Though structurally sound, and action packed, Ready Player One is socially unconscious, and carries a very flat, outdated and whitewashed message.
The story is told from a white male teenage perspective (Wade) who lives in a dystopian future where almost everyone spends more time online (in the Oasis VR/AR simulation), than in the real world which is quickly dying from crappy air, depleted resources (and the usual stereotype about dystopian post-apocalyptic futures). Wade’s quest in the novel is to win a contest set up by an older white man (James Donovan Halliday), and based on all of Halliday’s favorite white male video games, and favorite white movies about the 80s, and favorite white bands like Duran Duran and Rush. The winner of this contest is awarded billions of dollars and they inherit the Oasis empire. While the structure/hero’s journey/quest works, I had so many issues with this novel.
1) the protagonist is a glorified stalker who cares only about himself; and every other character is flat and only exists to prove how the protagonist is the hero.
2) the main white woman (the love interest), serves as his prize and is completely objectified and presumed to be a man at times because the protagonist can’t believe a woman would be so good at playing these games. There is an attempt to make commentary on gender and sexuality but so poorly done that it’s almost cringe-worthy. As if the one woman of color was invited to the party just to show her off and say “look, see! I have a black woman of color friend! Aren’t I cool?!” The two Japanese characters are such blatant stereotypes that when reading it’s hard to tell them apart. In terms of diversity and representation, it feels like the author chose to include certain elements of representation without doing them justice or applying the appropriate amount of research and attention to flushing out these potential characters and relationships, making the writing careless, lazy, and offensive, bordering on racist, sexist and homophobic .
3) this book also presents a romanticizing and idolizing of 1980s WHITE AMERICAN MALE culture. Supposedly the Oasis creator James Halliday loves everything 80s! But after a few pages of reading you quickly learn this is a very WHITE and MALE experience that is glorified. Surprisingly, it all the films, video games, sci-fi novelists, and song artists mentioned throughout the entire novel are: zero are people of color, and zero are female. Are you telling me that when glorifying the decade of the 80s you aren’t going to bring up Michael Jackson, or Prince? Or Madonna? Gloria Estefan? What about films like Do the Right Thing? Coming to America?The color purple? School daze? Beverly Hills Cop? Or why does it obsess about Family Ties as one of the best sitcoms of the 1980s but says nothing about shows like Que Pasa USA? Or The Cosby show? Different strokes? The Jeffersons? And I’m not saying that ALL cultures need to be represented, but when the narrator and the entire novel is based around WHITE and MALE 80s culture and doesn’t even recognize that it’s obliterating all other cultures, it’s off putting and falls completely flat. Also the fact that it banks on the 80s references to stand out (as a novel), means it should take responsibility for appropriately representing said decade.
I did not like the main character, he was an annoying stalker who was mindless of others (even though he is written to make the reader empathize with him). He is mindless of his female love Interest when she tells him to back off, and leave her alone and he ignores her, emails her every day, stalks her and then is rewarded with her love at the end of the novel. And he is mindless of his best friend, when he discovers he is actually a gay black woman of color, he continues to address her as “he” cause he feels like it and doesn’t address her identity or ask how she would like to identify or be identified by others. It’s frankly no different than the WHITE MALE IGNORANT bullshit we all deal with on a day to day basis but I guess I expected more from a novel! I felt the author objectified and used diversity to benefit the white male protagonist. I felt the story did not represent an accurate or interesting future that I was invested in. I felt the author used white, male, 80s culture to stand out but rather just felt boring, expected and hyped, sensationalized. I expect more when I read apocalyptic science fiction especially as we evolve as a society. I much prefer books by famous 80s science fiction writer, McArthur fellow and Nebula award winner Octavia Butler (one of the biggest names in science fiction) who is not even mentioned among all white sci-fi 80s novelists name-dropped throughout Ready Player One. The structure: (hero goes on a journey/participates in a competition to change his circumstances and finds love along the way) is sound in the Aristotelian sense, but not all that interesting, fresh or new. Just bad characters masked behind white 80s hyped references with no real commentary on anything.