost literal deus ex machina and coincidences to repeatedly save Wade Watts from danger.

READY PLAYER ONE is a fun read, sure. You’ll smile when reading it, particularly if you are of a similar age as me. But, I walked away feeling like this book was like a chocolate Easter Bunny: it looks good on the outside, it’s hollow on the inside, and it’s largely forgettable once consumed.