Ready Player One and Tone

Several chapters into Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, I’m still not sure how I feel about the writing; the tone, in particular, is a problem for me.

The very beginning of the novel, when Halliday dies and releases his video message, is interesting. My first thought-provoking moment of this novel occurred on page one, when Wade describes the world as being in the middle of an energy crisis and catastrophic climate change. At this point, I was already wondering if it is right that one man should own billions of dollars (though it was from something he created) when the rest of the world is in shambles. This already had me questioning human nature, which is good. I continued to read carefully and enjoyed envisioning the unique, 80s obsessed character in the described video.

A main thought for me at the beginning of chapter one was how similar this novel seemed to be to Harry Potter so far: a boy sleeping in the laundry room, “wedged into the gap between the wall and the dryer” because he’s not allowed in his aunt’s room, and the presence of Halliday’s avatar, “a tall, robed wizard,” before the main character is even introduced.

The similarities stop there. Though Harry Potter faces numerous dangers once he realizes that he’s a wizard and gets to Hogwarts, there is an overwhelming feeling of hope and friendship. Wade’s only hope is to win the ultimate prize, which is money, which is his chance at a decent life. This does not seem inspirational. Also, I understand how bad living conditions at this time are supposed to be; people are supposed to seem desperate, which is what makes the quest for the easter egg so competitive. However, I do not understand the need for all of the religion bashing between pages 16 and 18. The author could make the situation seem desperate by portraying the circumstances; he doesn’t need to make it seem desperate by portraying what humans really are, suggesting that we are what make the situation desperate.

Pages 16-18 feel like Cline ranting about human nature. Here, I feel that he is saying that we are in the terrible situation because of our own actions (which is true, the energy crisis is due to our reliance on fossil fuels that have been used up); my problem with it is that he seems to be saying that this will inevitably happen because that’s just how we are. The tangent on religion is just offensive and doesn’t seem to have a place in this book, at least not to the extent that it exists right now.

To me, this book seems so far to be a very negative portrayal of human nature, where we ruined the world for ourselves and our only salvation is, of course, money (because religion has no place in the future). It is early on, and I will try to keep an open mind, but the tone of the novel is a problem for me already.

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5 thoughts on “Ready Player One and Tone”

  1. While I am not religious myself, I also had a problem with the religion bashing. It just seems so cliche to say “The world sucks because you believe/d in God” as opposed to actually thinking about human nature and what’s causing the problems. Religion (whether ‘real’ or not) is a solution to a pre-existing problem and to say otherwise is just as ignorant as Wade claims God is. However, shortly after this part, Wade goes into the OASIS and informs everyone of how great it is to just be yourself. I wonder if this was intentional on the writer’s part to show that people are self indulgent hypocrites? It would fit with the overall theme.

    Also, I know that Professor Reid discouraged this type of thinking, but in chapter 4 when he and Aech and I-r0k are just spouting their useless knowledge seems like a weak plot device for the author to share his own expertise. I completely understand that these characters are supposed to be incredibly absorbed in 80’s culture, but why choose to portray it with a device so weak it’s best left to fanfiction? For a novel that’s about complete immersion, so far I’m feeling very much like an outcast. This book has been compared to Ender’s Game and one of the things about Ender’s Game that made it so immersible was the fact that Orson Scott Card hardly explained anything. Because in the eyes of the protagonist, there was nothing to be explained. This was a world he had all the other characters had always lived in. This forced you to really focus on the world and after a few chapters, everything makes sense. So far I’m not getting that with Cline but like you, I remain hopeful.

  2. I’m not sure if it is human nature which is under attack in “Ready Player One” or if it is just the future state of the world. The introduction resembles a whole genre of stories about an unhappy young person, who escapes into a semi-magical world where they must pursue a quest. (Think “Harry Potter” “Alice in Wonderland” “The Wizard of Oz” even “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”.) The unhappiness of the actual world in these stories, functions to make the magical world which they enter to all the more attractive to the characters. For instance, Harry’s miserable life with the Dursley’s makes the wizarding world seem near to paradise. The same thing can be said for Wade. The miserable condition of his life makes it understandable for him to seek refuge in OASIS and makes the events within OASIS important even though they’re virtual; for without OASIS, what does Wade have?

  3. I kind of agree with you in the sense that the book get a bit too much into religion bashing. My own religious preferences and background aside, I thought it to be a bit disheartening that the author straight up disregarded religion. I may have my own beliefs of one religion or another, but I do not think it is appropriate or the authors place to be making such radical comments in his book. That being said, I do think that Cline was a bit overly blunt in talking about human nature and our existence in this world, but I do think a good point is made. Life isn’t always going to be peaches and cream all the time and there are some unpleasant realities that we may have to just bite our tongue and accept. I do think that Cline could have been a bit more tasteful and considerate in choosing how he wanted to convey his thoughts to the reader because there are going to be some people who agree with him and others who think he is being melodramatic and a pessimist. Personally, I would side with a grey area in between, maybe, if I were in his shoes writing this story, but than again, he is the one who has his book published and not me.

  4. That’s an interesting perspective on the relationship to “Harry Potter.” I had not thought of it in that way, but it is similar in that aspect. In my opinion, it relates a bit to “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” in which fans are able to seek out a once in a lifetime opportunity to win a trip to the factory if they find the golden ticket. Wonka and Halliday worked for their business to prosper and now are left with no one in relation or bond to hand it to. I agree with the part on religion in the novel. I did not expect the book to take that turn, in which he didn’t seem too approachable to me. I think faith is also a touchy subject because people do take their faith seriously.

  5. It’s a good observation that the story follows much of the structure of the “hero’s journey” as Joseph Campbell termed it, a narrative structure common to many narratives, including Harry Potter and many video games. In some ways this structure is refracted through the novel as Halliday as tasked those who wish to seek his fortune with undertaking a journey of this kind, a journey which in itself requires its players to undertake gaming versions of heroic tasks.

    I would take a different approach to Wade’s monologue on religion. First, I would take it as offering insight into his character, as an outsider, as an angry young man, etc. Second, I might think about the larger cultural relation that pertains between science, technological advancement, and organized religion in the US. There is undoubtedly an anti-establishment, libertarian thread that runs through a fair amount of science fiction as a genre (though not all of it). Orson Scott Card is certainly a good example of that!

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