Monday, May 14, 2018

Ready Player One: Easter Eggs.

Use the key, unlock the door
See what your fate might have in store
Come explore your dreams' creation
Enter this world of imagination
Rush, Twilight Zone, 2112
I've just finished an enjoyable re-read of Ready Player One, Ernest Cline's epic 2011 homage to 80s pop and geek culture.  I was thinking about seeing the Steven Spielberg movie version, but my somewhat disappointed co-worker Christi reported that it was a long way from the book, so I thought that I'd refresh my memory of the story before making a final decision.

For those unfamiliar with the book, it tells the tale of a near-future world on the brink of collapse, where most of the world's population spends its time in the OASIS, an immersive virtual reality that has replaced the internet.  James Halliday, the inventor of the OASIS,  has recently died, leaving behind a complex puzzle in place of a will.  Whoever solves the puzzle will win control of both his incredible fortune and the OASIS, effectively making them the most powerful person on the planet.

Wade Watts, the 18-year-old protagonist, spends all his spare time attempting to solve the riddle left behind by Halliday.  Halliday never abandoned his fascination with the geek lifestyle of his youth in the 1980s, and as such Wade has become an obsessed expert in both Halliday's life and the 80s, especially the nascent computer and arcade gaming culture of the period.

Ultimately, the book is a tribute to (and justification for) that sort of obsession, making it a pathway to being the richest person in the world rather than the dead end that it is often is in real life.  It's one thing to memorize all the dialogue from War Games in order to become a billionaire, but perhaps a bit sad if you're doing it because you have nothing else in your life.

Surprisingly, the book won an award from the American Library Association's Young Adult Library Services division in 2012, which puzzles me more than a little, given the book's fanatical reliance on 80s geek trivia - I would expect that in spite of its frequent explanations, most of the book would be gibberish to a young adult reader, although I admit that the novel does teach larger lessons about life.


I'm actually a bit puzzled as to how anyone who wasn't around in the 80s could appreciate most of this book in the first place - in fact, just being around in the 80s probably isn't enough to make the grade. I'm a science fiction-fantasy-computer game geek who turned 19 in 1980, and, as such, I'm right in the zone for Ready Player One. I know what a Trash-80 is, I played Zork* and Joust on my 8-bit Atari 800XL (which I still have in storage**), I know who Gygax Sector is named after, I smiled when I read that the password for the hero's teleportation ring is Brundell, I still have an MP3 version of Oingo Boingo's Dead Man's Party in my iTunes library, and on and on and on.  I can't claim to recognize every single reference, but I strongly suspect that I score a lot higher than a lot of people in my generation, not to mention anyone born after 1990.

As a result, I would expect the movie to abandon a lot of the dense deep-dive geek content that fuels the book, purely out of self-defense.  Based on the trailers, the movie relies more heavily on visual cues from a wider range of pop culture, which would certainly makes it a lot more accessible to the average viewer.  People are far more likely to recognize iconic images like the Iron Giant than they are to pick up on the arcana of 1980s Japanese giant robot anime, for example.  Even so, I suspect that there's a lot of obscure references to modern geek culture buried in the script, which should satisfy my desire for otaku superiority.

I had almost decided to pass on the big screen version of Ready Player One, but after finishing the book I decided to give the movie a chance.  I'm coming in quite late in the film's run, but fortunately it's still showing in 3D at theatres in Vancouver, and I'm off to a showing this evening.

I was originally going to attend on my own, but Karli's plans for the evening were cancelled at the last minute, and she's agreed to join me, thereby providing a useful non-geek control group for recognition of Easter Eggs. Oh well - my level of obscure geek knowledge may not make the richest person on the planet, but at least I'll be able to use it to impress my girlfriend - a term that hardly ever ends up in the same sentence as "obscure geek knowledge".

- Sid

* To tell the truth, I never liked the interactive text games like Zork, I was much more of an arcade-style gamer.  And I never did manage to get the damn Babel fish into my ear.

** And which actually still works, although it took a few minutes for it to warm up the last time I hooked up all the bits and pieces.

P.S.  There are two Easter Egg references in this posting, let me know if you find both of them.

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