Since the publication of Luckbane back in 2013, fans have been comparing my Impworld/Øtherworld series to Ready Player One (RPO). I confess that I have never read Ernest Cline’s book, but when I found out it had been adapted into a movie, I knew I had to see it.
I’m glad I did. It was a thoroughly entertaining romp and that, if I may be so bold, is one of the similarities between RPO and my series. Of course, they’re also very, very different examples of the emerging LitRPG genre.
Here is my honest assessment of how they compare.
A future dystopia obsessed with the 80s. RPO has “gunters” (literally Easter Egg hunters) who are obsessed with everything James Halliday, the creator of the virtual Oasis, was obsessed with to find clues that might help them win the prize. This turns out to be everything connected with the 80s.
The folks in the Impworld/Øtherworld series are likewise obsessed with the late 20th and early 21st century, mostly due to the discovery and revival of a man who was cryogenically frozen during that time. At this point, only Soulbright spells that out, but there are references throughout the series.
[Fun fact: Originally this cryogenic miracle was named John Lazarus, the protagonist of an as-yet-unpublished story called The Jericho Project. I ended up using that name for the hero of Johnny Came Home, my first published novel.]
A massively multiplayer virtual reality game. Not exactly a world-shattering revelation. RPO has the Oasis with its various worlds. The I/Ø series has nodal technology that allows you to be anything you want to be. Impworld is but one game, albeit the most popular, in the digital ocean. In fact, we learn in Dreadknights that our protagonist, Christine Johannsen, is playing a mini-game within Impworld called Guild Wars and that she used to play as an electrokinetic named Wacky Jackie in a superhero game called The Prometheus Initiative.
[Fun fact: The Prometheus Initiative is an Easter egg referring to the world of John Lazarus. Wacky Jackie is the nickname of an electrokinetic named Jackie Holloway. In John Lazarus’ world, they play a game called Impworld.]
Interplay between the real world and the game. This is one of the bigger similarities between the two worlds. The real world is dystopian and controlled by big corporations (megacorporations, in my case). One of the hardest parts of writing the series is that every game character has a real world player identity. So essentially, everyone has two names and two lives. Luckbane is a free agent, so he just has a crummy job to deal with outside of his game life. Professional gamers like Copper Gallows’ player (Marcus Wayne) or Ogress Bloodskull’s player (Christine Johannsen) regularly deal with fan clubs, talent agencies, gamer commentary shows and that sort of thing. Meanwhile, GameComm, the company behind Impworld, is livecasting the players’ adventures as the ultimate in fantasy reality TV.
Time scale. RPO is near future. The I/Ø series takes place about 200 years in the future.
A terraformed alien world. RPO takes place on Earth. In the I/Ø series, we have colonized the moon and Mars and GameComm has colonized a planet in the Tarak system, terrafirming it to look just like Impworld for the ultimate LARP (live action roleplay).
A world populated by mutants, aliens and robots. The I/Ø series takes place in a far future where we’ve discovered an alien world with non-sapient indigenous life. We also have sophisticated biological robots and have discovered an element called levitanium in the Martian mines that allows for antigravity technology. Heilo wave technology allows for relatively quick travel between the Sol and Tarak systems. We also created Homo sapiens adaptis, commonly called mutants, a genetically altered subspecies of man designed to work near-airless Martian mines, farm our oceans, and live in any other environment man finds too hostile.
My heroes aren’t a bunch of kids from Columbus, Ohio. Both RPO and the I/Ø series are premised on the idea that everyone plays the game and how they play affects their real lives; however, Cline’s heroes are young, presumably to appeal to a teen/young adult market. They also seem to be all local to Ohio for some reason. The I/Ø series features Champions of all ages, but mostly adults (since we spend most of our lives that way). While two of my Champions are neighbors (relatively speaking), my Champions were selected from all over the Earth, reflecting the gameworld as a global reality.
Easter Eggs. Cline’s book and Spielberg’s film are jam-packed with 1980’s Easter Eggs. To take things further, the premise of Halliday’s challenge is that he left a hidden Easter Egg in his Oasis that gives whoever finds it control of the Oasis. I personally love that.
My Easter Eggs are literally references to my other book series. Those will become more important to defining the Midwich Multiverse as we approach The Last Door.
It’s not about winning. It’s about playing the game. Parzival, Art3mis and the rest of the High Five are gunters chasing clues to find three Keys and the chance to win James Halliday’s game to decide who will control the Oasis. An evil corporation called IOI is also sending its minions to win the game on their behalf.
While there are prizes and McGuffins to pursue, the Champions of the I/Ø series are really more interested in playing the game as long as they can.
Anyway, I hope that helps. Both RPO and the I/Ø series are pretty cool examples of the growing subgenre of LitRPG. Personally, I think our different takes on this developing genre makes it all the more interesting.