Ready Player One: Book vs. Movie

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Apr 1, 2018, 6:00 PM EDT

This article contains SPOILERS from the movie and the book. It's been written for those who have read the book. If that is you, it will not spoil the movie, it'll just tell you what didn't make it into the movie. Cool? Cool.

As geeks and non-geeks alike descend upon movie theaters this weekend, there's sure to be a rift in what people think of the new Steven Spielberg/Ernest Cline movie Ready Player One. No book in the past 10 years highlighted geekdom with such wonderful nostalgia as Cline's incredible novel, which used '80s pop culture references like Reese's Pieces to put an E.T. glow into our hearts.

But is the movie a faithful adaptation of the book or something else entirely? Well, the quick answer is that it's completely different, with roughly a quarter of the book making it into the movie and significant changes to the plot structure and characters, too. We compiled the biggest differences between the book and the movie below.


Video Games

Perhaps the greatest change in Spielberg's Ready Player One is that there are really not many video games in the movie. The book had loads of games, from Zork to Pac-Man, but with the exception of Adventure, the game with the very first easter egg, video games are pretty much scarce in this adaptation. This is significant because in the book you needed to play at least one video game to get each of the keys, as well as the extra life. Sadly, the video game deletion eliminated one of the best nostalgic parts of Ready Player One by taking out all the incredible arcade and Atari games.

You really understand how many video games were taken out of the movie by looking at this video of Ernest Cline referencing all the video games in Ready Player One for Wired. The list goes on and on (it's a pretty long video), which further explains why this movie looks like it was made for more of a movie geek, like Spielberg himself, than a gamer.

Yes, there are video games within the movie, especially in avatars and easter eggs in the background, but the major difference between the OASIS in the movie and in the book is that the video games in the movie are challenges of the OASIS, while in the book they're games that Wade and his friends found *within* the OASIS. The movie has you master incredible races with King Kong as an obstacle, while the book focuses on the history of video games, having Wade play text-based games like Zork or figuring out how to get extra lives from Tempest to pass onward.

Also disappointing is that the phrase "Ready Player One," a universal code to generations of gamers and the message that greets people entering the book's version of the OASIS, never makes it into the movie.


Columbus vs. The World

One of the biggest differences between the movie and the book is that the movie doesn't venture that far from Wade's home in Columbus, Ohio. In the book, Wade lived in The Stacks outside of Oklahoma City, and the book spends a lot of time showing how the OASIS is a worldwide phenomenon, with players around the globe trying to come up with a way to find the keys. Artemis, Aech, Wade, Sho and Daito, and even Nolan Sorrento seem to live and work pretty close together in this story, making it incredibly easy for them to get together in real life. In the book, Ogden Morrow ends up bringing the crew together, with Wade meeting Samantha for the first time at the end of the novel.

This provides helpful ways in which real-world suspense can intermix with conflict within the OASIS and allow for some fun, and rather lucky, meet-ups and interactions.



Everyone who has spent a good amount of time playing video games online or with a group of friends most likely knows someone like I-R0k. He's essentially a griefer, a person who is plain annoying in video games and spends his time being an immature poseur. In the book, I-R0k is a minor character who tries to blackmail them when Wade finds the Copper key, but in the movie he becomes a hired gun, a hardcore gamer with significant power who is willing to sell out to Nolan Sorrento. Spielberg expands his role in the movie, adding humor through fun banter with T.J. Miller, but, again, loses the connection to the type of video game player that every gamer would recognize.


Geek Culture

While both the movie and the book relish the '80s, the book definitely plays its geek card way more. Notable things left out were Max Headroom, Ultraman, the element of toys to geekdom, Schoolhouse Rock, and, well, many, many more references. If you watch carefully in the movie you can see a few things that jump out, including a Rush poster on the wall in Halliday's house, a ColecoVision, and dialogue about GoldenEye 007 as one of Halliday's favorite games. Yet the changes seem to be made not only because Spielberg might not have the collection of rights needed to add everything, but also to allow for more than just '80s and video game aficionados to delight in the references.

A good example of this is the movie sequence. In the book, there are two heavy movie sequences involving WarGames and Monty Python and the Holy Grail, two movies that are held in the highest regard by anyone who you know who has a Funko toy on their shelf. The movie instead uses The Shining as their plot point; while Spielberg pal Stanley Kubrick's Stephen King adaptation is still a much-beloved cult film, it definitely has a wider appeal and less of a "geek” status than the book's choices. Holy Grail still makes it into the movie through the Holy Hand Grenade, but there's a definite departure in the movie from geek culture to include a wider audience.


Gamers in Hollywood look really nice

In Ernest Cline's book, Wade isn't the in-shape kid played by Tye Sheridan. He's a bald kid who's been playing video games possibly too much and not taking care of his body in the real world. The realization that your onscreen persona is significantly better than the real-life one is a major theme in Ernest Cline's book, and one that is reiterated at the end of the movie. Yet in the book you really get to see the dark side of investing all your time in a virtual world. Gamers definitely could identify with the loneliness that gets sometimes associated with geek culture, finding that people you identify with exist more in a virtual space than a real one, and how that could have a negative effect on both your body and mental health.

In the film, Wade, Samantha, and company look like active teenage kids who haven't gone down the rabbit hole that many others in the geekdom have. At the end of the film, when a moral is placed in the story on living one's life and not getting so overcome with games online, it doesn't come from the dark place of Cline's book and instead focuses on the triumphant achievement of the characters, which is a different lesson, but one that probably benefited a moviegoing public.

Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One is now playing in theaters.