Ready Player One

My generation grew up playing “Super Mario Bros.”(Bros, not brothers, although it’s read “brothers,” it’s spelled “Bros.”) If I ever make it to Heaven (which is still 50/50 at this point), I’m going to ask God how many hours of my life were spent trying defeat Bowser and rescuing Princess Peach. And no matter what the answer, I will be both shocked and not at all surprised.

“Super Mario Bros” is obviously the quintessential classic Nintendo game. It is a two-player game, but only one player could play at a time. So if, for example, you were playing with someone who was very good at the game, you may sit for quite a while until that player’s turn was over. Thus, if Player One was Mario (as it was) and Player Two was Luigi (as it was), then choosing to play as Mario meant you played first, and playing as Luigi meant you had to wait until Mario died before you could play.

Mario and Luigi were essentially the same characters in different color schemes. And typically, Mario was played by the kid whose Nintendo it was, and Luigi was played by the kid who was hanging out at his house. So in a way, the entire scenario of playing Super Mario Bros. is a metaphor for life when you’re forced to start over, as I have.

Nintendo is almost as far back as my video game experiences go. I received my first Nintendo Entertainment System on Christmas Day, 1989. The only exception to my gaming experience was that of my early Atari 800XL. On that particular game system, which hooked up to a common television and operated as a word processor as well as a computer gaming system, I gained my first experiences as a “gamer.”

Fast forward, thirty years later. I read this book: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Absolutely loved it! Great book! The 80s pop culture and video game references were amazing and I almost re-lived countless hours of my childhood spent playing Atari and Nintendo — specifically, “Super Mario Bros.” on Nintendo; and a game on Atari modeled after the movie War Games (I think), though I’ve never actually found another copy, regardless of relentless searching through eBay, Amazon, and multiple other mediums.

The novel was the quintessential adventure story, featuring a hero who overcomes the evil nemesis and wins the prize and the girl at the end of the book. I don’t typically enjoy stereotypical genre books which display a cliche plot and ending, but Ready Player One was certainly an exception. After one time through, it made it into my Top Five. And for a guy like me — an author myself — that’s a pretty big deal.

By the way, for the record, here are my Top Five Favorite Books:

  1. Killing Yourself to Live by Chuck Klosterman
  2. Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut
  3. The Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead by Frank Meeink
  4. Animal Farm by George Orwell
  5. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Like my two favorite songs (“November Rain” by Guns N’ Roses and “Fix You” by Coldplay), the first two books may alternate back and forth based on my mood. But for the most part, that list is solid. (And for the record, Ready Player One knocked Catcher in the Rye out of the Top Five.)

But here’s the thing: I really love seeing movies about books I’ve read.

I was supremely annoyed with 1999 film version of Animal Farm; it was released when I was a freshman in college. In 2007 when I taught that book for the first time, I also saw the movie for the first time and was mildly frustrated with how different the movie was from the book. Thank God George Orwell wasn’t alive to see how they absolutely butchered his book when they turned it into a live-action film.

Inversely, the film version of Kurt Vonnegut’s Mother Night was (with the addition of the “deleted scenes,”) the most true-to-the-book film I’ve ever seen. It was amazing!

However, both are no comparison to the butcher-job done by the film version of Ready Player One. This movie, in essence, was almost nothing like the book. The film took the easy and lazy shortcuts toward establishing the loose plot which the book firmly established. Not only that but it also deliberately changed many of the significant details of the film and turned it into a more-or-less “lazy version” of the book. Honestly, it was frustrating.

My best friend has also read the book and expressed a similar sentiment to me, but my reaction to her critique was something to the effect of, “Oh, it can’t be that bad.”

Well, it was that bad.

Don’t get me wrong; it was not a bad movie — it was actually a very cool movie — but if you’re expecting it to be anything like the book, you will be disappointed.

Knowing me and the manner in which I tend to over-analyze things, I couldn’t help but see this as a metaphor for what I am trying to do with my own book — because my book is exactly the opposite.

My upcoming book, After 3PM, is my perspective of the epidemic of unlawful teacher/student relationships, from the perspective of someone who made the destructive choice to have one of these relationships. However, unlike the difference between the film and book version of these tales, my personal relaying of these events is exactly the same as the book.

No film will ever be made about my book. No TV movie will ever portray my story. My book is all there is: The truth, pure-and-simple. Over the years, my story has not changed. Granted, as time has progressed, I’ve grown strong enough to divulge the most traumatic event of my life (being raped by my “friend” in 1998), but the facts of my story have never changed, and they never will.

Incidentally, neither will my goals. My goal as an author, a public speaker, and an activist is to do whatever I can to fight relentlessly against the destructive culture to which I contributed as a misguided educator: a culture of drugs, alcohol, sex, and worse…

Incidentally, it also brought me to realize another reality (which, admittedly, I’ve been fully aware), which is this: Just because you give something a title doesn’t make it so. Just because I’ve been labeled a “pedophile” because I had a brief non-sexual relationship with a girl who was 15-years-old does not mean I’m some sick twisted incurable pedophile. It simply means I embraced a cognitive distortion and made a terrible and destructive choice which I deeply regret. But it is easier for people to point fingers and use inflammatory words than it is for people to consider the possibility that someone simply made a terribly destructive choice.

Why is that? Honestly, I don’t know. People are just malicious, I suppose.

The film version of Ready Player One was nothing like the original story. Many details were changed to fit the conveniences of the silver screen. But the details of my story remain static: I will continue to fight against what I did, giving my entire life to the cause of preventing others from doing what I did as well as helping others identify those who are doing what I did.

This is not a game, but that doesn’t mean I won’t fight this fight in my late 30s the same way I fought Nintendo final-level bosses when I was 10-years-old.

The same logic applies: Keep trying until you are successful, then move on to the next challenge.

Like I’ve said before, I am not trying to be the “good guy” — I am simply trying to do the right thing.

Ready, Player One!