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Nerdist Book Club: READY PLAYER ONE, Part 1

It’s been two weeks since we announced the next focus of Nerdist Book Club, and I’ve had a blast revisiting Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One. I know many of you are reading it for the first time, but possibly more of you are rereading. It says a lot about the book that I received so many notes from people reading along for the fourth, fifth, or eighth time. I’m glad you’re all here, and I think we’ll have fun. I’m already completely caught up in the quest. Let’s press start.

What happened
The first reading assignment covered Chapters (appropriately called Levels) 0000-0008. Chapter 0008 just happened to be where my math landed, but I couldn’t have picked a better stopping point. Wade Watts, a.k.a. Parzival, has found the Copper Key and encountered another gunter, and the hunt for James Halliday’s treasure is about to take over the world. Excitement! Adventure!

The first paragraphs of Ready Player One set so much up, and I impressed by how much Cline communicates to us without making it sound like a history book. We learn the name James Halliday and learn that he invented the OASIS, a virtual reality used by most of humanity every single day, and that he has died. We learn that the current state of the world is not good. There are viruses, a Global Energy Crisis, wars, famine—the list goes on. You immediately get the impression the OASIS is an escape. It’s a functioning economy though too; OASIS credits are more valuable than most real-world currency.

As mentioned, Halliday is dead. When he died, he launched a scavenger hunt inspired by the first video game Easter egg. The man who programmed Atari 2600’s Adventure, Warren Robinett, hid his name inside the game and that inspired Halliday to hide his own Easter egg inside OASIS. The person who finds it inherits his entire fortune. And yes, that Adventure Easter egg is real. Watch:

Halliday left behind a clue and Anorak’s Almanac. Anorak is the name of Halliday’s OASIS avatar and the Almanac primarily features Halliday’s thoughts on 1980s pop culture. He’s obsessed with all aspects of the era from video games to music. People became obsessed with finding the Easter egg. Known as gunters (truncated from “egg hunters”), they immersed themselves in ’80s culture. But years went by with no one figuring out the first clue… until February 11, 2045. Parzival finds the Copper Key and his name goes to the top of the Easter egg hunt scoreboard.

Wade has made it his life’s goal to find the Easter egg. He goes to school in the OASIS and doesn’t have much of a life otherwise so he spends hours upon hours learning about everything referenced in Anorak’s Almanac. He’s memorized entire films, played countless games, listened to entire catalogs of music. I’m impressed by his devotion and have to wonder if I could be so single-minded if billions and billions of dollars were on the line.

As we get to know Wade through the first-person story, the world unfolds before us. A crazy amount of world-building is present in just the first eight chapters. Comments about living conditions and natural disasters reinforce the dismal and brutal state of the world mentioned in the opening paragraphs of the book. If I lived there, I’d want to escape into the OASIS. The OASIS has hundreds and hundreds of virtual worlds. It’s free to access, but once you’re in, things cost money. You must pay for extra clothing or equipment, to transport from world to world, and so on. Cline clearly put careful thought into the way the OASIS functions, and I’d say there are similarities to be drawn to how much time we spend online.

Thanks to a class at Wade’s school, we get more background on Halliday and the creation of the OASIS. We learn there are people who want to control and commercialize it. We find out it’s not always a safe place, but that users can remained cloaked in anonymity. We meet Wade’s friend and fellow gunter Aech and his cyber crush Art3mis. Our eyes are opened.

All of this leads to Wade figuring out the first clue and finding the Copper Key. He also mentions the notched letters in the Almanac. That’s the trick Cline used in Ready Player One for his Easter egg hunt so keep your eyes peeled. Wade explores the “Tomb of Horrors” and uses his knowledge of the Dungeons and Dragons module and his Joust skills to defeat the lich king Acererak and obtain the Copper Key and the next clue to the Easter egg. He knows where to go next and his discovery is about to shake up the OASIS.

And yes, “Tomb of Horrors” is a legitimate Dungeons and Dragons module. It was written by Gary Gygax and published in 1975. Here’s the map:


Photo via Wizard

Pop culture references
When I announced that we were reading this book, I said I’d list all of the geeky references unless there were just a ton. I marked each one as I read, and yeah, if I listed them all we wouldn’t get very far. This is my second time reading Ready Player One and I forgot it was loaded up with this many little gems. Given that, I’ve pulled out a few highlights and will probably continue to do this each week rather than make a giant list. However, I am going to attempt to pin everything mentioned on this board at Pinterest because I’m crazy.

Ladyhawke – Parzival and Aech have a debate over the qualities of of the 1985 film Ladyhawke. I have yet to see this film so I can’t weigh in but I will say Legend rocks. You don’t know what you’re talking about on that front, Aech. What do you think about Ladyhawke?

Also, Ladyhawke was indeed on the cover of Starlog. It’s issue 094, and you can read it and every other issue of Starlog for free at the Internet Archive. The Ewoks: The Battle for Endor article that Aech mentions reading is likely “Return of the Ewoks” in Starlog 101.


Revenge of the Jedi – In a nice touch, Aech has a Revenge of the Jedi poster hanging in the Basement rather than Return of the Jedi.

“Dead Man’s Party” – The Song by Oingo Boingo is as near as I can tell, the first pop culture reference in the book. The video:

Favorite quotes
“I was one of those kids, and finding Robinett’s Easter egg for the first time was one of the coolest videogaming experiences of my life.”

“Being human totally sucks most of the time. Videogames are the only thing that make life bearable.”

“It’s just you against the machine. Move with your left hand, shoot with your right, and try to stay alive as long as possible.”

