Book Club Questions: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the  OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape. 

Both of us really enjoyed reading this one, despite our relative lack of familiarity with 80′s culture. Although the plot itself is pretty straightforward, the journey to the end of Wade’s quest is lots of fun, and we found ourselves with plenty to talk about during our discussion. This book seemed like a good one for people who enjoy thinking about virtual reality systems and the direction in which the internet is headed. Or for people who just really like the 80′s.

Discussion questions below the cut!

The gunters are very aesthetically fixated on 80’s culture, to the point that anything cool and admirable aesthetically is always somehow a reference to 80’s culture or Halliday’s life. As fandom members, you and I are familiar with the concept of creativity through reworking what already exists in a new and interesting way. Does that concept apply here or is the gunters’ use of 80’s culture mere mimicry? How much “creation” do we see in this novel?

In what ways has Tumblr (or Facebook) created a virtual world? We sometimes use the words “Tumblr culture” or talk about Tumblr like it’s a place all its own that we occasionally prefer to inhabit over the real world. Do you ever feel disconnected from people in real life who do not share your Tumblr world?

Explore the question of identity raised in the novel. What do the characters’ avatars tell us about their desires and their insecurities? In reality does our physical appearance give false clues about who we really are? How much do you yourself edit the self you present online?

Our current Western culture idealizes extroversion. Ready Player One focuses entirely on introverts as its main characters. Do you think this portrayal is positive, in terms of helping extroverts understand how introverts approach social interaction?

Wade frequently notes that he’s only doing something noble in order to impress Art3mis. Does doing something good in order to impress someone else necessarily make that action less noble? If someone else inspires us to be a better version of ourselves, is that better version less genuine?

Although the novel contains many references to pop culture prior to its publishing in 2011, there is little reference to hypothetical pop culture past that point. Did this feel plausible as a result of the global decay or did this seem strange, given the detailed level of world-building in other areas?

On that note, how did you feel about the world-building in general? What are areas in which Ernest Cline excelled? What are areas you felt were lacking?

If you’ve read M.T. Anderson’s Feed, how do these two books compare? Obviously, they’re very different types of books, but how does M.T. Anderson’s vision of ubiquitous technology differ from Ernest Cline’s? Both books deal with the virtual vs. the real, as well as consumerism and global decay. Is the fact that Ernest Cline’s technology is actually escapable (unlike M.T. Anderson’s) what allows for Cline’s happy ending?

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