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Thoughts on Ready Player One

in books, computing & internet, digital rights, project gutenberg, public domain, tv/film

Here’s the deal on my reluctant enjoyment of Ready Player One, the book version. As for the movie, it isn’t really worth reviewing. Instead of gently leading today’s viewer to the discovery of a richer, deeper nerd-gamer ethos, the film did the exact opposite by dumbing down the story and its quests to cater to a much wider “80s-lite” audience. There was a lot more to Halliday’s and even Spielberg’s 1980s, and Dungeons and Dragons and Oingo Boingo’s Dead Man’s Party are not references too obscure for today’s movie-watching masses. How about a special remake for those of us who actually played Joust? Back to my concerns with the book and what it means.

  • Nostalgia Cud – Our pasts, our memories are functions of what we have consumed. So, to take what I have already devoured and assemble and repackage it so easily for me to re-consume is an affront. You know what? I consumed the hell out of the book. So, who’s the worse person here – Ernest Cline or me? It is entirely valid to view RPO as a paean to the 80s and Back When The Internet Was Plain Vanilla 8-Bit ASCII And Ours, and who am I to gatekeep our history? But, it’s not a coincidence that 1980s worship has made a resurgence when its core demographic is at peak spending power. The moment I hit 40, long-lost memories from my childhood came zooming back. Perhaps it’s called a mid-life crisis because the first half of your life flashes before your eyes very slowly, over the course of a few years. Is this a natural biochemical thing or memories triggered because Richard Blade is my radio DJ again, and I Ran and 99 Luftballons is in every drug commercial and cover band’s repertoire? Couldn’t tell you, but I strongly recall Cousin Dhivya still owes me for “accidentally” pouring hot pink nail polish on my favorite grey net tank top while we danced to the MTV premiere of INXS’s New Sensation. Sure that blast from the past has nothing to do with #INXS40.
  • Greed Is Good Again – What led to RPO’s dystopian 2045? How did Wade Watts end up orphaned and living in the squalor of a stacked trailer, watching “the outbreak of some new killer virus, or another major city vanishing in a mushroom cloud?” All the way from before the 1980s to today, we have created and continue to make that terrible, dark future right now. Let’s get in our cars and drive to the climate-conditioned IMAX theatre to then buy/use the past to consume/fight a future that we made in the past and present. (If that isn’t head-screwy enough, listen to the words “Because reality is real” in THX surround sound while wearing 3D glasses.) So what are we doing about it other than collectively nodding our heads at a Real impending apocalypse? Not much. And that’s problematic.
  • Not Neutrality – James Halliday is Project Gutenberg‘s Michael Hart and OASIS is the internet Michael envisioned. Here are some of the last words Michael wrote me before he died in 2011.

    The purpose of Project Gutenberg is to provide raw materials to anyone and everyone who needs or wants them.Those who do not need or want them will tell us, denigrating the materials in such a manner that we know these people are not consciously in need or want of them, or at least so they would like to appear. As I have said from the very beginning, “Let me be the first to scatter these bricks,” so that from the first you learn a school is not made of particular bricks in particular order, but of the idea of schoolness.

    Take the bricks and create anew. OASIS is about so much more than gaming, coin mining and escape from a terrible reality. It is where thousands of people like Wade Watts go to learn, explore and build in a space that belongs to everyone, not just to blindly ingest a reconstituted past. Further, IOI, like Disney, AT&T, Viacom, Elsevier and many more, wants to destroy this public domain to privatize, gate and charge for entry. They don’t want to build anything, just resell us to us. So, how is writing this book and publishing it with Random House while simultaneously selling the film rights to Warner Bros anything other than plain cheek or, worse, cold resignation and “clanning up” with the Sixers? Wade and the gunters may have won, but we didn’t.

Yeah, I feel like I am being trolled by Ernest Cline, but also feel in on the joke by being one of its perpetrators. Maybe the real easter egg of the experience is that it is pre-packaged irony. What am I going to do about it?

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