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When I was in high school, the world of kid entertainment was in a state of transition. This was nowhere more evident than in the arcade at the Nathan’s restaurant on Central Avenue in Yonkers, New York, my home town.
In 1981, the year I entered the 11th grade, the pinball machines in the Nathan’s arcade were being replaced by video games. The way I remember it, each week we’d see three fewer pinball decks, and three new electronic game consoles. It was an early version of the digital revolution we’ve already seen in music, and are now seeing in books and film. The Bally company was, I suppose, the Newsweek of its industry and its day.
Those first games bear little resemblance to the games of today. The displays were typically two dimensional vector graphics; only one person played at time; and any narrative thread was largely nonexistent. You moved from point A to point B and you shot stuff with glowing pixels of light that traversed the screen like a Times Square news scroll. But they were awesome.
Remember, before those video games were released, kids were relegated to using rubber paddles to smack little chrome balls around a tilted, static board with bells and bouncy things. Asteroids, Space Invaders, and Tempest were a revelation. And they were completely addictive.
I tell you all this so you’ll understand exactly why I loved Ready Player One as much as I did.
Thank you Matt Norcross of McLean & Eakin for recommending this book. It’s a ridiculously fun, page-turning romp through a virtual reality world known as the OASIS, set some 30 years in the future. The OASIS’s founder, James Halliday, is not unlike Willy Wonka in that he challenges users to find three secret keys hidden in the VR world, and promises, albeit posthumously, a controlling interest in his company to the first to successfully do so. The hunt is on.
The catch is that all the clues stem for Halliday’s favorite decade, the 1980s. There are a few points where it takes one step too close to being really silly, but even those moments are charming. And the entire book moves faster than a Japanese bullet train.
If you came of age in the 1980s, if you like(d) (then or now) video games of any stripe, or if you like puzzles, this book is for you. If you didn’t come of age in the 1908s, if you never played a video game, if you’re not much for puzzles, but you like a fast-paced well written story, then this book is still for you.
I loved it and can’t wait for the movie.