Discussion questions
– When Wade discusses his OASIS avatar, he says he designed the avatar’s face and body to look more or less like his own. However, when he describes his avatar it’s nothing but differences. Was Wade being sarcastic or has being in the OASIS so much altered his perception of himself?
– Anonymity is a big part of the OASIS whereas in our world, more people reveal their true identities on the Internet. It wasn’t always that way. Do you think we’ll progress to more anonymity-based system one day?
– What parallels do you see between Innovative Online Industries who want to charge for access to the OASIS and communication companies in our world?
– Why do you think Halliday was so obsessed with ’80s pop culture?

Bonus material
The Stacks game idea Wade mentions was turned into an actual game developed by Mike Mika and Kevin Wilson. This video shows off the gameplay:

It was hard to stop reading especially given where we ended. Wade has the Copper Key and he’s not alone at the “Tomb of Horrors.” Who will he encounter? What will change when the scoreboard is updated? Things are about to get even more interesting. Head to the comments and tell me what you like so far, what you don’t like, your favorite quotes, whether your head exploded from all the geeky references, etc. Answer the discussion questions if you feel like it or post your own. You can always chat with me on Twitter too and feel free to engage other Nerdist Book Club participants on social media by using the hashtag #NerdistBookClub.

Come back for Part 2 next Thursday, March 12. We’ll be discussing Chapters/Levels 0009-0016.

Featured Image Powered by DeviantArt // Artist: Bent Holm

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  1. Wes says:

    – Anonymity is a big part of the OASIS whereas in our world, more people reveal their true identities on the Internet. It wasn’t always that way. Do you think we’ll progress to more anonymity-based system one day?
    I dont think so. Social media plays such a huge role in almost everything now. Its so easy to find out almost anything you want about anyone.

  2. Ken says:

    getting frustrated with this forum not reproducing line breaks properly.

  3. Ken says:

    I think Wade was more concerned with his name than his avatar’s appearance. Since he could not afford anything other than the default jeans and t-shirt, with the all too rare loot drop from killing minor mobs, he was more focused on sounding cool than looking cool. He was admittedly obsessed with his name. He informs us “When I’d first created my OASIS account, I’d named my avatar Wade_the_Great. After that, I kept changing it every few months…”

    Atr3mis on the other hand, was completely focused on looking cool. This perception is reinforced in the tomb when she first meets Parzival. Art3mis slid her ‘classic Ray-Ban shades’ up onto her avatar’s forehead “a blatant affectation, since sunglasses didn’t actually affect a player’s vision”. She also put a lot of thought into her appearance. As Parzival noted “Overall, she seemed to be going for a sort of mid-’80s postapocalyptic cyberpunk girl-next-door look. And it was working for me, in a big way. In a word: hot.” I would say this was a result of her insecurity over her birthmark.

    After several readings, a few things caught my attention that I could not reconcile. When Parzival is making his way through the tomb he discovers several treasures including a ‘Bag of Holding’. He also notes finding “thousands of gold and silver coins hidden in the pews, right where they were supposed to be. It was more money than my avatar could carry”. Here is where I get stuck. He says that the currency “was automatically converted and my credit counter jumped to over twenty thousand…” If the coins, presumably taking up space in his Bag of Holding, are automatically converted to OASIS credits when placed in the bag, why couldn’t he collect every single coin?

    Another seeming inconsistency is when Art3mis and Parzival meet in the tomb. She asks “So, spill it. How did you do?” “Do at what?” “Jousting against Acererak?” referring to the Lich King by his name. She does this in several places, referring to him as Acererak, the lich, and at one point noted “Halliday programmed old King Acererak with some pretty wicked AI, didn’t he?”

    At no point in the conversation does Parzival refer to Acererak as Anorak. Yet when Art3mis finds out Parzival completed the challenge and obtained the key she asks “My guess is that when Anorak gave you the Copper Key, he also gave you some sort of clue about the location of the First Gate. Right?” Parzival never revealed that Acererak turned into Anorak when he received the key. How did she know this?

    I emailed Ernie Cline and asked about this. His response was
     “…Anorak technically programmed Acererak and the entire quest – so Art3mis thinks of the lich as Anorak. When she says “when Anorak gave you the Copper Key” she’s really just saying “when Anorak’s programming gave you the Copper Key, it also gave you some sort of clue…” Hope that makes sense.”
    I can buy that to a certain extent because she does refer to Anorak programming two instances of the lich if there was more than one player, but even then she refers to the lich and Anorak as separate entities. Making the jump to Anorak giving Parzival the Copper Key seems like a big leap. If it wasn’t actually a mistake, then it was, at the very least, confusing.

    I have noted several other inconsistencies throughout the book and will speak to them as we move through the chapters.

  4. No worries, get it all out. I want to hear (well, read) all the opinions!

  5. That is a nice connection/parallel.

  6. I really need to listen to the audiobook at some point.
    And I love that The Silmarillion ended up tying into Ready Player One. Kind of perfect.

  7. It does make me wonder how much I could learn about a single subject if I had nothing else to do.

  8. I had a hard time putting the book down.

  9. That’s a good problem to have. 🙂
    I only watched The Last Starfighter for the first time in the last few years so it was fun to have Wade’s password make sense this time.

  10. I’m impressed with your memory!

  11. I’m glad you’re along for the ride and that you’re enjoying the book so far!

  12. Ken says:

    Awesome! I uploaded a video of the event if you want to reference it

  13. Michaela says:

    Seconding everyone else, I got most of the references when I read it but the call outs are good for some neat background info of the book and also as a good soundtrack for the article.

  14. sajison says:

    I kind of do this, more in the rpg sense. I always create a female character because who doesn’t like strong female protagonist but i try to play her in an idealized version of how i would hope to respond to morale dilemmas even if it is a detriment to my character. 

  15. Derek says:

    Great story and thanks for sharing the video. That was really cool!