OASIS, the book’s highly advanced and therefore seemingly magical virtual world, in some ways resembles Second Life, an online platform where user avatars can interact with one another in a variety of digital settings for business, education, entertainment, or personal reasons. In both cases, the world is fake but the social and economic relationships inside it are very real.
The book embodies modern liberal values such as the superiority of science over superstition, the urgency of the need for alternative energy sources, the right to online anonymity, the idea that information (and thus education) wants to be free, the equality of all races, genders, and sexual orientations, the importance of inner beauty, the protection of basic human rights, and, of course, the inherent evil of money-grubbing mega-corporations run by villains who, like Speed Racer‘s E.P. Arnold Royalton, will not hesitate to take with deadly force whatever their obscene piles of cash can’t buy.
To the extent that the book has a message, it’s that of the mediocre 2009 Bruce Willis movie Surrogates: the real world should be more important to humans than any substitute. However, the whole of Ready Player One seems to argue the exact opposite: “The digital world is really cool, guys! We can use it to live in our own retro-futuristic fantasy worlds, like, forever!” The moral of the story thus seems not just tacked on but insincere.
What, then, is the point? The novel is an unsubtle homage to the pop culture of several decades set in a technologically superior “dystopia”, though anything with so much baked-in wish-fulfillment can’t possibly be properly dystopian, if you ask me.
But hey. At least there’s a Firefly reference in there.
See below for more thoughts on the novel as well as a plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.