Ready Player One | Study Guide

Ernest Cline

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Ready Player One | 10 Things You Didn't Know


Ernest Cline's 2011 novel, Ready Player One, was one of the first to meld dystopian fiction with online game playing. The science fiction story is set in 2044 and describes a world beset by an energy crisis. The inhabitants, facing poverty and despair, turn to a virtual reality simulator, OASIS, created by James Halliday. After Halliday's death, it is revealed that he hid a treasure inside OASIS. The person who discovers the treasure will inherit his enormous fortune and the corporation that runs OASIS.

Translated into more than 20 languages, Cline's first novel was an immediate best seller. It received an Alex Award from the Young Adult Library Services Association and a Prometheus Award from the Libertarian Futurist Society. With its references to 1980s pop music, events, and gaming culture, Ready Player One has been called "a preposterously great read" and "brimming over with geek love."

1. Cline had to hide some of his game playing because his family disapproved on religious grounds.

While Cline did receive an early Atari video game console, his family objected to some of the games he loved on religious grounds. The fantasy role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons was especially suspect. The family's church had circulated a book describing the moral dangers of Dungeons and Dragons, and Cline's mother thought he would be engaging in witchcraft if he played it.

2. Ready Player One was influenced by the Star Wars movies.

As a child, Cline was obsessed with the Star Wars movies. "Star Wars was the mythology of my youth," he claimed. He and his brother requested Star Wars toys and lunch boxes for every birthday and Christmas for years. There are dozens of Star Wars references throughout the novel. Ready Player One was also influenced by mythology specialist Joseph Campbell, whose book The Hero with a Thousand Faces inspired George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars. Campbell explores the role of the hero and "the hero's journey" in modern life: "We've been telling these stories and using these storytelling tricks since we were telling stories around the campfire," Cline said about Campbell's book.

3. Cline worked tech-support jobs while writing Ready Player One.

Cline began thinking about the concept for Ready Player One in 2001, when he was working at tech-support jobs. Describing his experience, Cline says:

I was working another in a long series of mind-numbing tech-support cubicle jobs, spending all day on the phone helping people fix their computers and use the internet. Consequently, I spent a lot of time thinking about the future of the internet and how it might evolve.

His musings led to the concept of a virtual-reality world and a competition within it. For several years, he worked on the novel when he could, but he needed to work another job and write screenplays to make money. Almost 10 years after the initial idea, the novel was sold to publisher Crown/Random House.

4. Cline said he had to write what he knew—which meant writing about geeks.

Cline was proud of being a geek, someone obsessed with video games and pop culture. His choice to saturate Ready Player One with all the elements of geekdom was deliberate. As he put it:

They tell first-time novelists to 'write what you know.' Well, what I know about is being a huge geek. I grew up consuming mass quantities of science fiction novels, Dungeons and Dragons supplements, comic books, movies, and video games. And I never really outgrew any of it. Like most geeks of my generation, I still adore all of the pop culture of my youth.

5. Cline hosted a giveaway for fans just like the one in the novel.

One important 1980s artifact in Ready Player One is a DeLorean, the tricked-out car that appeared in the 1985 film Back to the Future. After the book became a best seller, Cline bought a DeLorean and modified it so it looked like the one featured in the book. The book centers on a contest that includes hints hidden in video games, and Cline decided to host his own similar contest, with a DeLorean as the grand prize. He hid a website address in the text of the novel that took players to certain games that contained additional clues. Craig Queen won the DeLorean in August 2012.

6. Cline thinks the Internet is one of the only things today's youth have going for them.

In an interview about the Internet and young people, a reporter asked Cline what he thinks of those who believe the Internet is to be feared and may be the "downfall" of youth. In response, Cline stated:

I think it's a bit silly to brand the Internet as the 'downfall of youth.' The Internet is one of the few things kids today have going for them. They've inherited a nightmare economy, a screwed-up environment and a bloated consumer culture poised on the brink of collapse. The Internet, on the other hand, gives kids access to the collected knowledge, music and art of our entire civilization.

He went on to say that the Internet "gives me hope."

7. Some tech companies recommend Ready Player One to their new employees.

The social media company Facebook acquired a virtual reality company in 2014 called Oculus. New employees at Oculus were given copies of Ready Player One to introduce them to the concept of virtual reality as Facebook views it. Cline said, "It's incredibly flattering and humbling to know that the folks at Oculus cite my novel as a big influence." Cline was invited to the Oculus offices several times to talk to workers and sign books.

8. The idea of Easter eggs, or clues intentionally built into video games, came from a game Cline played as a kid.

The concept of the Easter egg began in the 1970s when video-game inventors, annoyed that they got little credit for their work, began hiding their names in their games. The name is intended to reflect the traditional Easter egg hunt. One Atari engineer created a secret room in the game Adventure in 1979 and hid his name there, and Cline found it as a child while playing the game. He included the idea of the Easter egg as an integral part of his novel and, in fact, hid his own Easter egg in the text. That Easter egg was the URL of a website, which readers could find by searching out deliberate typos in the text. Cline ended up making the Easter Egg the first clue in a contest he held in which the grand prize was a DeLorean automobile.

9. Cline believes video games appeal to the "hunter-gatherer" instinct in humans.

In an interview, Cline noted that humans have now "mastered nature" and live in "the womb of technology." However, they still haven't evolved completely past their hunter-gatherer stage. He stated:

Human beings are not wired to live the way we live now. We've only been living in cities and driving cars and working in cubicles for a few hundred years. Millions of years of evolution have us wired to hunt and gather and form teams and kick ass and conquer territory and be explorers. That's the natural human thing, but we don't get to do that any more, which is why modern life drives a lot of people crazy. We have to work out that hunter-gatherer energy by other means. Some people do it with sports, but I think an even larger group of people does it with video games.

Ready Player One stresses this hunter-gatherer theme, with characters hunting and competing for the ultimate prize in the novel.

10. Ready Player One includes references to several Steven Spielberg movies.

Ready Player One is filled with pop culture references of the 1970s and 1980s, and one cultural icon of the time was director Steven Spielberg. At one point in the novel, the characters make fun of one of Spielberg's Indiana Jones movies. The DeLorean automobile that makes an appearance in the novel is an homage to Spielberg's Back to the Future. There are mentions of The Twilight Zone and The Goonies, which Spielberg produced. Ironically, Spielberg agreed to direct the film version of Cline's novel.

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