What might happen if humans lived an entirely simulated life, doing everything online except for eating and sleeping?
Earnest Cline has a dystopian, geeky, and fist-pumping answer in Ready Player One, his best-selling novel which I read over the holidays.
The story takes place in 2044 and follows a teenage prodigy named Wade as he seeks hidden fame, power, and fortune bequeathed by the world’s richest man. “But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue,” reads the synopsis, “he is beset by rivals that will kill for the prize, forcing him to confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.”
Clever, huh? USA Today accurately described it as “Willy Wonka meets The Matrix.” I’d add a little Brave New World, ’80s game geek culture, Tron, and “The Wreck-It-Ralph of books” for good measure—all good things.
For fellow nerds who appreciate those things, I award the book a tilted four and a half out of five stars. For everyone else, particularly those who share my desire to curb compulsion disorders, I give it four stars.
These were my favorite passages:
- I’m not crazy about reality, but it’s still the only place to get a decent meal. Going outside is highly overrated.
- The Hallidays looked like an ordinary American family. There was no hint that the stoic man in the brown leisure suit was an abusive alcoholic, that the smiling woman in the floral pantsuit was bipolar, or that the young boy in the faded Asteroids T-shirt would one day create an entirely new universe.
- I’d come to see my [computer] for what it was: an elaborate contraption for deceiving my senses, to allow me to live in a world that didn’t exist. Each component was a bar in the cell where I had willingly imprisoned myself.
- The ability to mute my peers was one of my favorite things about attending school online, and I took advantage of it almost daily.
- Online, I didn’t have a problem talking to people or making friends. But in the real world, interacting with other people—especially kids my own age—made me a nervous wreck.
- When [my computer] started to repeat himself the illusion that I was talking to another person was shattered, and I felt even more alone. You know you’ve totally screwed up your life when your whole world turns to shit and the only person you have to talk to is your system agent software.
- “It had become a self-imposed prison for humanity,” he wrote. “A pleasant place for the world to hide from its problems while human civilization slowly collapses, primarily due to neglect.”
- There was always a trick to beating a computer-controlled opponent. At a game like this, a gifted human player could always triumph over the game’s AI, because software couldn’t improvise.
- I created the OASIS because I never felt at home in the real world. I didn’t know how to connect with the people there. I was afraid… right up until [my death]. That was when I realized, as terrifying and painful as reality can be, it’s also the only place where you can find true happiness. Because reality is real.