So been a while since I did one of these.
Welcome to my occasional series where I don my smoking jacket and sit with a pint of Pimms, sniff my own farts for a while as I pretend I'm some kind of actual art critic and talk about interesting themes in media and strange comparisons to real life events.
I was thinking of trying to write a review of Ready Player One but well I didn't want to spoil much but I also really wanted to talk about themes, symbolism and all those pretentious analysis things, however to do that it require spoilers.
So instead of a review I'm doing this.
I've also not read the book so I can't reference this back to it or how it relates to anything in the book so let's get started. Oh and just to be clear this is mostly going over stuff outside of the main visual references otherwise we'd be here all day and because the films not out digitally or on home media yet I'd likely miss most of them being unable to go scene by scene. Also I'm hopefully going to not be covering the more obvious themes such as shared culture, love, unity, acceptance and self acceptance etc.
So let's go:
Yes really, in the film James Halliday the Trillionaire co creator and now sole owner of the digital world "The Oasis" is portrayed as what could be interpreted as a high functioning autistic person.
Halliday in the film is:
Socially awkward and especially awkward when speaking to any-one other than his friend and co-worker Ogden Morrow with him being shown very much not getting social queues as he entirely blanks suggestions for the game given by an intern and instead remarks upon his coffee. Even when he's saying goodbye in his video to the world he's very much awkward talking into the camera. This is in addition to the implication he was quite socially awkward on a date which turns into a fairly key plot point.
Very reluctant the change. A major point in the film revolves around him the moment he and Ogden Morrow parted ways with Morrow arguing that they needed to make changes to the Oasis while Halliday argued he didn't want things to change and talking about how he wished things could go back to how they were.
Preferring set plans. A key plot point revolves around a date Halliday went on where his date wanted to go dancing but he'd already planned to go to and see The Shinning, which they do. However knowing she wants to go dancing Halliday works on making and designing a dance club to put into The Oasis with the implication that he'd hoped to use it for their second date where he could show her his work along with having a date in an environment he was more comfortable in.
Halliday is shown as more comfortable in the form of his avatar Anorak and in the digital world as shown by his lack of stutter and far greater confidence when in the form of his avatar. Something it's been suggested can and does help with socialisation for autistic people.
A major thing certain people have got annoyed at on the internet and have been hating the film for is the idea of gatekeeping. The funny thing is the film actually presents a view that, really only little control freaks would object to some level of gatekeeping at least in terms of controlling the directon of something. The main villain of the film Nolan Sorrento is shown as using The Oasis as a way to relax and unwind but is also shown and confronted by Wade over the fact he doesn't really care about pop culture or The Oasis. The argument presented by the film is that everyone is welcome with plenty of different people engaging in all kinds of activities in The Oasis, however it should be those who genuine care and are interest in something who should be the ones to determine the future direction.
Nolan Sorrento is portrayed as CEO driven and motivated not by improving the user experience or giving the players of the Oasis more but instead trying to get more money from them and more money from The Oasis with obnoxious adverts filling the screen in the most popular areas. Sorrento's position as a CEO is said to have been achieved because of his claims that he's an expert about Halliday thus under the belief he's most likely to lead the effort for Innovative Online Industries to try and take over The Oasis by finding the keys and the Easter egg first.
hhhmmmm some-one claiming to be an expert getting taken seriously when they're shown not to be and mostly being in it for the money and people online getting mad at the film saying people can always spot a fake. I wonder why certain people would be mad about such a message........
^Someone mad because Play Asia decided to sell something she didn't like in a way she didn't like
Another constant element and theme of the film is the idea of skill beating people who think they will win by paying. Initially this is shown as with Wade's uncle losing on planet Doom (A brutal PVP arena where you can get rare expensive items, earn some in game currency and potentially lose everything you went to Planet Doom with if you get killed. Later this idea of skill beating people paying to win is shown with Sorrento having spent and use vast amounts of resources (gathered by other people for him) to acquire high powered relics all of which end up being taken down or beaten by simple means or skill with a the most expensive doomsday esc weapon in the game being essentially negated by a single quarter.
One of the big themes in the Ready Player One is looking into elements of nerd culture as such. The film turns the references and appearances of characters from other properties into basically digital cosplaying, items to let people dress up as their favourite characters can be acquired and sometimes bought in the in game store. Other such things can be built by people in game as custom commissions presumably using some kind of resource system / breaking down other models or rare drops. The idea of cosplaying going digital isn't a hugely alien one as from things like Second Life to even more relevantly Monster Hunter World giving costume drops it shows peoples love of having the ability to dress their character up as things they love. Heck some of the bigger streamers have been known to order custom commissions etc for VR chat.
