Ogden Morrow is a friend of Halliday’s who was a part of their company from the very beginning.   He is described as a cross between Albert Einstein and Santa Claus.  They met in a pen and paper RPG group, formed their own SGoA, and the rest, as they say, is history.  Morrow is tasked with maintaining the integrity of the contest.  He and Halliday each personally programmed Gregarious Systems content, including the OASIS, but they didn’t do so alone.  Another of the GSS programmers was a woman named Kira Underwood.  She was also a regular in their gaming group and an important founder in the company.  Og and Kira married and I genuinely wonder if they are written to mirror the real life Ken and Roberta Williams.  There are just too many similarities for it to be a coincidence (and I don’t believe in those anyway).

I'm way wittier!  Sexier, too!

Ernest Cline reveals a lot about himself through both Parzival and Halliday.  For example, both Cline and Halliday were born in Ohio in 1972.  More telling is that they share the same favorite video game, Black Tiger.  There’s a good chance you haven’t heard of this one, and if that’s the case, you really missed out on an underrated classic.  Arcades are rare these days, but if ever you spot one in the wild, toss a few zenny into this machine and you won’t be disappointed.  Unlike the earlier two bits of pop culture goodness I just mentioned, this one takes a pretty radical departure from its source material.  The original 1987 game was a 2D platform action game.  As it appears in the OASIS, it’s been lovingly recreated in full 3D.  I would pay good money for that if it existed.  Are you listening Capcom?  Make it so!

The Sixers are bought and paid for by Innovative Online Industries, better known as IOI.  They’re your stand-in for whatever giant corporation you hate.  They could easily be Google, or Comcast, but the similarity in name to iOS immediately conjures up Apple in my mind.  Sixers all use an identical avatar, a generic military looking dude (regardless of the sex of the user) wearing an IOI uniform.  They’re ruthless and will stop at nothing to win the contest.  IOI plans to start charging a monthly fee to access OASIS if it wins, and it will also load it up with ads all over the place.  Most other gunters pick fights with Sixers, whom they refer to as Suxors, upon sight.  The Sixers get their name from their six digit employee numbers, which double as their avatars names.  These numbers also all start with the number six.  IOI and the Sixers have their hands in almost everything.  During an interview, one character brazenly asks, “They own practically everything!  Including you, pretty boy!  I mean, did they tattoo a UPC code on your ass when they hired you?”  The Sixers are led by Nolan Sorrento.  He’s a clean-cut cut-throat and if you’re not picturing Rufus Shinra right now, you fail at gaming.

Another fun concept is that of the Flicksyncs.  This is where users can experience their favorite movies AS the characters in them.  Just imagine the feelings of triumph as you receive your medal from Princess Leia (poor Chewie…)!  The glory of winning the battle of Helm’s Deep!  The sights and sounds of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (Gene Wilder or bust!  This is another litmus test)!  The smells of Shrek and his swamp!  Wait.  Scratch that.  We get to see this happen with WarGames and it’s as epic as it sounds.  The only winning move is not to play.

We’ve covered the devious Sorrento, but let’s check out some other characters.  Parzival’s best friend is Aech (sounds just like the letter H).  He’s a rising celebrity making a name for himself in televised PvP matches, of both the Deathmatch and Capture the Flag varieties.  Needless to say, Aech’s gaming specialty is the FPS, or First Person Shooter.  Aech and Z (his affectionate nickname for ParZival) spend a lot of time in Aech’s basement playing video games, reading comic books, playing tabletop games, and watching classic movies and tv shows.  I genuinely wish I could join them for their Spaced marathon early in the book!

So what is this book all about, anyway?  Early on, a wealthy man dies.  His five minute video will opens with “Dead Man’s Party.”  Ok!  I’m sold!  I’m literally on page 2 and this book references an Oingo Boingo song!  I somehow managed to keep my 80s in check for Skate or Die (a Herculean task), but today, all bets are off!  Frankly, the more astute readers already will have noticed the love of the 80s we display at The Culture Cache on a regular basis.  In many ways, Ready Player One is a love letter directly to us.  Need more proof?  On the next page, we learn that the audience for said video will is comprised of copy pasta extras from John Hughes movies and before the will is finished, it also contains a full recreation of the funeral parlor scene from Heathers.

