“It was the first time I had ever controlled anything on a video screen,” Ernest Cline, the author of Ready Player One—and a new book, Armada—says of playing Space Invaders as a child in 1977. “I was suddenly drunk with power.”
Cline talked to former NPR producer and correspondent JJ Sutherland for Shall We Play a Game?, the podcast I co-host.
“My first memory of video games is tied up with Star Wars,” says Cline, who was born in 1972. “It was either the second or third time I watched Star Wars, I walked out of the movie theater lobby in my hometown, and that was the first time I saw Space Invaders. And I put whatever was left of my meager allowance into that machine, and I was immediately imagining I was Luke Skywalker on his Death Star trench run.”
Of his highly referential literary style, packed with allusions to the geek culture of the 1980s, Cline says that “there’s no such thing as an obscure reference anymore.” He adds:
For me, pop culture is the only culture I have ever known. If it’s not pop culture, then what is it? Unpopular culture? Why would you make unpopular culture references, unless you were trying to be obscure or obtuse and not convey your meaning? My goal with Ready Player One was just to write in the voice I use when I’m talking to my friends. ...
I was lucky enough to be part enough of the first generation to have home video games, or to have really mass-produced video games period, and also to have VCRs and be able to rewatch your favorite movies as many times as you wanted. All of that, I am a product of that technology landing in my lap when I was about six or seven years old. It’s informed the rest of my life.
He and JJ then bond over the “weirding module” from the movie version of Dune.
JJ also talks to Laura Hudson, a writer for Wired and Boing Boing’s Offworld, about her review of Armada in Slate. She didn’t like the book. “All it wants to do is evoke those things from the past, and not really do anything with them,” Hudson says. “They just want to be a giant arrow pointing at the thing, saying, Hey, look at the thing you used to like. Here it is again.” Hudson says Cline’s work is filled with “a sense of entitlement and wish fulfillment” that plays into the way video games make people feel like they’re the most important people in the world. Her concern, she says, is the belief among some video game players that “when someone violates that entitlement, they’re doing something wrong.”