Catherine asked:

Will only gamers understand this, or can a person who's never really played any video games figure out what's happening?

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Jen Seeing as how the author over explains everything, you'll be just fine.
TJCrickIV Don't worry Ernest Cline provides a mountain of information with every reference that he drops. That isn't a compliment.
Julius Santana While being a gamer would definitely help you to understand a lot of the references in this book. It isn't completely necessary. The author pulls a lot of references not only from gaming but from 80's pop culture in general. Movies, music, cartoons and television shows are among the many things referenced by ernest cline. If you are a child of the 80's or have studied the 80's at all then you will love this book. I did!
Chad Honestly, the question is irrelevant, as the book itself is beyond terrible. Do NOT believe the hype. It's awful. Just remember this when you ignore my warning and waste part of your life on this book.
Ashley Marie I game a little, but I'm definitely not familiar with all the old 80s games he describes -- thankfully, they are described in detail so you can follow right along and not get lost. I loved this book!
Chrissy I'm more a sci-fi fan and not a gamer. I loved this book! It actually helped me understand the gaming culture more and reminded me of how fun it is to play video games myself (as infrequent as that is).
Katie I feel like as a non-gamer who wasn't even born when many of the games (and movies, songs, and everything else!) came out, I didn't really understand a lot of the references. As someone else said, he describes the games in detail, so you can still understand what's going on, but I think people who have played the games themselves and discovered the Easter Eggs hidden in them would get a lot more out of the book than I did. That being said, I still really enjoyed it.
Ryann Although I am not a gamer(unless you count Candy Crush) I am an 80's fanatic! I love all things 80's so I got lots of the references but to answer your question NO you don't have to be a gamer to read this book. It is wonderful and if you love decades of the past like I do, you will LOVE this book.
Mark Hebwood You definitely do not have to be a gamer to understand the plot. But I think if you haven't got at least a little bit of the mindset shared by the characters in the book, you will find it more difficult to get into it, or even find it silly. So if you, for example, don't think Star Trek TNG was the business, or dislike scifi, or comics, or cartoons, or pop-culture in general, you may not enjoy it. But it is a well-written book - I'd give it a go.
BSC This aged librarian understood it all even if I never progressed much beyond Tetris myself.
Ashley You don't need to understand how to play the games to follow the plot. Knowing what D&D and some of the movies are is helpful in that you relate more to the references but it's not a deal breaker.
Corine Van Althuis I hate when my husband sucks up hours playing computer games, so I am the last person who would enjoy a book about literally wasting your life in a game. I found this enjoyable, detailed and edge of your seat entertaining, eagerly awaiting the moments when the character would solve the clues. The ending felt a little juvenile, and some parts of the book had odd timing or didn't really jive. Regardless, I think anyone would enjoy the story of an unlikely hero beating the odds through sheer force of will, some major amount of luck and a massive amount of hard work.
Blake Nicholas No you don't need to be a gamer to understand what is going on because Cline goes through a lot of explanation and is very specific on the mechanics of the world. I actually think you'll like the book better if you aren't into video games because as a gamer I found the 100+ pages of just describing the mmorpg type world and mechanics to feel like a video game instruction booklet because I already knew it all.
Kelsey The author explains everything in painful, repetitive, unnecessary detail, so you'll be fine.
matthew beers I don't think you "need" to be a gamer to read and understand this but that being said, I would like to add that it is somewhat gamer-targeted and even if you can understand the references to both 80s pop culture and gaming, there are many throughout the book so if it's not a big interest for you, in all honesty I don't know if you will find it as enjoyable. Being able to to think nostalgically about many of the references was what made me keep reading this book. I may be wrong but it's something to consider.
Kruunch As others have said I don't think you need to be a gamer to enjoy this book, while gamer's will nod along or grin at various references.

From a gamer's POV (and one who grew up in the 80s) it can actually feel like a time machine. The author definitely did his homework AND obviously loves his subject matter and it shines through.
Sibylle I'm not a gamer and I really enjoyed it
Elle Such a good book! you can easily understand without much gamers exp, as long as you know who pac-man is :P
Augustine I never play that stuff but I loved it!
Olga I am not into any video games in a any way, shape or form - yet, I really liked the book!!
August Gold I know many people who have never tried video games and loved this book.
Kaity Guanio I'm not a video gamer but I totally loved this book. The author was kind enough to be extra-detailed.
Dorabora I read it with almost nonexistent knowledge about gamig and/or the 80's pop culture and I enjoyed it very much. I really have to say it is one of my favourite books right now.
Carrie I am really enjoying listening to it through my Audible app. It is narrated by Will Wheaton, which is funny because he is referenced in the book. Comment context: Not a gamer/child of the 80's.
John Millard I am in no way a gamer. I did not even play a pinball game until college (born in 1962). I was aware of some games and tv shows etc. Since most references are of the 1980's I would say that if you lived through that time then you will enjoy this book. It is just a cool underdog and friends go up against the big bad world kind of book, fun fun fun.
Chris well, as a gamer I can't really tell what it would be like for non-gamers to read this book, but even as a gamer I din't understand some (most) of the references and I got along fine.
Anthony I've never been a gamer--Pong was too hard for me-- and I loved the book. I think age may be a bigger factor. If you didn't live through the 80s I think a lot of references will be lost on you, or at least won't be as entertaining. Parzival had to act out the part of King Arthur in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. If that doesn't sound hilarious to you you may want to pass on this one.
Sollock The book in itself isn't really about gaming, but more about morals and bringing older culture to a new generation. So to answer your question, not at all, but it can make some references more enjoyable and relatable.
Tim I am a child of the 90's and an avid gamer. I understood most of the references. There were a few references (can't think if any off the top f my head) that I knew it was a reference, but I had no idea what too. It helps that I had a sibling born in the 80's.
Mommooshka Knowing some of the 80s cultural references, movies, TV shows, video games, and computer systems is fun when they come up, but you can definitely enjoy this exciting book even if you don't know any of them.
Ari Martinez It certainly helps if you are gamer, as it increases the nostalgia factor, but not necessary. The descriptions are certainly helpful. I'll say I knew about 90% of the references, and looked up the ones I didn't know (or had forgotten about). RP1 is a fun read.
Barath S You can figure it out a bit even if you haven't played any video games. And the book also references other pop culture.