Our protagonist is Wade Owen Watts.  Depending on the type of person you are, you may have noticed certain in-jokes in his name.  The cool kids will quickly catch the similarity to Deadpool’s real name, Wade Wilson.  I also hope you spotted the scheme present in his initials.  Wade Owen Wilson.  WOW.  WoW.  World of Warcraft.  Wade is an overweight teen with chronic acne problems.  Both of his parents are dead and he lives with his abusive aunt in the stacks of (the remains of) Oklahoma City.  Wade is a gunter and a solo one at that.  He keeps a Bible of Egg hunt related materials that he refers to as his Grail Diary.  He soaks up all things 80s like a sponge, especially video games.  Like most of humanity, OASIS is his respite from the grim realities of life.  He much prefers to live his virtual second life (!) as Parzival.  As the text states, “My avatar had a slightly smaller nose than me, and he was taller.  And thinner.  And more muscular.  And he didn’t have teenage acne.  But aside from these minor details, we looked more or less identical.”  

What happens when you combine video games and a dystopia?

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This, naturally, begs the question where OASIS came from.  It’s the brainchild of James Donovan Halliday.  You may remember him from such paragraphs written above because he’s the dead guy about whom the book opens.  Of course, completely rebuilding the Internet we know and flame made him a very wealthy man.  Sadly, his Asperger’s Syndrome prevented him from siring an heir, but this leads to the greatest video game contest ever.  Halliday decided to leave his entire fortune ($240+B) and controlling stock in his company to the lucky player who can find his hidden Easter Egg.

No.

Pictured:  Not Ladyhawke.

So far, we’ve seen comic books, cosplay, movies, television, and video games.  What could possibly be next?  Music, of course!  And what an amazing album to work in!  I know it came out in 1976, but I’ll let it slide for sheer awesomeness.  2112 by Rush is a unique half-concept album if you will.  It’s about a dystopian future and the meta symbolism is not lost on observant readers.  The Red Star of the Solar Federation has absolute power over content and information.  Just imagine a world where Social Justice Warriors get to determine what constitutes acceptable material for literature, movies, music, comics, and video games.  Oh wait!  They do that now, so that’s easy to see.  When Starman (he’s never called this in the album, but has since become synonymous with it) finds a guitar, we see the glorious triumph of individualism over collectivism (if only…), but not without costs.  The individual tracks are great, but you really need to hear the A side in its entirety to fully appreciate it.  Some locations mentioned in this 20 minute prog rock tale are present in the OASIS, and, clearly, at least some of the ideas are as well.

Thank you.  Anyway back to reality!  Er…  waitaminute…  Back to the reality of a highly fantastic story!  Tomb of Horrors is a legendarily difficult Dungeons and Dragons module (quest) that debuted at the inaugural Origins gaming convention in 1975.  This was written by Mr. Gygax himself and it’s simultaneously exalted for its creativity and loathed for its difficulty.  Treasure and traps abound, often intertwined.  Combat is present, but downplayed, and that’s part of what makes this module so interesting.  And all throughout the adventure, the über powerful demi-lich, Acererak, taunts you relentlessly about your impending death.  Now imagine a setting like this (mostly) faithfully recreated in the OASIS.  I think I may have even seen Tomix there once…

We know that Cline is definitely in on the fun!  Just as the characters in the book had to decipher the cryptic Anorak’s Almanac to begin hunting for the ultimate prize, readers of the book engaged in a real life Easter Egg Hunt!  It’s already concluded, but in the real world (well, the real internet), the first player to acquire all three keys and complete all three gates received a true dream prize:  a DeLorean.  An honest to God, stainless steel icon.  How I wish I’d won...  I’d have driven it literally everywhere.  I’d have opened both doors every time I entered or exited just because I could.  Props to you, Mr. Cline for giving away the coolest prize ever in an incredibly creative way.

