Blurb: Nixy Bauer is used to her classmates being very, very unhappy to see her. After all, she’s a bounty hunter in a virtual reality gaming world. Kids in the MEEP, as they call it, play entirely with their minds, while their bodies languish in a sleeplike state on the couch. Irritated parents, looking to wrench their kids back to reality, hire Nixy to jump into the game and retrieve them.
But when the game’s billionaire developer loses track of his own son in the MEEP, Nixy is in for the biggest challenge of her bounty-hunting career.
I grew up with video games. I started with the cute kids games like Spyro and Crash Bandicoot, and have since ventured into games like Final Fantasy VIII, that introduced concepts such as moral relativism and war to me when I was only eight years old (and is now one of my most precious and loved games). Games are an awesome medium; not only are they a place to lose yourself in an immersive world for those treasured moments of escapism, they are also a place to have fun, explore, discover, learn, and feel.
I could go on and on about how much video games mean to me, but to put it in a succinct sentence: I love video games, and from that, I’d like to say I know video games.
So when I read The Leveller‘s summary, I thought, ‘Heck yes! Finally a book about advanced virtual reality!’ I was excited. I picked up The Leveller as soon as I could so I could, hopefully, relive the excitement of discovering a new virtual world. Conveying this concept with words rather than visual media – and be convincing – would have been a challenge. But it’s not impossible. So I hoped.
Instead, The Leveller was a disappointing read that fails to have any depth. The virtual reality, known as the MEEP, is a shallow portrayal of what virtual reality could be. There is nothing about the MEEP that is compelling or complex, and, as far as I can tell, nothing unique or interesting about it either. Have a look at the likes of Log Horizon, .hack//Sign, and Sword Art Online* who, in varying degrees, explore the psychological, sociological, and interpersonal questions that come with being part of a virtual reality.
What does reality mean? Are my feelings authentic in the virtual world? Are the things that affect us and move us in virtual reality ‘real’? Is virtual reality a dimension of reality or not real at all? Granted, I do not expect The Leveller to answer all of these questions in the short book that it is. But I do expect virtual reality in itself to be explored to a degree. Unfortunately, The Leveller misses that opportunity. There is no depth, there is no substance, there is no point of discussion because it doesn’t raise anything.
The world itself is superficial and, worse, boring. Durango includes all the buzzwords that could give us a feel of what a gaming world may look like – ‘inventory’, various weapons like the ‘grappling hook’ and the ‘mage staff’, the ability to enhance one’s looks through customization of their avatar – but it lacks any essence. So what if you have those features? They ultimately meant nothing, just decorations on a facade with nothing behind it. After reading The Leveller, I had no understanding of what the MEEP was. Instead, it was a confusing mess of the Sims and an adventure RPG with no unique identity, with the occasional fantasy reference.
Here, I wish I could say there was a redeeming quality in the book, but for me, there was none. Everything in this book is lacking, which is a real shame because Durango is exploring such a complex, underrated subject that, I am sure, many people can relate to. The characters were flat and stale, built with every cliche and trope imaginable. Some of their one-liners or attempts at humour made me cringe. (And I have a dry and good sense of humour; I laugh at anything). There was nothing unique about the characters either, and because of that, they are entirely forgettable.
This book tries to be deep, but before it can explore the ideas it introduces, it moves on immediately and doesn’t even dwell on the possibilities. The main character’s recklessness might have caused fatal circumstances; the confusion of having intimate feelings in a virtual reality; the possibility of using technology and fun to systematically manipulate a large group of people — all of these ideas were introduced, but never developed. This book had potential, and it is a shame that it didn’t take advantage of it.
My advice? Even if it’s a quick read, skip this book, and watch Log Horizon or Sword Art Online* instead.
* word of warning: Sword Art Online is an enjoyable anime, but it does have a lot of problematic elements, such as its very problematic portrayal of young female characters, and unapologetic, incessant fanservice, as with most animes that are written by men for boys. It is not blatant, but subtle and may make you feel uncomfortable. Still, it explores some interesting ideas.
Book Name: The Leveller
Book Series: The Leveller #1
Author: Julia Durango