Let’s get the worst part out of the way now: the Second Gate is a huge disappointment.
Now let’s back up for a moment. I love Ready Player One. I think it’s a phenomenal book, which will come as no surprise to anyone paying attention to this podcast/blog since it was a big part of the first episode. So when I heard there was a real life contest going on to mirror the one in the book, I was beyond excited. When I watched Ernest Cline’s announcement of the contest, I had the First Gate URL figured out before I came to the end of video.
If you haven’t figured out the First Gate yet, I’m not going to say where it is (though the single most popular search query bringing people to this site is the location of the First Gate, which, by the way, I’m not revealing because it would take the fun out of the gunting!), but I will say the challenge inside it is an Atari 2600-style game created for this contest. And it’s awesome. You play as Wade and navigate the stacks looking for puzzle pieces while trying to avoid flashers and bits of energy that pulse around and zap you if you touch them. It was a fun game in and of itself, and playing an Atari 2600-style ROM in this contest made me feel like Wade playing the games Halliday loved in the book. The second I cleared the Gate and got the URL for the next one, I also figured out the URL for the Third Gate. I began speculating with great anticipation what those two challenges might be. Maybe something in the style of an old arcade cabinet game, or a text adventure. Whatever they would be, I was sure they would be awesome and it literally never even occurred to me that I might be wrong in that assumption.
So why is the Second Gate a huge letdown? Because it’s a Facebook game. It’s a glitchy, boring, time-management geared Facebook game with all the annoying pay-to-enhance elements of a Zynga creation, yet half the competence in coding and a quarter of the aesthetic design. What’s more, it’s an existing game that’s just doing a Ready Player One tie-in. This means there are many aspects of the gameplay that have nothing to do with the contest, but gunters will just have to slog through it if they hope to clear the Gate. But here’s the real kicker: it doesn’t feel relevant to the Ready Player One universe at all. Why not? Because the game is about collecting objects at garage sales.
Yep, you read that right. Rather than make a cool, original game in the style of a system/platform reminiscent of one of the challenges Wade faces in the book and like they already did for the First Gate, they gave real life gunters tackling the Second Gate a crappy Facebook game in which they’re told to collect 80s movie posters, lunch boxes, video games/gaming systems, and novelty items from garage sales. And since it’s a time-management style game that requires players to wait for energy replenishment and hope to stumble on the right items before the Third Gate opens in August if they want to have any chance of winning the contest, it also subtly encourages the get-ahead-quick-by-paying-real-money option. It requires no skill, and rewards using money to cheat your way forward, making it antithetical to Halliday’s hunt. Sixers would be great at it. And at the end of the day, the fact that the real life contest now couldn’t be further from the spirit of the book is the real disappointment.