December 15, 2017 is the day we can all look forward to seeing this tale adapted for the big screen.  This raises infinitely more questions.  It will be a licensing nightmare, for starters.  With so many iconic IPs represented in the book, many of which are plot-centric, the success or failure of the movie may very well hinge on it.  Steven Spielberg is on board to direct it, and with his name comes a lot of clout that may help smooth over otherwise adversarial encounters.  Another big challenge will be how Hollywood portrays the real life characters.  There’s a world of difference between ugly and Hollywood Ugly.  I’m not holding my breath that they’ll be faithful here.  Ready Player One staring Channing Tatum as Wade Watts…  Finally, I hope they are appropriately creative in their depiction of the OASIS.  I know there will be budgetary restraints, but other than what is clearly spelled out in the text, this movie offers a rare chance for truly turning loose creative imaginations and rewarding both writers and audiences for it.  This movie will either be amazing or a colossal turd in the proverbial punchbowl.

Okay, okay.  I know I said I’m going to stick to video games, but there’s one more movie I’d be remiss not to mention.  Monty Python and the Holy Grail is basically a nerd rite of passage.  My aunts and uncles introduced this to me, and before too long, my friends and I were clopping coconuts down the hallways at school (we were so cool!).  To put it simply, yeah, I’m that guy.  I’m the one saying every single (EVERY SINGLE) line of dialogue about a half a second before the characters.  I’m that guy.  I’m laughing just before every joke.  I’m that guy.  I WILL call you out when you misquote this movie, even by a single word.  Once more, I’m that guy.  Go ahead.  Point and laugh.  The only difference between us is that I admit it.  You know that you’re that guy too…  This movie also exists as a Flicksync like I mentioned earlier, although every viewing of this movie is already pretty darn close to one already.

If I’m being honest, in all likelihood, all I need is the 80s immersion to be happy, but what really sets this book apart?  I already mentioned the dystopian angle.  Generally speaking, my favorite literature falls into this realm.  This book takes place in 2045 and the future isn’t exactly bright (but I’m still going to wear my shades).  An energy crisis has absolutely crippled the world.  Gone are the days of suburbia.  It’s been replaced by lawless wastelands.  The cities that still exist aren’t faring much better.  Many people live in stacks.  What are stacks?  They’re makeshift towers comprised of trailers, cargo containers, RVs, and the like.  It’s basically what would happen if you combined a trailer park with skyscrapers.  Entire families are often crammed into single rooms in these monuments to Spartan living.  

Even worse than these futuristic run-down residences, homelessness, poverty, and crime are the “new normal.”  Gunfights, rape, pedophilia, and even black market organ fencing are commonplace in this bleak new world.  At one point, we get a vivid description of what mass transit looks like.  “Armor plating, bulletproof windows, and solar panels on the roof.  A rolling fortress.  I had a window seat, two rows behind the driver, who was encased in a bulletproof Plexiglas box.  A team of six heavily armed guards rode on the bus’s upper deck, to protect the vehicle and its passengers in the event of a hijacking by road agents or scavengers—a distinct possibility.”  At one point, a bomb destroys multiple aforementioned tenement towers and it’s all but dismissed by the authorities.

It would be nearly impossible to point out every single reference to something awesome in this book, so, instead, let’s hit some of the highlights, or at least my favorites.  There exists within the OASIS a planet known as Gygax.  Don’t read any farther!  Oh wait…  This is a litmus test fully endorsed by Zero Sum Gaming and The Culture Cache!  Does the name of that planet mean anything to you?  If not, burn your nerd card now (if you ever had one.  If not, you read this far into this article, so here, have a nerd card!).  Yes, this planet is named after Gary Gygax, creator of Dungeons and Dragons (along with Dave Arneson).  If I may be serious for a moment, as I write this, I am genuinely sad recalling the death of such a foundational man.  Please indulge me in this moment of silence.

