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Washington State University Office of the Provost

Students get in the game with ‘Ready Player One’

Washington State University students attend the opening of  Ready Player One, March 28 at Village Centre Cinemas in Pullman.

Which popular musical act played at WSU twice in the 1980s?

Freshman Gage Horton and the rest of the Order of the Crimson Key players pondered this question, among many others, as they navigated clues and riddles scattered throughout the WSU libraries in early March. Ready Player One inspired the contest, underscoring a banner year for the Common Reading Program.

When Provost Dan Bernardo chose Ready Player One as WSU’s Common Reading book for 2017-18 (based on nominations from a selection committee), the wheels began turning for faculty and staff involved with the program on campus. They included faculty from history, business and English, staff from residence halls and libraries, and beyond. Author Ernest Cline’s popular dystopian novel is infused with throwback video game and 1980’s pop-culture references. Using WSU’s landscape and resource centers as the setting, a team of about 10 volunteers came up with ideas and adventures to intrigue students. And the game began.

“When Ready Player One was chosen, I knew I wanted to be more involved with the events throughout the year,” says English instructor Owen Williams, who was on the 10-member faculty-staff team that designed and organized elements of the game. “Our idea was to put students on a quest of their own.”

The organizing committee also managed to incentivize student involvement and utilization of campus resources into the game. The CougSync platform was used to track participation, while the Math Learning Center, the Writing Center, the Rec Center, Student Financial Services, the Women’s Resource Center, Handshake, and the Academic Success and Career Center, among many others, were also weaved into the game.

In total, 1,679 students earned at least one point for participating in a Common Reading activity – attending a lecture series event, reading Ready Player One and answering trivia questions posted in The Daily Evergreen, and/or playing the Order of the Crimson Key game.

Faced with the question above, Horton did what most of us would do: he turned to the internet and came up with the answer: Huey Lewis and the News. The final answer wasn’t as simple to find. He studied a scene from Back to the Future for almost two hours before his sleuthing paid off. He entered the correct final answer about 22 hours after beginning his quest and won a $300 scholarship donated by an enthusiastic committee member for being the first to finish the Black Key challenge.

Horton, a freshman from Mossyrock, first read Ready Player One in 2012, but he bought his own copy and re-read it during Alive! orientation last year. He participated in Common Reading events as he could throughout the year, and then went all out for the final challenge.

“The $300 scholarship was a big appeal, definitely,” Horton says. “But I thought it would be a lot of fun, whether I won or not.”

The complex scavenger hunt through the Holland, Terrell and Owens Science library buildings roped in several other students, who enjoyed the chase.

“It was pretty hard, but it was fun,” says freshman Aiden Pyle, who came up with the final answer just after Horton. “Overall, the Common Reading program got me engaged in talks with faculty members, and it helped me get to know the library system. I got to meet some new friends and learned a lot about campus.”

Jeffrey Lebo was one of those friends, as the two teamed up on the final challenge. Lebo scored the most points in the game throughout the year, and he was rewarded with an invite to President Kirk and Noel Schulz’s home for dinner, along with the rest of the top five players and their guests.

Stephen Spielberg directed the Ready Player One film that debuted last month, which proved to be perfect timing. It was a pinnacle for the Common Reading organizers, and the students. The top five scorers throughout the year were treated to a limousine ride to the Pullman premier at Village Centre Cinemas, which donated 190 tickets to a special showing. Leading Crimson Key scorers plus other WSU students selected in a raffle attended the film’s Palouse debut, where Butch was on hand to greet the movie-goers.

The WSU Libraries also went all out, teaming up with Student Involvement and the Common Reading program to host an 80s Game Night and Crimson Key Gala on March 27 for about 100 students. Local donors provided a wealth of prizes that were raffled during the gala.

Between Cline’s visit to campus in August and the flurry of activities this spring, the Common Reading program delivered a transformative experience in new and thrilling ways.

“It was a lot of fun to help design the game,” says Williams. “But it wouldn’t have worked without the students, who were really into it. I think when you can take a book and apply it in different fields, and have students realize we’re not existing in a vacuum, it’s so valuable. It’s harder to do from a programmatic standpoint, but the books provide a shortcut for that.”

Common Reading Program co-directors Karen Weathermon and Susan Poch thanked the book selection committee, the Crimson Key game committee, faculty and Residence Life staff, WSU Libraries, local donors, the Schulzes, and Village Centre Cinemas for their incredible enthusiasm and support of the students, and program this year.

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