In The Oasis James Halliday's avatar is Anorak, how does this related to "nerd culture" you might ask? Well oddly enough Anorak is a British slag pejorative. Initially it was applied to people with a strong interest in niche subjects like train spotting it quickly became used and applied to computer programmer and people interested in computing. How times change eh?
Here's an odd bit for you. Ever notice how the Innovative Online Industries (IOI) players are referred to a Sixer? In the film this is explained because they all have 6 digital numbers instead of names assigned to them. But why 6 digits? Well here's a bit of something that nerd culture has picked up and has been knocking about for a while, the other Number 6 AKA
Yes The Prisoner a show from 1967 about some-one being held essentially against their will by the heads of the mysterious Village, a ruling group who remain mysterious for most of the series. The Sixers similarly only interaction with people in power in the company is via Nolan Sorrento who the film shows as being accountable to the unseen company board of directors. Also the sixers while not exactly held as actual prisoners unable to leave, are very much prisoners of a kind (more on that in a bit)
Don't believe me that the Sixers are a reference to the Prisoner and Nolan Sorrento their proverbial Number 2?
On the right is the office chair Number 2 sits in from the Prisoner, on the left Nolan Sorrento VR rig he uses to access and interact with The Oasis. It seems odd they're share such a similar shape really especially as when in operation the VR rig seems to tip the seat section back almost like he's in an old style bucket seat.
The film also references the idea of the intersection of the real world and virtual world with people taking to the streets in their VR gear for the final fight to save the Oasis.
It's likely no co-incidence that a lot of these scenes seem very reminiscent of the scenes witnessed at the height of the Pokemon go craze.
I once heard the phrase said "The world runs on debt now". It's kind of funny because it's true to an extent and we're seeing the result of that. The USA is in debt, I think almost every nation in the world is in debt except Greece because they defaulted on theirs and Ireland because the UK paid off their debt and gave them a 0% interest loan so that's still debt but not the same kind and I'm getting off track here.
We presently live in a society which pushes people to see debt as acceptable, student loans, plenty of "low cost" high street loan companies advertising, lots of placing giving finance deals. Heck in the UK we have a shot where you can get fairly expensive items and pay off the cost over a period of time and that's not a shop that sells items and does finance offers, no that's a shop that only does big household things on finance offers.
Hell the best most recent and most relevant example of debt culture is the loss of Toys R US which was a company bought and taken over by debt in a weird financial move that can best be explained as the company buying Toys R Us borrowed using Toys R Us as a corporate entity 80% of the costs. If that sounds stupid it is because Toys R Us to be bought by a corporate conglomerate the corporate conglomerate essentially hand Toys R Us 80% of the cost of being bought out as debt attached to the company, why? Because you only paid 20% of the value of the company and get to then charge the company for your managerial "expertise" and only have to make back that 20% cut to make it worthwhile.
In Ready Player One this theme of debt culture actually proves that what's old is once again new by essentially introducing the modern equivalent of pre Victorian Mils in the form of the "Loyalty centres". The simple yet very evil premise behind all them being it was a large corporate entity that bought all your debts and while not explicitly stated in the film it can be surmised that people were given an offer, pay back as some insane interest rate or come work in a Loyalty Centre for Innovative Online Industries (IOI) for a significantly reduced interest rate but also working as a Sixer at a low wage (implied to be below minimum wage) or done in such a way people were cheated out of portions of their wages as additional costs applied by IOI such as rental of equipment or breakages / losses of items. The Loyalty Centres having people do the often repetitive tasks you'd find in games to acquire currency and filtering that currency to the higher ups in the company. The Higher up in the company then not having to grind or work for much and being able to just outright buy whatever they want in game and set up things that would require vast resources to do using their loyalty centre workers as essentially in game private armies of sixer for them.
Also it's strongly implied in film that changes were pushed through to debt laws to actually stop massive collapses (like the Banks collapsing we saw in recent years) as it's implied in one scene that debt can now be inherited and passed on from one generation to the next as Art3mis gets taken away to a loyalty centre with them claiming they have the right two having purchased debt associated with her.
Well that's enough of being a pretentious art critic for me for the time being. Hope you enjoyed a reading what I feel were some of the themes and bits of symbolism in Ready Player One.