Smash hit “Ready Player One” and recent release “Armada” both feature teen male protagonists: Wade, aka Parzival, in “RPO,” and Zack in “Armada.” Ernest Cline’s two stars have both lost parents, are obsessed with video games and geek culture, and are high school seniors. I related with them in different ways: Wade for how he finds refuge online despite not being an elite gamer, and Zack for how he wishes he could have known his father.
Wade scrapes by with school-issued tech gear, as he hides in an abandoned van to escape an abusive home life. He doesn’t have resources to even level up in the online virtual world, the OASIS. He immerses himself in geekdom with his one best friend, and they binge on shows, movies, and vintage games. Later he achieves major notoriety when he lands the high scores list of a worldwide quest, but it’s a new, unfamiliar experience.
Zack’s life is peachy in comparison. His dad died when he was a baby, but he lives a comfortable suburban life that reminded me of Q in “Paper Towns.” He has friends at school, works a part-time job, and is one of the top ten gamers in the world for the game “Armada.”
I loved “RPO” and liked “Armada.” The latter felt more like a movie: scenes progressed like they were plotted out for the screen. “Armada” is heavy on space elements, so if you like “Star Wars,” “Star Trek,” and similar worlds, you’ll probably enjoy it. “Armada” is far denser than “RPO”: there’s lots of explanatory backstory that slow down the pace.
“RPO” is a riddle-solving adventure, like “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” My favorite parts are when Parzival explores places set in the 80s, down to details like VCRs and tape decks. What stands out about Parzival/Wade is that he is always alone — whether exploring worlds in-game or hiding from dangerous people in real life. The threats that Parzival faces feel personal and scary, while Zack feels like the hero in a Hollywood action movie.
What are your thoughts about “Armada” or “Ready Player One?”