Little more than 30 years ago, it seemed almost inconceivable that you could log onto a computer, create your own profile—true or not—and connect with people anywhere on the globe in real time. But what if, 30 years from now, you could log in, become your own personal avatar—true or not—and interact with people in an infinite virtual world? Consider the possibilities…and the perils.
That is the basic premise of Ernest Cline’s bestseller Ready Player One, which captured the imagination of one of the most revered and successful filmmakers of all time: Steven Spielberg. “It’s a huge, sprawling adventure that intercuts between two completely different worlds,” he says. “I think Ernest Cline is a visionary who wrote of a future that’s actually not so far away from where we’re heading with the evolution of virtual reality.”
The author credits Spielberg with being one of his greatest influences in creating his first novel. “It’s hard to quantify what a profound effect Steven Spielberg’s work has had on my life and my interests, but I could not have written Ready Player One if I had not grown up on a steady diet of his films. Just as anyone who grew up with a passion for movies in the 1970s and `80s, his work is woven into the fabric of my life. So much of it ended up informing the story and the way I chose to write it, and the evidence of that is seen throughout the book.”
Warner Bros.’ futuristic adventure “Ready Player One” is set in 2045, when people will have the ability to enter into a digital universe called the OASIS, where you go wherever you want, do whatever you like, be whomever or whatever you choose to be. With the population beset by unemployment, poverty, overcrowding, and utter hopelessness, “it’s a good time to escape into a virtual world where you can live an extraordinary life through your avatar,” says Spielberg. “All you need is an imagination, and that will take you far in the OASIS. But when you escape from reality, you’re also, in a way, divesting yourself of any real human contact. So, the story is entertaining, but there is also a bit of a social commentary.”
Cline reveals that his inspiration for the story came from some of the touchstones of his youth. “The initial idea came from the Atari game Adventure, which was the very first videogame to have an Easter egg in it—its designer, Warren Robinett, had created a secret room within the game that had his name inside it. It was my first time finding something inside a virtual world hidden by the creator of that world. It was a profound experience that really stuck with me. I was also a huge fan of Roald Dahl’s works, especially the Willy Wonka books, and one day the idea occurred to me: What if Willy Wonka had been a videogame designer instead of a candy maker? I started thinking about all the riddles and puzzles this eccentric billionaire could leave behind to find a worthy successor, and I knew I was on to something.”
Cline’s eccentric billionaire became the character of James Halliday, the reclusive co-creator of the OASIS, played by Mark Rylance. “The entire world lives within his dream—the dream from which he built an entire world,” says Spielberg. “But when he died he had no heirs, so he left behind a contest: the first to defeat three challenges, each rewarded with a key, and then find the Egg hidden somewhere inside the OASIS, will inherit everything.”
The buzz surrounding the book Ready Player One was already at a high pitch when it was first published in August 2011. It not only lived up to expectations; it surpassed them in spectacular fashion. A runaway hit, the #1 New York Times Best Seller has been published in more than 50 countries.
“I wondered if perhaps the book would only appeal to people around my age who were nostalgic for the `80s,” Cline continues. “But that has not been the case because it speaks to the way we live our lives now. Most of us have an actual identity and a virtual identity in the form of our social media profiles. And, not unlike the avatars in the story, you can shape those based on how you want other people to see you.”
In bringing the novel to the screen, it was vital to the filmmakers to be respectful of the source material, as well as its many fans. “But,” Spielberg acknowledges, “every book has to go through a process of adaptation when it goes from a literary work to a cinematic one. I think we ended up with just the right elements to tell a truly wonderful story.”
“Ready Player One” stars Tye Sheridan (“X-Men: Apocalypse”), Olivia Cooke (“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” “Bates Motel”), Ben Mendelsohn (“Rogue One – A Star Wars Story”) and T.J. Miller (“Deadpool”), with Simon Pegg (the “Star Trek” movies, the “Mission: Impossible” movies) and Oscar winner Mark Rylance (“Bridge of Spies,” “Dunkirk”).
“Ready Player One” is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.