Ernest Cline and Ready Player One

For the final book in our course, I selected a work of science fiction. I did this for several reasons.

  1. You should be hip deep in your own research projects right now, so I didn’t think you would benefit from another dense academic text.
  2. I suspected (rightly) that many of you would be a little behind, so this week’s fairly light reading should give you a chance to catch up.
  3. As many of you are English majors, I thought you might be interested in the literary treatment of videogaming.

So, in relation to point #3, why Ready Player One in particular? It’s true that there are many works of science fiction that take up video games as a central theme, starting perhaps most famously with Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. What is especially interesting about Cline’s novel (without giving anything away) is that it takes us through the fan culture that has had a significant impact on video games. While the culture and business of the video game industry has certainly become more diverse over the last decade or so, there is this specific subculture of geeky kids who grew up in the 70s and 80s and became the core of game designers in the late 80s, 90s, and through the present. This novel explores that culture, admittedly in a loving, fanboy way.

A couple caveats. Clearly this is not an academic treatment, so we cannot take this as a complete study of video game history or culture. At the same time, I would warn against mistaking this culture for a strictly “white boy” thing, even though certainly there is a reason for that stereotype. As you’ll see, many of the cultural objects appearing in the book come from Japan (as many video games have). And, speaking from personal experience as someone who grew up in the 80s, it wasn’t that way. Many of the cultural elements here–the music, the movies, the popular arcade games, etc–cut across American society. At the same time, there is also a representation of a particular kind of geek culture and its fascination with fantasy, sci-fi, Dungeons and Dragons, comic books and so on.

Along with this treatment of video game history, the novel is set in a near, dystopian future. However it is also a world where gaming has become a central medium for culture and life, so in a way it is an opportunity to think through some of McGonigal’s propositions. It is also an extrapolation of the gaming culture Nardi investigates.

I won’t give you a particular reading schedule for the book. I’m sure you’ll find it a light read.


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