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How the Internet Archive helped add nuance to Ready Player One

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Ready Player One was in many ways fueled by the work of the Internet Archive, a place where author Ernest Cline said he was able to research the minutia of some of the pop culture and games so integral to his 2011 novel.

"People sometimes say that I must have looked at the Internet Archive when I wrote Ready Player One, and that is what happened," Cline said in a talk at South by Southwest in Austin today. "I wrote a whole part of the book to pay tribute to Pac-Man and the 256 screen when the game runs out of memory.

"Because of MESS and MAME and cheats, it allowed me to jump to the final screen and play it a few times so I could write it."

In Ready Player One, most of humanity spends their time jacked into the OASIS, a virtual reality home to endless adventures, games and a virtual Easter Egg hunt which could lead to a massive inheritance for anyone who figures it out.

The novel is thick with pop culture, '80s and gaming references, including detailed descriptions of some gameplay, like that game-ending level of Pac-Man.

Jason Scott Sadofsky, the curator at the Internet Archive and Cline's fellow panelist, said that the OASIS' archival nature and heavy support of old games, leads some people to think that his work was inspired by the novel. While that wasn't the case, he does think the novel and the service work well together to help create a sort of multimedia experience.

As the Internet Archive continued to expand, amassing not only archival works from websites, but scans of books, video content and games, it has become a sort of early version of the novel's OASIS.

Thanks to emulators like MAME, and MESS, which is essentially a collection of emulators, and recent strives in JavaScript, hopeful players can now hop onto the archive site and play many of the archived games directly in their browser.

Ready Player One is both an example of a highly evolved form of that sort of archival website, and also proof of the value of creating such a thing.

Originally envisioned as "What if Willy Wonka was a video game maker and he held his contest with the golden ticket inside a video game? What riddles would there be?" Cline knew he was going to have to research some of the nitty gritty of gaming. Something he really couldn't have done without the Internet Archive.

Sadofsky pointed out that while many people think that video games must be archived because of their digital nature, that's actually not the case.

And games are disappearing from the public's reach.

Part of that is because IP owners don't want the content available for free and some hobbyist archivists are worried or confused about what is and isn't legally shareable. This is a thing that cultural historians don't run into with much older works.

"When you put up a painting you're not like all 'Shit son, here comes Leonardo and he's angry,'" said Sadofsky. "But when it comes to something like Asteroids, which is coming up on 40 years now, they're like, 'Oh, no, no, no, no."

Cline said losing those early seminal gaming works would be devastating.

"All of these guys who are building the future," he said, "looking at their first games is like going back and reading their short stories. These are the things they did before going on to do great things.

"That's pretty awesome."