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Literary Glance: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

August 17, 2017

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is probably the first book I’ve ever read that makes a reference to Robotron, my favorite arcade video game from the 1980s.  In fact, Ready Player One makes references to a bunch of stuff from the 1980s.  The first couple chapters of Ready Player One have already made references to a bunch of 80s pop culture like, Oingo Boingo, Family Ties, John Hughes movies, and, of course… video games like Robotron.

As somebody who grew up in the 80s, I appreciate seeing all these references.  It’s part of what makes Ready Player One fun to read.

I could be biased.  Maybe I appreciate this book so much because I’ve finally discovered somebody who loves Robotron as much as I did.  Back when we’d play arcade games in the mall or at the pool hall, and everybody else was obsessed with crap like Frogger or Donkey Kong, I was wasting quarters on Robotron.  Nobody listened to me when I told them how awesome Robotron was.  Of course, I have a monotone voice, so my passion sounded forced, but it should have been obvious to them.  Here’s a perfect description of Robotron from Ready Player One:

I booted up my emulator and selected Robotron: 2084, one of my all-time favorite games.  I’d always loved its frenetic pace and brutal simplicity.  Robotron was all about instinct and reflexes.  Playing old videogames never failed to clear my mind and set me at ease.  If I was feeling or frustrated about my lot in life, all I had to do was tap the Player One button, and my worries would instantly slip away as my mind focused itself on the relentless pixelated onslaught on the screen in front of me.  There, inside the game’s two-dimensional universe, life was simple: It’s just you against the machine.  Move with your left hand, shoot with your right, and try to stay alive as long as possible.

I spent a few hours blasting through wave after wave of Brains, Spheroids, Quarks, and Hulks in my unending battle to Save the Last Human Family!  But eventually my fingers started to cramp up and I began to lose my rhythm.  When that happened at this level, things deteriorated quickly.  I burned through all of my extra lives in a matter of minutes, and my two least-favorite words appeared on the screen: GAME OVER.

I remember the Robotron wrist.  As a guy in high school, you couldn’t complain that your wrist hurt from playing Robotron because people would make fun of you, accusing you of hurting your hand doing something that had nothing to do with Robotron.

Ready Player One could be a lousy book and I wouldn’t recognize that simply because the narrator and I share a love for Robotron.  I bonded with this book, at least with a couple pages of it.  I understand that not everybody loves the 1980s.  To me, a little bit of Oingo Boingo goes a long way.  Family Ties was good for only a few seasons.  I liked only a couple of John Hughes’s movies.  But Robotron…. I could never get enough of Robotron.

Now that Ready Player One is being made into a movie, I’m not so sure that it will be successful.  Its strength as a book might be its weakness as a movie.  A few million people buying a book makes a book a blockbuster.  Only a few million people seeing a Spielberg movie would be a disaster, and I’m not sure that a movie based on so much 80s culture and video games will be that appealing.  I like the 1980s, and I like what I’ve read so far of Ready Player One, but I’m not sure I want to see it as a Spielberg movie.

Then again, maybe Robotron will be in the movie.  I’ve always wanted to see Robotron in a movie.  It might be worth it to see Ready Player One just to see Robotron in a movie.  Sigh!  I miss Robotron.

3 Comments
  1. Now, this is just a hunch, but have you heard of Robotron? Haha, I agree with you about the fact that a movie adaptation might not do very well, especially since the story deals with so many references; like a ridiculous amount of references for a book and that they are within a pretty specific time frame of pop culture. Great review and it is cool to hear this book brought back some nostalgia for you!

    • I found a pizza place a few years ago that had a Robotron machine, and I was elated (and ate way too much pizza). Then the pizza place got rid of most of its games (including Robotron). The pizza wasn’t that good, but the place is still there.

      If an eatery has Robotron, I don’t care how good the food is.

  2. I started reading Ready Player One last January but have yet to finish it. I keep telling myself that I need to before the movie comes out. We’ll see.

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