Fairfield Ledger

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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 21, 2018

Fairfield man inspires bestselling novel

Novel ‘Ready Player One’ made into Steven Spielberg-directed film
By Andy Hallman, Ledger news editor | Apr 02, 2018
Photo by: ANDY HALLMAN/Ledger photo Walter Day holds a copy of the novel “Ready Player One,” which was inspired by the video game culture he fostered in the 1980s as owner of Twin Galaxies Arcade in Ottumwa.

It’s not every day that you learn your life was the inspiration to a best-selling novel.

That was the experience Fairfield resident Walter Day had in July when he was invited to be a celebrity guest speaker at a classic video game convention in Austin, Texas. Day is famous for having opened Twin Galaxies, an arcade in Ottumwa that was recognized by Guinness World Records as the sole authority on video game competitions and scoring records.

Day shared the stage with Billy Mitchell, honored as the “video game player of the century” and the first person to get a perfect score on the game Pac-Man. Also on stage was author Ernest Cline, who in 2011 published the science fiction novel “Ready Player One.”

The book was wildly successful, becoming a New York Times best-seller. It was made into a movie by the same name, directed by Steven Spielberg, and opened in theaters last week.

While addressing the crowd in Austin, Cline revealed that neither his book nor the movie it birthed would have been possible without Day, Mitchell and Twin Galaxies. Day was shocked. He had no inkling that he had anything to do with this best-selling book made into a blockbuster film.

The book follows the adventures of a young man, Wade Watts, who competes in a virtual reality video game trying to be the first player to find an “Easter egg” in the virtual reality. The finder inherits the video game designer’s fortune and corporation.

Cline drew inspiration for the novel by watching the documentary “Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade” about the golden age of video games in the 1980s. The film focuses on how Twin Galaxies fostered video game culture and connected gamers around the world who paid close attention to the high scores the arcade published. Video game players were featured in a Life magazine feature spread, leading to the nationally televised 1982 Video Game World Championships. Video games and gamers had never enjoyed such popularity.

Cline watched the documentary over and over. He told Day and Mitchell that their adventures were the inspiration for his novel. He said Twin Galaxies pioneered the world of competitive gaming, its culture and its community. Those are the central themes in “Ready Player One.”

“The novel is about a community based on video game playing, and society is split between gamers and non-gamers,” Day said. “We see a close-knit community of gamers that resembles that of the early 1980s in that video games are a big part of their identity, which sets them apart from the rest of society. The characters are emotionally and financially invested in the role of being a gamer, and enjoy the status that comes with being a successful gamer.”

A clear parallel between the novel’s plot and the world of Twin Galaxies is that all the characters are trying to be first place on a global scoreboard.

“Their whole world is based on their ranking among all the gamers,” Day said. “The essence of Twin Galaxies is rendered in the novel. The psychology of the players is the same [as in the 1980s], just with new technology.”

Day and Mitchell came together once more to celebrate the premier of the film. They appeared Thursday at Coral Ridge Cinema in Coralville, where they answered questions from the audience after the movie.

“We talked about Ottumwa as the video game capital of the world and how people are working to bring back Twin Galaxies by creating a video game museum, a video game hall of fame and making it a tourist attraction,” he said. “People are fascinated with the story of how Twin Galaxies united gamers in a community that developed a culture.”

Day and Mitchell are both founding board members of the International Video Game Hall of Fame in Ottumwa.

Day said the book is a “really fun story” and that he enjoyed the movie immensely.


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