After writing the review for last week, I sat down and powered through the rest of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One. I liked it a bit more than the movie in some aspects and a bit less in others. The plots are essentially the same: the game world’s creator passed away and left his vast fortune to whoever completed his puzzle first. There are a series of challenges and puzzles, each set awarding a key and then a gate, at the end of which is the prize: Halliday’s Easter Egg (in this case, an easter egg is something hidden by the developer of a game, usually as a way of leaving their mark on the game they created). The exact challenges are all different, though some are more similar than others, but the basic ideas of the competition are the same.
Overall, I probably liked the movie more, but I think that is a result of the different reference period. In the movie, the cultural references have been expanded to include more modern references in addition to the 80s references. While the movie was super fun to watch because I could look for things I knew, the book felt like it was touting the superiority of 80s culture and implying that there hasn’t really been anything worthwhile since. It wasn’t a huge deal because either I knew enough to understand the references or they were explained well enough by the narrator, but it felt a lot like I was talking to someone who is so convinced that they are correct in their opinions that they refuse to even listen to what you’re saying.
Despite this feeling, I actually liked the characters from the book more. They felt a lot more human and behaved a lot more like every gamer I’ve ever met. They get things wrong, they make mistakes, they’re all hyper-paranoid, success-obsessed dorks who are so focused on their current goal that pretty much everything else fades from view. The protagonist abandons his friend and, to a lesser degree, his quest for the prize, in order to spend time with his romantic interested. As soon as he’s back on the quest, after being rejected by his romantic interest, everything else fades away as he tries to make progress on the next puzzle between him and the next key. At the same time, some of their interactions felt a little off as well. The eventual relationship between the protagonist and his romantic interest feels even weirder than it did in the movie, when she suddenly just gives the lead to him as soon as they meet. The relationships between the other characters who aren’t potentially romantic partners feels a lot more natural, so the contrast makes the fledgling romance stand out even more. There’s also a deus ex machina moment from Ogden Morrow, where he just shows up and fixes something.
That part was probably the most frustrating part of the novel that they thankfully changed for the movie. The protagonist comes up with this ridiculously complicated plan that relies on getting extremely lucky and not only does everything work out as he hoped it would, it all turns out even better than that. Everything just falls into place for him at the end. As soon as crunch time starts, gone is the fallible human character who made mistakes. He gets replaced by a god who is nervous about whether or not his plan will succeed, but who ultimately manages to pull it all off without any major stumbles, thanks to several other lucky occurrences from the past. There was no tension at the end of the book because it was so obvious he would succeed, and not just because I saw the movie. Plans that shouldn’t have worked, work. No one recognizes him or sees through a rather desperate plan. He manages to just have everything he needs to make it work, because he’s a little magpie who collects shiny things that just so happen to always be exactly what he needed later on.
That frustration aside, I think I appreciated the way they overcame the antagonist in the novel a bit more in the movie. It made for a much less tense and showy moment, but I like the critique a little better. The movie says it is easy to hide in a faceless crowd if you are faceless as well, but the book says that relying too much on technology to work for you without having a proper understanding of it allows other people to use it against you.
They also changed some of the points that the game world’s creator makes at the end, but I feel like the movie’s point made a bit better than the books. Even though I enjoyed the book, I felt like it was trying to say a few important things about the world but sort of stopped a few steps short of actually saying them because it just assumes you’ll understand. If you enjoy video games and want a cool book about a virtual reality world that doesn’t wind up asking questions about what is real and does the “real” world matter if we live our lives in the virtual one, you’ll enjoy this book. If you dislike pandering or feeling like someone is saying that nothing cool or worthy was created since the 80s, then you probably won’t like this book.