Saturday, March 31, 2018

Ready Player One

The year is 2045 and virtual reality gaming is elevated to new heights as a refuge from the harsh realities of everyday life. Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) lives in a slum area in Columbus, Ohio known as “the Stacks” but spends most of his time plugged into the OASIS, a massive computer-generated dream world where he is known by his avatar Parzival. After the death of its creator, it is revealed that an Easter Egg has been hidden in the game. The first person to find three keys, which serve as prizes for each level challenge, will not only be declared as champion but also be awarded full ownership of the virtual world. Given the economic and social upgrade such victory entails in the real world, players all over the globe try their luck but to no avail. When Parzival finally cracks the first challenge, he becomes the target of Innovative Online Industries (IOI), a giant video game conglomerate with an army of players hell-bent on getting their hands not just on the Easter Egg, but the lives of the millions of users connected to it daily as well.

Anyone who has ever played any kind of video game is bound to love Ready Player One. It obviously has something to do with the subject matter, but it’s the way the plot unfolds that gets you quite hooked. While you are well-aware that you’re just watching a movie, it feels more like you are also participating in the video game challenge that they are playing. Somehow, you are that other player who decided to go on toilet break, then coming back to watch your friends take a shot at glory and eventually fail. Isn’t that bliss?

But who are we kidding, it’s the nostalgia that’s the real catch here. You’d like to wonder how a producer can make both a Gundam and Chun-Li appear in a single film without a truckload of IP-related lawsuits in tow, but maybe that’s not really an issue when you are Steven Spielberg. We are not just talking about characters that we’ve come to love since childhood. Those games! Those movies! That soundtrack! Lately there have been an influx of Hollywood fodder capitalizing on nostalgia through their old school OSTs, Ready Player One decides to go the extra mile. And then some. If this material does not make you nostalgic even for one second, then we don’t know what else will.

While Ready Player One focuses on the events in the OASIS, it does not totally leave the real world out of the equation. If anything, you will get to appreciate the interweaving plot points and how events in one world have very serious consequences in the other. After all, the idea that they are selling here is the interplay between those two seemingly distinct lives. Perhaps the interesting thing to tackle is how one world is prioritized over the other by the characters that we follow as the story develops. It’s not that difficult to imagine these gamers’ dilemma. At one point in our lives we have invested so much time and effort, and to some extent money, on these virtual games. A glitch taking all that away can be very devastating.

Nostalgia and nerdasgm aside, the narrative also provides an honest take on the dominion that virtual reality wields over us, as well as where it could eventually lead. Ready Player One appears ultra-futuristic at first, but analyzing the variables that make it a whole will lead you to think that such real-world scenario can occur not that far in the distant future as we’d like to think. You only have to look back to the Pokémon Go fad that swept the globe a few years back to convince you that the probability of this kind of future is high. Mix that with some sort of Facebook-type longevity and the idea won’t be that hard to sell. In the end, the main argument here has always been similar to what we have to grapple with every day: How real is real, and is your online life really worth all the hype for you to prioritize it over the real one?

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