It’s been two weeks since we announced the next focus of Nerdist Book Club, and I’ve had a blast revisiting Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One. I know many of you are reading it for the first time, but possibly more of you are rereading. It says a lot about the book that I received so many notes from people reading along for the fourth, fifth, or eighth time. I’m glad you’re all here, and I think we’ll have fun. I’m already completely caught up in the quest. Let’s press start.
The first reading assignment covered Chapters (appropriately called Levels) 0000-0008. Chapter 0008 just happened to be where my math landed, but I couldn’t have picked a better stopping point. Wade Watts, a.k.a. Parzival, has found the Copper Key and encountered another gunter, and the hunt for James Halliday’s treasure is about to take over the world. Excitement! Adventure!
The first paragraphs of Ready Player One set so much up, and I impressed by how much Cline communicates to us without making it sound like a history book. We learn the name James Halliday and learn that he invented the OASIS, a virtual reality used by most of humanity every single day, and that he has died. We learn that the current state of the world is not good. There are viruses, a Global Energy Crisis, wars, famine—the list goes on. You immediately get the impression the OASIS is an escape. It’s a functioning economy though too; OASIS credits are more valuable than most real-world currency.
As mentioned, Halliday is dead. When he died, he launched a scavenger hunt inspired by the first video game Easter egg. The man who programmed Atari 2600’s Adventure, Warren Robinett, hid his name inside the game and that inspired Halliday to hide his own Easter egg inside OASIS. The person who finds it inherits his entire fortune. And yes, that Adventure Easter egg is real. Watch:
Halliday left behind a clue and Anorak’s Almanac. Anorak is the name of Halliday’s OASIS avatar and the Almanac primarily features Halliday’s thoughts on 1980s pop culture. He’s obsessed with all aspects of the era from video games to music. People became obsessed with finding the Easter egg. Known as gunters (truncated from “egg hunters”), they immersed themselves in ’80s culture. But years went by with no one figuring out the first clue… until February 11, 2045. Parzival finds the Copper Key and his name goes to the top of the Easter egg hunt scoreboard.
Wade has made it his life’s goal to find the Easter egg. He goes to school in the OASIS and doesn’t have much of a life otherwise so he spends hours upon hours learning about everything referenced in Anorak’s Almanac. He’s memorized entire films, played countless games, listened to entire catalogs of music. I’m impressed by his devotion and have to wonder if I could be so single-minded if billions and billions of dollars were on the line.
As we get to know Wade through the first-person story, the world unfolds before us. A crazy amount of world-building is present in just the first eight chapters. Comments about living conditions and natural disasters reinforce the dismal and brutal state of the world mentioned in the opening paragraphs of the book. If I lived there, I’d want to escape into the OASIS. The OASIS has hundreds and hundreds of virtual worlds. It’s free to access, but once you’re in, things cost money. You must pay for extra clothing or equipment, to transport from world to world, and so on. Cline clearly put careful thought into the way the OASIS functions, and I’d say there are similarities to be drawn to how much time we spend online.
Thanks to a class at Wade’s school, we get more background on Halliday and the creation of the OASIS. We learn there are people who want to control and commercialize it. We find out it’s not always a safe place, but that users can remained cloaked in anonymity. We meet Wade’s friend and fellow gunter Aech and his cyber crush Art3mis. Our eyes are opened.
All of this leads to Wade figuring out the first clue and finding the Copper Key. He also mentions the notched letters in the Almanac. That’s the trick Cline used in Ready Player One for his Easter egg hunt so keep your eyes peeled. Wade explores the “Tomb of Horrors” and uses his knowledge of the Dungeons and Dragons module and his Joust skills to defeat the lich king Acererak and obtain the Copper Key and the next clue to the Easter egg. He knows where to go next and his discovery is about to shake up the OASIS.
And yes, “Tomb of Horrors” is a legitimate Dungeons and Dragons module. It was written by Gary Gygax and published in 1975. Here’s the map:
Photo via Wizard
Pop culture references
When I announced that we were reading this book, I said I’d list all of the geeky references unless there were just a ton. I marked each one as I read, and yeah, if I listed them all we wouldn’t get very far. This is my second time reading Ready Player One and I forgot it was loaded up with this many little gems. Given that, I’ve pulled out a few highlights and will probably continue to do this each week rather than make a giant list. However, I am going to attempt to pin everything mentioned on this board at Pinterest because I’m crazy.
Ladyhawke – Parzival and Aech have a debate over the qualities of of the 1985 film Ladyhawke. I have yet to see this film so I can’t weigh in but I will say Legend rocks. You don’t know what you’re talking about on that front, Aech. What do you think about Ladyhawke?
Also, Ladyhawke was indeed on the cover of Starlog. It’s issue 094, and you can read it and every other issue of Starlog for free at the Internet Archive. The Ewoks: The Battle for Endor article that Aech mentions reading is likely “Return of the Ewoks” in Starlog 101.
Revenge of the Jedi – In a nice touch, Aech has a Revenge of the Jedi poster hanging in the Basement rather than Return of the Jedi.
“Dead Man’s Party” – The Song by Oingo Boingo is as near as I can tell, the first pop culture reference in the book. The video:
“I was one of those kids, and finding Robinett’s Easter egg for the first time was one of the coolest videogaming experiences of my life.”
“Being human totally sucks most of the time. Videogames are the only thing that make life bearable.”
“It’s just you against the machine. Move with your left hand, shoot with your right, and try to stay alive as long as possible.”
– When Wade discusses his OASIS avatar, he says he designed the avatar’s face and body to look more or less like his own. However, when he describes his avatar it’s nothing but differences. Was Wade being sarcastic or has being in the OASIS so much altered his perception of himself?
– Anonymity is a big part of the OASIS whereas in our world, more people reveal their true identities on the Internet. It wasn’t always that way. Do you think we’ll progress to more anonymity-based system one day?
– What parallels do you see between Innovative Online Industries who want to charge for access to the OASIS and communication companies in our world?
– Why do you think Halliday was so obsessed with ’80s pop culture?
The Stacks game idea Wade mentions was turned into an actual game developed by Mike Mika and Kevin Wilson. This video shows off the gameplay:
It was hard to stop reading especially given where we ended. Wade has the Copper Key and he’s not alone at the “Tomb of Horrors.” Who will he encounter? What will change when the scoreboard is updated? Things are about to get even more interesting. Head to the comments and tell me what you like so far, what you don’t like, your favorite quotes, whether your head exploded from all the geeky references, etc. Answer the discussion questions if you feel like it or post your own. You can always chat with me on Twitter too and feel free to engage other Nerdist Book Club participants on social media by using the hashtag #NerdistBookClub.
Come back for Part 2 next Thursday, March 12. We’ll be discussing Chapters/Levels 0009-0016.
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