Ready Player One

If humans are created in God’s image, then what does that say about God? Is God an ambivalent, neurotic mess brimming with insecurity and fragile ego? I’d say yes. We are God’s reflection, and everything strange, awkward, and evil about us is within that creator’s nature as well.

That’s the dilemma of all creators. Anything you create is going to be a reflection of you, but do you simply recreate that image or do you focus and synthesize it into something different? And if you simply replicate your image– imposing your strengths, weaknesses, quirks, and everything else upon your creation without discipline or editing, what kind of creator– what kind of God– does that make you?

Isn’t that the sort of arrogance of Satan? Isn’t that the sort of hubris that leads others to their damnation? Is that sort of God condemning its creation?

Is that original sin? That sin isn’t ours, it’s God’s.

That’s also the dilemma at the heart of “nerd culture.” We love things– movies, books, music, and so on– and many of us wish to “do” something with that love. It might be something as simple as sharing opinions with those we know, or something more involved like creating art, stories, or something along those lines. It’s all well-intended, since you want others to feel the same joy you feel when you experienced this particular piece of pop culture, but are you simply sharing something with someone, or are you heaping it upon them and forcing them to define things through your particular lens? do you want them to feel joy, or do you want them to feel your joy?

The fan who shares their Harry Potter fanart with friends is doing the former, while the fan who insists on viewing every event in the news through the lens of “this is exactly like that one scene in Harry Potter” is doing the latter.

The fan who says “let’s watch this movie on Netflix, I loved it” is doing the former, while the fan who names their kid after their favorite character and speaks about how they can’t wait to “turn them into a geek” is doing the latter.

“Geek Culture” is predicated on the latter attitude.

It isn’t about sharing in the joy of liking offbeat stories that aren’t popular with the mainstream. You have to like the “right” things, or else you aren’t really participating. Like super hero comics, but you aren’t digging on Harley Quinn or Deadpool? You aren’t really engaging in the “culture.” Like 80s sci-fi, but you’d prefer Lifeforce over Ghostbusters? That isn’t being a “geek.” When you think of zombies, do think of something other than The Walking Dead? You might not be incorrect, but you’re wrong.

The driving forces behind “being a geek” have created a cannon from which you can’t really deviate, lest you get left behind. You might enjoy something that’s off-brand, but you have to know and love the brand too. Your tastes may have some variance, but your focus cannot stray. If given some manner of choice– if one’s tastes develop outside of the hegemony of geek culture– your passions could go in a multitude of directions. You might still turn into a Star Wars geek, but you might also come to love Dune more if given the chance. Thing is, those chances aren’t really given with the emergence of the “culture” as a dominant pop culture force. The choices have already been made for you. It’s like if you not only have to pick your poison starter Pokemon-style, you’re also never given the chance to catch anymore along the way to the end game.

That’s what’s happening in the movie adaptation of Ready Player One. A Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerburg-like game programmer creates a virtual world where anything is possible within your imagination, but once he finally realizes his own insecurities and vices during his dying days, he changes all of this. He creates a game where the winner will receive total control of this Oasis, and the puzzles within said game are a reflection of this creator.

In order to complete the quest, one must obtain intimate knowledge of the creator’s geeky loves– namely pop culture artifacts from the early 1980s. You get the sense that the main characters in Ready Player One have developed an affection for this era of video games and movies not because they were drawn to that aesthetic through some natural growing process, but through the sheer necessity of keeping up with the driving force within the Oasis’ culture.

These kids only love Buckaroo Banzai, Rush, and Adventure because the Elder Geeks deemed it so. They had no choice in the matter if they want to participate in the greater, mainstream Oasis culture, much like how knowing Star Wars, Harry Potter, First Person Shooters, and the like are necessary to be with it in “mainstream” geekdom.

The creator has damned his followers and creations to travel that awkward path to Geek Hell.

The catch here is that I don’t think all of this is intentional. The writers behind the movie’s script, including the original novel’s Ernest Cline, and people like Steven Spielberg, don’t seem to be aware of this. Cline really does think he’s Perzival, the story’s main character. He thinks he’s that geek warrior, donning his nerd skills like the tools in a knight’s arsenal. He doesn’t realize he’s Halliday, the Oasis’ creator, totally oblivious that his insistence on sharing his nostalgia is actually creating a monstrosity that ruins the thing he loves.

Spielberg is a bit more self-aware, in that I really do think he knows his role in all of this. He must be aware of his role in creating the modern “blockbuster” film, and how the likes of Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark changed the film industry for better or for worse. He knows he’s Halliday, but I don’t think he realizes this isn’t a good thing. The movie tries to elicit sympathy for Halliday, and while he’s certainly relatable in the sense that, yeah, I know what it’s like to be that awkward nerd, but the character lacks real self-awareness. He realizes he pushed his only friend away, but he’s also totally oblivious to the fact that his Easter Egg hunt game destroyed his creation. Halliday thinks such a transfer of power, and the game/lesson that comes out of that, is a redemptive feat. Halliday– and Spielberg– is poised as a Willy Wonka figure, looking to find that good heart to whom he can pass the torch and return things to how they should be.

Neither the character nor the director realize their actions are irreversible. Even if Perzival and his gang don’t suffer from the same hubris, their views of the Oasis have been sculpted by the man who ruined it. Can they really change their ways when the only way that exists is that of a God unaware of its nature as a destroyer and defiler? Is Spielberg aware of how he ruins almost all of his movies with unearned happy endings that run counter to almost all of the events within them? Is he aware that he may not have intended to turn mainstream Hollywood into a tentpole churning machine, but that this chance is likely irreversible short of a complete crash? Is he aware that his anti-streaming platitudes do nothing to change the tide caused by his wake?

He exactly like Halliday. He’s aware of his mistakes, but he thinks he can change them by doing more of the same. He’s a damn brilliant filmmaker. There’s a lot to like in Ready Player One on a visual and visceral level. It’s a lot like Minority Report, in that he’s right there on the cusp of “getting it,” then with the goal in sight he goes in reverse. Except, unlike the first quest in Ready Player One, there isn’t a trap door leading you to the real finish line.

Spielberg just crashes.

Like I said on Twitter, this is something of a bizzaro Fight Club. Rather than being a nuanced satire that’s misappropriated by literal-minded assholes, it’s a literal-minded, dumb as rocks piece of trash that mistakenly stumbles upon being a nuanced criticism of everything it holds dear.

It’s a lousy movie, but it’s also a fascinating one.

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