Why are people considered naive or weird for using fiction as a coping mechanism, more so than the average TV-viewer? Whether it’s escapism, projection, or simply as a special interest, is there any real harm to choosing a cartoon marathon rather than, say, playing music or partaking in sports? Health pros and cons are an obvious point, but who says that people must be unfit to immerse themselves in media? The answer to all this lies in how we perceive people.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is one of my favorite recent reads. I could care less that it’s a love letter to 80’s pop culture, though it is pretty interesting. No, my focus is directed at the world and characters that Cline has crafted. The trick is, none of the characters in the book are treated as particularly strange for choosing the virtual-reality OASIS over their modern dystopia, because nearly everyone in the world does. It’s a world in which escapism has taken a vice-grip hold on society, and the OASIS is lovingly embraced as a godsend. And for the most part, that’s okay.
The trait that makes Ready Player One such a comfortable read is the way its overarching message is presented. It doesn’t assume that it’s morally superior for saying that, miraculously, happiness can only truly be found in real life. It’s a major fact that the OASIS’ creator made his game because he himself was afraid. He identified with the average socially-awkward nerd because he was one, and creating games gave himself- as well as others- an outlet. Our protagonist, 17-year-old Wade Watts, addresses this early on. In the real world, he’s just another orphan struggling with life; in the OASIS, he’s the renowned easter egg-hunter Parzival. He knows that his isolated life is far from ideal, but that’s just it. He has no other choice because the world has never given him one. That’s what gives the story so much weight: it presents a problem, a solution, and an exception.
Real problems cannot be fixed until we face them head-on, but there’s no shame in taking a break and a step back until we’re prepared to, and this book accepts that.