Shall We Play A Game? (WarGames, 1983)

I am reading a book called Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline. It’s about a bleak but believable future when the Earth has nearly exhausted its natural resources. People flock to the cities to be near reliable infrastructure and mostly live in sprawling shantytown areas called “the stacks”, so-called because they are constructed of trailer homes, RVs and even shipping containers that have been mounted into steel, vertical frames. Jobs are scarce and food is rationed. There is very little hope in the average person’s life for rising above the poverty level.

To escape this reality, people log into a 3D simulation called The OASIS. That stands for something, but I can’t remember what right now. Access requires a visor and haptic feedback gloves at a minimum, but there are higher end devices like full body suits that offer greater sensory feedback. The whole simulation is free to use and is maintained by charging real money for teleportation fees to reach other worlds and areas. The majority of commercial and leisure activity shifts to the OASIS and eventually, even school is held within the OASIS, since it eliminates travel costs and the software prevents misbehavior during class.

The creator of the OASIS dies as the sole owner of Gregarious Simulation Systems. He has no heir and creates an elaborate contest built into and hidden within the OASIS to determine who will win everything. The prize is open to anyone, but making it through the contest requires extensive knowledge of the 1980s, a decade that the OASIS’s creator was particularly obsessed with. The book takes place in (I think) the 2040s, but the promise of hundreds of millions of dollars for completing the quest first causes the entire world to become interested in the 1980s again.

Because the book relies so heavily on 1980s pop culture for its plot, there is a lot of name dropping. I was born in the early 80s so some of it is familiar to me. Other stuff I read about and it feels familiar, like going to the arcade and dropping quarters in a machine, or using pay phones in the street, or mentions of bands that I recognize and still remember hearing on the radio regularly in the early 90s. I wonder if this book would even be interesting to anyone who wasn’t born in or near the 80s? It’s nostalgic in a way, but I don’t know that I would care to read this book if it was based on, say, the 50s or 60s.

In addition to reminding me of a lot of cool stuff, like Atari game cartridges, Ready Player One is also introducing me to some great stuff that I’d never seen or heard of before, like this movie called “WarGames”, produced in 1983. After noticing the movie title in the book I found it on Netflix and watched it.  It has a great Back to the Future vibe to it. There’s this shift in movie and TV now, where everything seems to be post-apocalyptic or focused on the imminent demise of the human species. In the 80s movies were about progress; now people seem to be fixated on decline, myself included. I can’t wait for the next season of The Walking Dead to start, for example.

Anyhow, if you get a chance, both the book and the movie are worth checking out.