Movie consumption, along with an achingly yummy garden burger, are my food of choice these days. Though Ismael’s Ghosts and Ready Player One are absolutely different movies, they both encourage us to engage in our own lives. Whether I’ll heed that message is another story . . .
Based on Ernest Cline’s novel (he also penned the adapted screenplay), Ready Player One centers on Wade (Tye Sheridan), a starry eyed youth who dreams of moving out of his low income neighborhood (the Stacks). Wade spends most of his days donning a headset and living in OASIS, a virtual world created by late visionary James Halliday (Mark Rylance).
Halliday, like many of us, is a pop culture enthusiast, and much of OASIS is filled with so many film and gaming references it will make your head spin. On a surface level, if catching Buckaroo Banzai, Gundam, and the Iron Giant (the easiest Easter egg of them all) is your thing, then Ready Player One easily meets those expectations.
In reality, Wade is an insecure dude with no friend in sight. In OASIS he lives as Parzival, a spiky haired cool cat who drives a DeLorean that would make Marty McFly blush. Parzival’s best friends in the virtual world, the brawny tech geek Aech (Lena Waithe) and the fearless Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), “clan up” with our protagonist to take down an evil corporate head named Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) who’s bent on monetizing the living s**t out of OASIS.
Along with battling the forces of evil, the trio, joined with buddies Sho (Philip Zhao) and Dalto (Win Moraski) are attempting to gain three keys that were left by James Halliday’s Gandalf looking avatar Anorak. The person who gets all three keys, and is #1 in the OASIS gaming leaderboard gets full control of the universe. With thousands of employees at his disposal, Sorrento easily has the upper hand, but as Cline (and Spielberg) suggest, nothing beats pure passion for the game. Spielberg also has his own experience with the gaming industry (anyone remember EA’s Boom Blox?), and his passion for that universe is in this surprisingly digestible 140 minute escapade.
Though a big part of Ready Player One’s allure lies in the adrenalized action, near sensory overload level of special effects, and the Easter Egg hunting, the picture also delivers a few pointed messages about gaming and, on a broader level, one’s addiction to pop culture.
Before working as entertainment writer/interview since 1991 (I started as a UCLA Daily Bruin writer), I was totally ensconced in cinema and television (though gaming took a distant third place, I did spend my share of hours living behind an Atari 2600 and my trusty PC). Most of my teenage years and early twenties were spent plugging in to these various entertainment outlets. While family and friend relationships have always been a premium in my life, escaping into my respective worlds supplanted my own desire for a girlfriend.
Do I blame videogames and pop culture consumption for a lack of a true love or the eventual building of my own family? Absolutely not, but when gaming and Movie/TV watching become incorporated into one’s life, that can have an emotionally crippling effect (more on that later).
Spielberg understands that OASIS is not a fantastical world that is out of our reach. The “reality” behind Ready Player One is that many of us, whether it be on Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, or our “gamertag,” have created our own avatar. Halliday and Spielberg both espouse the true value of reality, but both creators have given us the means to escape our daily existence. How many hours we spend on these respective worlds is, of course, our call (something I need to work on is accountability!!).
Gamers may appreciate Ready Player One on a different level, as they are definitely attuned to Sorrento’s monetization ploy of OASIS (for reference check out the Battlefront 2 controversy) and the importance of having virtual coins in the gaming world. Upgrading your equipment after hours grind it out game play, getting the chance to explore an open world without actually completing your respective adventure (let’s not even get into inevitable infiltration of eSports or Twitch streamers), are both gamer aesthetics that are briefly explored in Ready Player One.
I’m a spoiler free guy, so without giving too much away, Ready Player One and Spielberg attempt to remind us that human connection (especially if it ends with a kiss), beats any type of life in OASIS. I suppose the “right” answer would be to agree with this sentiment, but after hours attempting to elude King Kong, survive the horrors at the Overlook Hotel, or play through Atari 2600 games, is reality truly the better option???