But honestly you simply don't care about it.
Elisabeth I agree with what people have answered. For me, being a kid of the golden 80s, it was pure joy to read the book. I remember all the old arcade games and such and how I failed at Pac Man.

But no, I dont think you need to be a gamer or an 80s kid, but I think if you lived with it back in the day (yeah, I am feeling old right now), its more fun to read the book cause you will understand more of the references in the book.
This answer contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
Judy Lindow You don't need to be a gamer. You'd be surprised how much of this we absorb just through popular culture. I think the narrative is more meaningful with what we're going through now - it's like the 2nd serge of globalism - what with climate change, the social issues, the reset, the pandemic ... the increase of technology to move so much commerce, as well as education, entertainment, medical, food delivery ... the rapid development ... it's not just a book about gaming. I thought it was fun to look up all the 80s songs, culture, and gaming references I didn't know - I actually knew more than I realized.
Jack not for games, since the author explains them, but you should now a bit about or play dungeons and dragons if you want to fully enjoy this book.
David Cox No. Yes being a gamer helps but no.
Rachel Bergquist I don't really understand games, nor do I know much of 80's culture or anything like that, yet this book is still one of my favorites. It has left me in tears every time I've read it and it still continues to be a page-turner because there are so many details that you forget with every read. Anyone could figure out what's happening, so don't worry about not knowing what's going on.
Travis The only thing that some people won't understand is the pop culture references.
Timothy Morrison any gunter would get it. the real nerds are in the house. but anyone can understand. continue your quest by taking the test. you are likely followed by a grue
Sal Vulcano OK, Boomer lololooolololololololololololol
Augustine I never play that stuff but I loved it!
Desirae Murray Actually it's for everyone to comprehend:

For non-gamers, the entire theme concerns reality vs. illusion; OASIS is a world were anything is possible. A digital realm, where elves' and dragon's coexist in a chat room; however, in reality it's a dystopic wasteland. Yet, when Haliday's Egg Hunt gave notice, every Gunter and Sixer came into action; everyone is willing to claim this huge fortune. Sorrento's extensive wealth and privilege gave way for corruption; killing Wade's Aunt shows his desperation in gaining power over competition. It's a dangerous game, and Wade must beat the system in order to gain the upper hand.

For gamers, it's like an RPG where the main character must gain enough skills and experience in order to complete a level. Within the Three Gates your given a riddle, and what is composed contain key words or terms that revel a clue. Competing with Sorrento, the villain has every cheat code in his arsenal to beat the game; but your character has unique: accessories, armor, weapons, magic, and abilities that are vital to complete each stage.
Sharon You don't need to know anything about video games.
Meiley I think your fine without knowing video games. I just skimmed over the parts about video games and stuuf, you won't really miss much
Camille I'm not a gamer and it was fine. Of course if you lived in the world of 1980's video games you'll have a greater connection to the content. Great story none-the-less.
Diana Bustamante I am not a gamer nor a tech person and I am thoroughly enjoying RPO
Arapera Haddon I'm not a gamer and i loved this book. I'm no gamer and really loved it. I hadn't read a fiction book in years and it had me hooked!
BrianH I was born in 1980 and about 40% of the references hit me squarely, while the rest felt a little before my time. However, even the references I didn't get were delivered in a way I could relate to, with the overwhelming theme of the book being nostalgia. For some of the more crucial references I found myself checking YouTube to get a visual and this enhanced the book for me. I think you'll be fine. That said, if you were born before 1970 or after 1995 the nostalgia in this book may not grab you as intensely, and I assume that's also why they modified the movie version.
Joanna You'll be fine, but it might be good to brush up on some unknown titles if you're really confused.
Linda You don't have to be a gamer to understand this story, but I think it would have been more fun if you had played some of the games and could relate to his experience.
Peg Seay if you lived through the 80s, you will understand it!
Heike-Chan Nel You don't have to be a gamer! Most games referenced here are either something everyone knows about even if they haven't played it (like PacMan) or the author explains what the game is about. The gaming is also just a part of the fun and references of movies, books and series are just as prominent, along with basically anything regarding 80's pop culture. Even a martian with know knowledge of any of these things will still enjoy this
Buzzsaw To enjoy the book you need to enjoy all the the 80's pop culture references. While almost everything in the book takes place in the game it is written as if he is doing the things. The main characters spend most of the time with music, or movies as anything else. the videos games are explained well enough. I think the only deep knowledge of gaming that is needed is if you want to solve the puzzle before him.
Norman Perhaps only gamers...or American 80's nostalgia freaks...will be the types to enjoy a book like this. Or perhaps this book is a timely reminder that we all need to get off our machines for extended periods of time and try to re-connect with the natural world and people we actually meet in the physical environment around us.
Ethan Fuller There honestly aren't that many references to games in this. As long as you grew up in the 80s, you'll be fine
Catherine Okay, okay, guys. XD I've got my answers. Thanks very much!
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