Worldbuilding and “Ready Player One”
A short while ago, I read Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One cover to cover in a little over a week, which should tell you just how much I liked its 374 pages. It started off slow, with Cline taking his time to build the world the story is set in, making the first seventy-odd pages of the book a bit boring. That’s understandable though — he’s faced with the arduous tasks of establishing a fresh dystopia, a whole new way of living, and introducing the main character Wade Watts and his motivations.
What made these uniquely challenging is that the world of Ready Player One is not one whose rules need to be described and set out. Rather, it’s one where the same rules that you and I live with need to be adapted to a completely different set of people with different driving forces and different backstories. Additionally, the premise of the story, Halliday’s Hunt, is not something that can be written off in a few sentences. It requires pages of describing how and why the OASIS all but took over everyone’s lives the world over and how the dystopia the characters live in has pushed everyone into the welcoming arms of virtual escape. Cline accomplishes this fantastically, developing the story into more than just a video game contest brimming with ’80s nostalgia — it’s a story about how Wade, like many others, grew up with the OASIS and how more than changed, it shaped their lives. At its core though, it remains a story of an unlikely underdog who comes from nothing, against whom the odds are insurmountably stacked, and how he devotes himself to rising above circumstance and creating a reality he actually likes. And who doesn’t love a good underdog story?
The book is written in a witty first person that focuses on Wade, making it relatively easy to develop his character to the extent that Cline has (and I say relatively because this level of development is by no means at all a simple task, but the other characters were likely even more difficult). During the exposition, Cline describes his life so far — how he lost his father to a botched robbery and his mother to a drug habit, how he’s created a hideout out of scraps to escape from his abusive aunt and her endless string of lovers, how the OASIS essentially raised him, and his interactions with the demise of the world as he knew it…