Perhaps most perplexing, in many ways, Parzival is a literary Christ-like figure.  Given that we know both Halliday and Wade represent Cline, I’d be willing to bet that ol’ Ernie is also an atheist, so I may be reading a little too much into this, but I also don’t believe in coincidences.  For starters, IOI employees are known as Sixers because they have six digit employee numbers that all start with the number six.  666…  Next, we have a Trinitarian concept present in the relationship between Parzival, Art3mis, and Aech.  Though secular in nature, Halliday clearly advocates Faith, Hope, and Charity, the three cardinal virtues.  Wade endures much suffering on behalf of all gunters by subjecting himself to slave-like conditions so that others may continue to be free.  There’s even a death and resurrection that makes these other similarities too much to ignore.  Beyond a shadow of a doubt, Wade definitely fits the literary definition, but, as before, is Cline arguing that humanity is trumping these long-held religious beliefs or is he secretly reinforcing them?  Again, it’s barely a motif and easily ignored, but it does raise some fun questions.

Ok, so most people are unemployed, broke, and bored, so violence is the zucca di giorno.  In a world where there’s a two year waiting list to land a fast food job, we need some escapism (or a gyro) STAT!  There is no need to fear!  No, Underdog is not here, but there’s always the Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation, better known as OASIS (That’s called symbolism, folks).  Ready Player One-of-a-kind sets itself apart through its use of the OASIS.  Typically, in dystopian literature, we have a clear vision of a dismal world, often accompanied by a note of caution on how to avoid it.  This story does give us the damned future we’ve come to expect (what does that say about us…), but pairs it with a traditional utopia.  OASIS began as an MMO, but quickly came to encompass the entirety of the internet.  Interestingly, there’s an episode of Futurama that portrays the internet along these lines as well.  Anyone browsing the internet has an avatar, complete with stats, levels, and equipment (Zero Sum Gaming approves of this!).  Most people aren’t concerned with the game aspect, preferring to remain level 1 with default equipment.  Still, given the dismal real world people inhabit, most seek refuge in the OASIS.  Many jobs exist entirely within it and every company in the real world has an OASIS counterpart.  Land and space (surreal estate) are even bought and sold as in actual life, along with clothing, food, and anything else you could purchase (and many things you couldn’t) in real life.  And, yes, MMO vets, some parts of OASIS are PvP.

One of the most common traits that dystopia novels have in common is the presence of secular humanism.  This book is no different.  The secular humanism is strong in this one…  James Halliday was an atheist.  Parzival is also an atheist.  While we never get the chance to see Halliday’s actual beliefs in action, we can spot an interesting dichotomy in Parzival.  Left to his own thoughts, he seems outright hostile to religion, especially Christianity.  This seldom spills over into his actions, though.  Christian characters are portrayed positively in the text and Parzival even has a healthy relationship with one.  This stands in stark contrast to the abuse he receives at the hands of his family.  Wade even remarks that his obsession as a gunter easily enters the foray of religious fervor.  While said secular humanism does ultimately win the day, you can easily make the argument that it also led to the overwhelmingly negative conditions present in the story as well.  Why does IOI carry on the way it does?  Could it perhaps be unchecked secular humanism?  No, this isn’t the focus of the story, but (as I hope you’ve noticed), this subject has come up repeatedly at Zero Sum Gaming and it interests me, so I always notice it.  And, as I said before, I’m a big fan of dystopian literature, so I often look for common denominators.  Either way, you’d have to read the book and decide for yourself.  You are going to buy it, aren’t you?  Would it help if I told you that the audiobook is read by vice-president Wil Wheaton?  Honestly, if this part bores you, it’s easy to ignore, but if not, it does add an interesting flavor to the narrative.

There’s also Art3mis.  She maintains a website called Arty’s Missives where she discusses such topics as books, television, movies, and music.  I think this girl could have a future here at The Culture Cache!  Let me go check her site real quick…  Ok.  She just referred to the Egg Hunt as a “maddening MacGuffin hunt.”  I like her!  Hired!  Oh…  You mean she doesn’t exist…?  And even if she did, she wouldn’t be born yet since this story is set in the future…?  Damn!  Actually, she’s a very popular cosplay staple, so she does live on in that way.

