Ready Player One: Thumbs DOWN

3 04 2013

Ready_Player_One_coverLeaving the library, I picked up a copy of Ready Player One, our One Book selection for this year. On a gray Saturday afternoon, I decided to treat myself and sat down for some enjoyable reading time. Boy, was that not the case! Firstly, it’s futuristic science fiction, not something I generally read, with a retro focus on popular culture of the 1980s — music, movies, and video games. Although I lived through those years, those references were exactly what I try to ignore/forget!

 But, wanting to participate in upcoming One Book events, I plugged away. I got through Level One, almost half of the book, before I just had to stop. Personal preference aside, I appreciate the author’s concern about environmental and social future, based on where we are heading. However, I found it a frightening commentary on today’s society when a cult hero promoting virtual violence and escapism is idealized.

Certainly, the IOI were greedy bad guys. But the hero, James Halliday, founder of OASIS, promoted escapism into a virtual reality devoid of genuine contact with any living beings. His programs also eliminated motivation to fix what was wrong ‘out there’ (exception for Art3mis) and I would classify them as equally misguided and highly disturbing.

Eventually, I read the last few chapters to see if I missed anything important. Is it redeeming that Halliday suggests a little dose of reality or control of OASIS even to the point of shutting it down? To me, it came as a minor footnote at the end. Cline evaded a golden opportunity to make a powerful statement when explaining the Halliday/Og falling out. Instead of a philosophical difference (video games vs educational tools), he pinned it on the girl.

Using video games to avoid the real world has the potential to lead to devastating results – here in Connecticut, think Newtown. With the goal being to kill the enemy, these games addictively increase adrenaline levels, letting players become superheroes and lose track of time and reality. Escapism at its highest. Research isn’t clear that violent video games lead to violence but it’s intuitive that they don’t promote collaboration, cooperation, or brotherly love.

 Personally, I’d rather live in the real world and spend my reading time with something either more inspirational or meaningful.



5 responses

8 04 2013
Michael J. Cahill

Sounds like a cautionary tale to me. Nicely written and moves well. Thank you for sharing. I like it.

29 04 2013

I agree that more research needs to be undertaken about the effect some video games can have on players – but I think it’s important to realise that as with any form of entertainment there are lots of different types of games – they aren’t all first person shooter games where the object is to kill everything that moves.

There are lots of other games where teamwork and collaboration are a vital part of the game play – and many recent games actively incentivise a less-violent approach to achieving your goals.

I also think parents need to be more aware of what they allow their children to play – many of these games are designed for adults – not children.

Thought provoking post, and I was considering reading that book, but I may give it a miss now, as it’s not quite what I expected. Thanks for the overview.

Kelly’s Eye – Writing, Music, Life

29 04 2013
Beth Lapin

Thanks for your thoughtful ideas. In the book, the co-founder of the games split off to design educational games. I think the author had a wonderful opportunity to promote that avenue, but chose not to do so. He has said his goal was entertainment, nothing deeper.

I’ve used computer games with children that help with math and reading/writing. The computer is a wonderful non-judgmental teacher in those situations.

Again, thanks for your comments.

4 04 2014

Hey Beth,

I agree that the author of RP1 had a good opportunity to make a powerful statement here. I don’t think that this was his intent in writing the book at all. (though I have heard rumors of another book in the RP1 world so maybe he will address some of them later)

A good book I think on the potential benefits and dangers of our increasing human-computer technology is Nexus by Ramez Naam (which I reviewed last year) and is followup Crux (which I am reading).

But Naam is trying for that, I’m not sure that Cline was looking to write a deep insightful work on the dangers of tech.

I also agree with Kelly, there are a lot of cooperative games out there. Also to be truthful modern news media is a stronger cause of Newtown like incidents than gaming. Things like this happened well before computer games, but more and more stories like this (as horrible as they are) get blasted out into the media and make us all feel far less safe than we are.

(sorry for the soapbox)

9 04 2014
Beth Lapin


Thanks for your insighful comments. I appreciate the time you took to write. It’s all complex and connected, maybe not black and white. But it sure makes us think. I agree about the influence of the fact that we now hear about everything that happens, everywhere, and it’s usually the negative that ‘makes a good story.’


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