- Sauvik Biswas - https://sauvikbiswas.com -

Ready Player One and the art of g33king out

Ready Player One is a dystopian, science fiction novel by Ernest Cline. I had picked this title up on a whim after I had read the blurb on a Goodreads list. If you call yourself a geek, and come across a text like this, how can you not resist?

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My connection with this book

Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. In fact, I finished it in three sessions. The settings embraced all things that define me so well that I couldn’t resist getting back to the book after I had finished each of the segments. It’s not written on the blurb, but to be precise, the author squarely pins the references to the “decades past”, mentioned in the book blurb, in the ’80s. I am a kid of the ’80s. My earliest fragments of happiness has been shaped by the events of late ’80s and early ’90s, just as my opinions and raison d’être has been shaped by the 2000s. However, there is a difference – and it is a geopolitical one. I have grown up in India, a place that took quite some time in warming up to the western influence, until the IT boom of the late 90s and early 2000s opened the floodgates. Prior to that, information and products that managed to set foot in India (or how about, lost their way to India), got the word-of-mouth treatment in the most localised fashion. As a result, my exposure has been fragmented – i.e., not getting my hands on every game, film or soundtrack that defined the period – and also chronologically distorted – i.e., playing both PacMan [2] and Wolfenstein 3D [3] on an MS-DOS PC in 1994. (While the former has an important part to play in the plot, the latter doesn’t.)

This is how the original Pac-Man ends - with an integer overflow. [4]

This is how the original Pac-Man ends – with an integer overflow.

My concrete mental representation of the west in ’80s was developed in early 2000s. I have bunked umpteen classes to play old SNES games on an emulator, MS-DOS games on a virtual machine and watch a lot of movies that defined the 80s. One of those movies, Monty Python and the Holy Grail [5], forms an integral part of the quest for the Easter egg. Although I will have to brush up my memory a bit, there was a time when I have muted the audio and regurgitated the dialogues without missing a beat. This is exactly one of quests that the protagonist has to perform (yes, perform – not only speak but act as King Arthur) in order to complete one of the three gates.

"The swallow may fly south with the sun or the house martin or the plover may seek warmer climes in winter, yet these are not strangers to our land?" [6]

“The swallow may fly south with the sun or the house martin or the plover may seek warmer climes in winter, yet these are not strangers to our land?”

Another of my favourite movies gets a shout out – Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. In fact, I had the excellent soundtrack by Vangelis on my speakers when I encountered this section. I was quite happy at the sudden co-incidence.

Deckard's unicorn is an important item in the quest. [7]

Deckard’s unicorn is an important item in the quest.

There are also a ton of anime references. The span of otaku references doesn’t match the depth and breadth of 80s tidbits that form the crux of the story. I wasn’t into anime until late 2000s. So, in my case, after I had watched some contemporary shows (read, Naruto), I had to trackback to the 80s and clear as many backlogs as possible. In fact, it is an ongoing process.

I have watched all the episodes of Supaida-Man (a collaboration between Toei and Marvel) and let’s say it was good to see Leopardon featured.

Rush!

Yes, Rush! (See what I did there!) Rush [8] forms an integral part of the quest. One album that forms the backbone of a quest is 2112 [9]. Sadly, I don’t own that album (I have heard it multiple times). I own a lot of Rush albums, but not that one. I was exposed to Rush almost accidentally while I was in the process of composing the second Dark Project album [10].  Over the years, I have collected many of their albums and one DVD. It blew my mind how three guys could make such dense music and play them live. Seeing their 2112 featured in the book made me happy. It is featured as part of one of the quests.

The Starman and the album cover featured in this 1976 ad for the original LP. [11]

The Starman and the album cover featured in this 1976 ad for the original LP.

If you want to get into Rush, the simplest way would not be via one of their 20 studio albums or 11 live albums, but an excellent documentary called Beyond the Lighted Stage [12] by Scot McFadyen and Sam Dunn. They have been around for so long and their music spans so many genres that it would be a mammoth task for anybody to catch up to their full body of work. It sure has been such for me.

What have I missed?

There were games like Joust [13] and Tempest [14] that I haven’t played before. However, I have played clones or evolved versions of these games. On the other hand, there were a lot of Dungeons and Dragons references. This is one family of games that had never caught me. I doubt if it had any impact even on the kids of India who had better access to western culture. For most of us, it never existed. For my generation, the existence and immersion into RPGs were driven by the digital age. I am not a big fan of this genre of games but I will admit that I loved playing Final Fantasy VIII [15] when PS2 emulation became a reality.

This particular edition of the D&D handbook has been referenced in the book. [16]

This particular edition of the D&D handbook has been referenced in the book.

Past retrofitted in the future

There is a bleak reality hidden in the undertones of the narration. All of these games, re-enactment of movies, simulation of environment, asynchronous education – all inside a virtual reality – is no more a thing of the distant future. We are in fact looking at that future right now. The real problems (or side-effects as I would like to call them) form the emotional connect of the story. Virtual currency overtaking real currency, ISPs gaining undue power, virtual avatars projecting the real essence of a real human being – more so than the real body itself, data and information becoming more valuable than human life; the list is endless. Real world in the story is plagued by the lack of natural resources and energy – something that was caused by human greed and over-consumption. What is more scary is that there isn’t a single piece of technology mentioned in the book that doesn’t exist now. The current rudimentary nature of a few of these technologies, a lack of integration and the level of user involvement is what holds us back from entering into that future.

I was one of the early users of the internet. As someone who has grown up with the history and evolution of modern internet, I can read the prophecy underlined in Cline’s novel.

Then there is the film

Steven Spielberg will be directing the movie. As of today, the principal photography has already commenced [17]. I do not know how well will the material be presented on the silver screen. Since Ernest Cline himself is writing the screenplay, I will cast aside my cynicism and look forward to that.

Oh! By the way, this is what my copy of the paperback looks like. That image on the cover will look awesome in the movie

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