The Tale of Two Women in Ready Player One
My all girl book club recently read Ready Player One by Ernest Cline… and we were all underwhelmed. Except for one. “But it would make an AWESOME movie!” she said, grasping. But apparently she was right, because just a few weeks ago, it was announced that Steven Spielberg himself would be directing the on screen adaptation.
Spoiler alert: I discuss the plot & reveal a lot about the book in this post.
The book follows eighteen-year-old Wade Watts, a quiet and rather stereotypical lonesome nerd. It’s 2045, and virtual reality has become a way of life in a world called OASIS. Oasis was created by an eccentric man named James Halliday. Halliday died years earlier, and his death set in motion an intense 1980’s geek culture themed contest to find the ultimate easter egg. The winner would get Halliday’s fortune and more.
Obviously, the book would not be interesting unless the main character is heavily involved in the contest. Wade, or as he is known in OASIS, Parzivel, solves the first clue, reigniting the frenzied search among the easter egg hunters, cutely named “gunters,” and naturally, their corporate enemies known as Sixers.
Naturally, as an all girl book club, we focused on the girls. And, surprisingly, we weren’t disappointed.
Aech, pronounced like the letter “H,” is the avatar name of Wade’s best friend. Aech’s avatar is a tall white male with brown hair. He is another gunter as well as a professional video game player. He, however, is actually a “she” in real life. Aech is Helen Harris, a young black lesbian woman who lives in a solar powered RV. Awesome.
After her identity reveal, Aech explains that her mother grew up in a time where black women were still at a disadvantage in the world. Her mother saw virtual reality as a lifesaver, you could be anybody, after all. Aech, following her mother’s encouragement, lived her virtual life as a straight white male. Yet when Aech’s mother discovered Aech’s sexuality, she was kicked out and disowned.
One critic claims that Ready Player One’s moral statements are “simplistic and misguided,” and uses Aech as an example:
She’s the only person of color and only homosexual in the entire book, making her stand in for all gay or non-white geeks. And the message the book has for gay or non-white geeks is the same one nerd culture typically broadcasts: pretend to be white, straight and male and we’ll get along just fine. – Stephen Granades
However, an author does not need to make a moral statement by having a diverse character “prove the haters wrong” while maintaining a genuine face. Cline is not broadcasting to other black or homosexual gamers that they need to pretend to be white, straight, and male. Cline is shoving an image into white, straight males’ faces of what kickass people like Aech realistically may face on a daily basis.
Wade’s reaction to Aech’s revelation is understandably shock, followed by immediate acceptance. His initial shock is primarily fueled by Aech’s deception, not by her physical attributes or by the people she chooses to love. He recognizes Aech as his best friend, and knows that nothing would change that. Cline takes Wade at this point, a white, straight, male, shapes him into a role model. Sympathizing, but not assuming. A friend, regardless of whether they fit the same grooves as he does. Cline is not failing the gay and black community by telling them to hide under the covers, Cline is showing white, straight men how to recognize the human in everyone and how to stop being the problem to begin with.
Art3mis… oh Art3mis. The cyber crush of Wade who runs a witty gunter blog about her adventures. They virtually meet for the first time at the location of Halliday’s first clue. How romantic. Though Art3mis and Wade were competitors, the book would not be representative of 80’s geek culture if the girl didn’t fall for our hero by the end.
Art3mis isn’t a completely one dimensional love interest, however. She resisted Wade’s charms because, well, they were competitors. When they ultimately hung out anyways and their relationship started to resemble a romantic one, Art3mis gets smart and pushes Wade away.
I’ve been searching for the egg for over five years. So have you. Now we’re closer than ever to finding it. I can’t just throw my chance away. – Art3mis, Ready Player One (187)
She struggles with the vision people have of her gender. She tells Wade, “At least they got your gender correct. Everyone thinks I’m a man in real life” (169). In direct contrast to Aech, who hides behind a male avatar, Art3mis puts her real gender out there and people still assume she’s a male because she is a top professional gunter.
She still has her normal human insecurities. She tells Wade, “Trust me. If I ever let you see me in person, you would be repulsed” (186).
Repulsed, you say? This could turn out interesting.
The so-called “repulsing” revelation turned out just to be a large birthmark covering half her face. While there is no downplaying the affect a birthmark such as that could have on someone’s self-esteem, it is the perfect imperfection for Art3mis. She is still attractive and still able to have functioning relationships without making accommodations. It was an underwhelming revelation following the fuss Art3mis made and Aech’s identity surprise.
Unlike Aech, we never get a view into Art3mis’ past. Wade’s ability to spend almost every waking hour on the hunt for Halliday’s egg stems from a broken background, a barely-there caretaker, and eventually, due to his home going up in flames. Art3mis also spends almost every waking moment on finding the egg and jokes about having no life, but we don’t know how she ended up in the position she is in. For being a leading character, she does lack the depth we came to expect from the stories behind Wade and Aech. Regardless, even though she is a love interest, she remains a decently strong character.
In the end, of course, Art3mis and Wade end up together, outside of the confines of virtual reality. It wouldn’t be truly a nerd’s dream book if not, right?
Real Women in a Nerd Dream Book
Aech’s and Art3mis’ struggles and personalities were realistic, and captured in the eyes of a hardcore nerd who viewed them as humans – just ones he especially liked. My reading group was overall underwhelmed, but to be fair, we were not the intended audience for the book. It contains a vivid world intended for geeks who bask in 80’s culture, but the story itself – well, it’s a bit old. Boy wins the day and the girl in the process? Heard it a million times. The setting is what brings this book to life, but many of the references flew over our heads, making the book not quite as enjoyable as it could have been.
But, we appreciated the portrayal of two kickass women with realistic flaws. And, I’ll admit, it will probably be an awesome movie.
Featured image by katalan91 on DeviantArt under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommerical-No Derivative Works 3.0 License