Whether you were aware of it or not, you’ve likely encountered a few of these before.  Easter Eggs are small hidden secrets that don’t actually affect the experience.  To be clear, the classic Konami Code (up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, start) is not (usually) an Easter Egg, since it does something, such as giving you 30 lives in Contra.  An example of an Easter Egg would be the GTA Hillary Clinton Statue of “Liberty.”  Easter Eggs date back to the 70s.  Back then, no credit was given to the individuals who made our favorite games possible.  One creator sought to change that by hiding his name, Warren Robinett, in the famous title, Adventure.  There’s some debate as to whether this was the actual first Easter Egg (some have also been found on the Fairchild Channel F), but either way, this is certainly the most famous.  This was not lost on Halliday (or Cline), as he cites it as the inspiration for his own Egg hunt.

Anybody want to play Dungeons & Dragons for the next quadrillion years?

Pictured:  Albert Einstein and Santa Claus.

Irony!

No.  Well, I guess you are actually correct… but…  just…  no.  I’m thinking more along the lines of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.  Special thanks to Shellra from Nashville, Tennessee for donating this book.  This topic was a request by Harrison Young and he wants to pass along the message, “ Happy birthday, Peacock!”

Would you believe that I barely scratched the surface of the amazing pop cultural references in the book?  There are many others, some important, some fleeting.  If you’re a regular on this site, I can pretty much guarantee there’s something for you in this book.  If you’re not a regular on this site, you’re obviously either experiencing a long-term power outage, or you live in a place where only IOI offers internet access and they’ve blacklisted us.  Either way, let’s explore the book as literature just a bit longer before I let you go (to browse all manner of our other awesome articles and videos, yes?).

Well, since this is primarily a video game division of The Culture Cache, let’s check out another one of those.  Tempest takes its turn in the spotlight.  While the novel never goes there, playing this game with 2112 blaring behind you creates an amazing, dreamlike, and absolutely “in-the-zone” experience (yes, I’ve done this).  The colorful vector graphics combined with some period appropriate music create the quintessential 80s experience.  It’s fun, challenging, and fair.  This is one of those games where $0.25 buys you a lot of play time if you know what you’re doing.  If you were to look at the inspiration for some of your favorite game designers today, there’s a good chance this game is on their lists.  Thankfully, this game manages to stay in the public eye through periodic rereleases.  Most recently, it was added as a part of Game Room on the Xbox 360.  I hold one of the top 10 scores on the leaderboard, actually.  Ok, in all likelihood, I’ve long since been knocked off and I don’t plan to look so I can lie to myself and say I’m still in the top 10, but still, it’s quite an achievement.  In this celebrated space shooter, you control a C shaped ship and you must destroy evil X shaped ships.  You do so while moving around inside various geometric shapes.  If a mathematician dropped some acid, this is liable to be what it looks like.  Some sneaky foes leave spikes behind, which you must dodge or destroy.  In addition to your normal gun, you have a Superzapper.  The first use per level kills all enemies visible.  You can use it a second time, but that only nukes a single random adversary.  After that, you’re on your own.  Cline did his homework, too, as Parzival even exploits a well-known bug present in early versions of the game!

Not an Easter Egg.

Since this image has been memed to death, I thought I'd be cool and not meme it.

Finally, Daito and Shoto are a pair of Japanese brothers.  Just about the only thing Halliday enjoyed on the same level as the 80s was Japan.  Wait a minute…  I’m not James Halliday am I?  I don’t think so, but I need to look into this.  If so, I know for certain when and how I die, so there’s that!  These characters are somewhat stereotypical, but it’s hard not to enjoy them anyway.  There are a few other characters, such as i-r0k, who is basically the Paul of the story, constantly getting into arguments (and filling those arguments with ad hominem attacks), but these are the main ones.

Easter Egg​.

People attempting to win the Egg hunt are known as “gunters,” short for egg hunters.  There are three types of gunters.  The first is the solo.  These are the few and the proud.  They don’t ask for, want, or need help.  In fact, a fellow gunter offering help is seen as an insult by these individuals.  Next are the clans.  Clans are groups of gunters actively working together.  Solos tend to see them as poseurs (like Pete!) because they share intelligence and resources.  Still, they’re much better than the third group…