Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Video game books don't have to be based on real video games. Cory Doctorow and Orson Scott Card both have written books that are sort of like video games, or are of interest to gamers, but neither of them are at the core postive about games and gaming or the passion for them. In fact they seem to be a bit of a warning about game culture.

Ready Player One is more like a love letter to '80s gaming and geek culture, where the whole plot is even structured like a cheesy '80s movie (I only wish there was a way to write a montage). I had the pleasure of reading an advance copy, and quite enjoyed it. I'm too young to really appreciate the details of the games and movies that the book relies on (I was born in 1980), but I do remember enough of it to know what is going on. Fortunately, even though there are tons of these references, the story stands up as an adventure on its own.

The book is set in the near future, when the world has completely collapsed economically and most people escape into an online world a bit like Second Life, but far more technically advanced. That world has grown to the point where it features its own elected governors (Wil Wheaton and the above-mentioned Cory Doctorow among them), its own subsidized school system, and many hundreds of planets and worlds to visit, but, most importantly, is open and basic access is free for everyone.

When the inventor of that world dies, he has a multi-billion dollar fortune and no heirs, so he decides in his will to host a contest, the winner of which would get the rights to the games and the money, leaving only one clue. Being a child of the '80s, he bases his clues and puzzles on games and movies from that decade. Of course, not all pursuers want it for the right reasons. The book is very much like a fantasy quest.

As an avid gamer, I quite enjoyed the book, since it was almost like a history book, featuring the important touchstones of gaming, so even though I don't remember playing the games at the time, I could go back now and see what they are all about.

The only thing I'm not really sure of is who the target audience of this book is; while it feels plotted like a good YA book, the fact that all of the stuff they talk about is from 10 years before that cohort is born might seem confusing. On the other hand, the adults who were old enough in the '80s to do and see all the stuff here would probably love it for exactly the same reason, though Wade, the lead character, is a high school student at the outset of the novel. Not that it really matters: I definte recommend this book to all guys who love games.
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