With the theatrical version of Ready Player One about to hit theaters on March 29th, the book version has been in heavy demand at my local library. It took me about a month or two before I could get my hands on a copy! As a fellow geek, this seemed like the perfect book for me, and overall, the book was a treat to read. However, I will not be reviewing the book in this article (you can find Cooper Barham’s review of it here). Rather, I will be reflecting on some of the notable themes of the book, how those themes hit home in geek culture, and how the Gospel of Jesus Christ can weave within those themes.
I’ll get this right out front: anyone who has read Ready Player One will quickly discover that the author, Ernest Cline, is no fan of organized religion and quickly dismisses the existence of God. Initially, it almost turned me off from the book. However, after he spent a page justifying through his lead character, Wade Watts, as to why God does not exist, the author quickly moved on and I was able to start enjoying the story. I was immediately struck by two major themes of the story that I believe the author is trying to speak into from a secular perspective, which are escapism and isolating oneself. It can be argued there were many more, but these two in particular stuck out to me.
Escapism. The real world has little meaning to Wade because he is an orphan who receives absolutely no love and kindness from his own Aunt. He frequently jumps into the OASIS (the online world that a majority of the book is based within) and spends a vast majority of his waking hours there. He poses the question: Why live in the real world when a virtual one is so much better? This is Wade’s mentality and the mentality of so many others in Ready Player One. It is an issue the author approaches from the beginning of the story to the very end, but I will leave the reader to see how it turns out in the end!
Isolation. Wade has a “family” and “friends,” but these family and friends for the better part of the book are kept at arm’s length. He has no real relationship with his aunt, who really only keeps Wade for a welfare check. Wade and his best-friend, Aech (a gamer name), are more rivals than friends. While Wade looks forward to seeing his “friends” in the OASIS, they are still in an ongoing competition that encompasses the narrative of the story, which makes any willingness to draw closer to his “friends” a distant prospect at best. So, despite his preference for his virtual life, he is often just as alone there as he is in the real world and that is by his own design.
I thought these were great issues for the author to tackle because as a gamer and geek, I know all too well that these are themes that plague our geek community. Just because VR hasn’t taken off in its fullest form, gamers will still isolate themselves to their consoles (or books and comics if you are like me) and escape into these video game worlds because they are far more appealing than the real one.
Despite Cline’s mission to communicate to the reader that there is no God in the universe and that we are left to deal with our own issues, he still approaches these two major issues in a Biblical way (even if that wasn’t intended by Cline). That truth is we can’t do life alone and that we need people in our lives.
Hebrews 10:24-25: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another…”
Galatians 6:2: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
Without any doubt, the Bible challenges every Christian to bond to one another in community and that goes for gamers and geeks alike. If you bond over a session of Dungeons and Dragons or a game of Super Smash Brothers, then that is community. It is bringing you away from the virtual world into the real one where brothers and sisters of faith encourage one another in the Lord. Am I saying that you have to turn away from a Friday night of digging through your favorite single-player RPG? Absolutely not! What I am saying is that the Bible encourages Christians to do life together and I think the geek culture offers a great way to do it.
Despite Cline’s best efforts to shut God out this conversation, what I found was him addressing something that has been talked about in the Bible for thousands of years. At the very beginning of the book, when Wade Watts enters the OASIS, it says, “Ready Player One.” However, I think instead of being player one, we should challenge ourselves with, “Ready Player Two?” Being player two implies two things:
- You are with another person acting in community, building bonds and friendships.
- You are giving up full control and allowing another person to challenge you and speak into your life, which is wholly Biblical.
Proverbs 27:17: “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”
I think Ready Player One is a fantastic book and I recommend it completely. After you read the book, I think any gamer or geek should ask themselves, “Am I Player One or am I Player Two?”