What is gaming? I cannot answer that question, but I will know one when I see one. This ever-changing definition of a medium and subsequent genres it gave birth to make most critics hard to keep up with video games. Gaming, in its essence, has changed drastically from what it was 30 years ago and what it is now. That’s where Ready Player One falls at least nine yards short.
Before the term FPS was even coined, Sci-fi writers often coined Doom-like genre as an allegory to explain futuristic virtual world we would be stuck in. What we see in the world created by Spielberg is the inconsistencies we have since observed in the real gaming industries and anticipated dream world. Most fictions solve this problem by focusing only on either of the subject: either on a magic world with an inventory box, or a real world foreshadowed to be a dystopia. The movie simply failed to appreciate the consequences of this continuing compromises.
Take economy of OASIS for example. We are provided with the world so simplified where spending the virtual currency simply empties your wallet, instead of resources changing hands. In fact, moneys flying out of body parts instead of blood is one of the scenes depicted as a hallmark of development process. Most MMORPG, of course, adopts a similar system to ease the burden coming from creating and maintaining a proper economy. Consequently, these games that took shortcuts observe astronomical inflation in its in-game economy, which is often corrected forcibly by the studios behind it. However, the video game depicted in Spielberg’s is too big to be “corrected” without real world consequences, sometimes life threatening. What’s worse, we have a real world example of sustainable in-game economy: EVE online, released in 2003. Thousands and millions of real American dollars were squandered in the virtual battle with consequences that cannot be overturned, and the ramifications did not need flashy effects to have gravity in its effects.
The result of this underlying inconsistencies is the abomination we look at in the outside world of the movie. We don’t even need to talk about how people dress in the Stack look straight out of the first Terminator. Because their life was not exemplary of the world they were in. We get scenes where people are literally running past Starbucks on a contemporary street with their headsets on, whereas few minutes later people are living in futuristic slums with cyberpunk gears straight out of Ghost in the Shell. What is keeping up this divide in a neighborhood? Also, knowing that players literally died while playing Pokémon Go, a relatively rudimentary AR game, I can only assume creators behind the movie have never heard of games released past year 1990.
The plot of the movie also takes more shortcuts than any other. First off, the only “challenge” the genius has built from scratch is the first one, the one that somehow nobody decided to play wrong. —it is only pure irony that later on, Wade needs to stress again about how people should play the game rather than try to win it.— The key to the easter egg, or the “answer” as some might put it, was simply driving in different direction. Do I need to remind you, my dear audience, that some hardcore gamers are still searching easter eggs in classic games, and their methods sometimes go teddy-bit extreme? Hitting every wall on the screen is only the beginning of the search, and the movie praises it as revolutionary.
These challenges continuously fall behind, lacking its own ingenuity by all means. When we are given the second challenge, where Halliday, the genius, decided to remaster his old game and one of his favorite movies. —it is incredible how Halliday specialists have missed that challenge in the museum— The keywords here are: zombies, mystery, and horror. Zombies certainly began and certainly are still part of the horrors, but zombies pitched in the Spielberg’s are rather fantasy-driven. They are walking targets for shooters and jump scares. And then we get a scene where IOI, the bad guys, call it “Shining (pause) challenge,” because their soldiers are too scared to go through a horror game. Aside from the fact that bare-bone zombies are the least likely subject for the horror genres, video game soldiers not prepared to take on minor genres make its purpose self-contradictory. Imagine if the challenge was a bullet hell?
So is the third one; he simply loans large library of classical games. It utterly makes no sense the researchers haven’t tried the first video game to have easter egg as the first answer. In fact, the villain, Nolan Sorrento, makes a similar remark in the movie that this is not the right way to choose the next owner of OASIS. This question never gets answered in the movie. What differentiates the protagonists and the antagonists?
In all three challenges, a player has never actually won a game. That is the only consistency. Simply triggering the easter egg, instead of winning in the program in the disguise of a video game, is the answer. The question then becomes “what is video game” again, because you can embed easter eggs in any programs. —FYI, even Google has one— They simply triggered the easter egg and survived. You could probably achieve a same level of plot tracking on Microsoft Word.
But what drives this issue to another level of nonsense is the fact that IOI is portrayed as an empty shell with no bureaucracy. Heck, when Sorrento pleads with the protagonists that his wrongdoings were “corporate decisions,” we know only two, or three at best, made significant contributions to it. In fact, they don’t even know which account is logged in from which console in their own building. Even Matrix has a scene where both humans and machines trace the “player”. When the CEO of an evil corporation goes through each stations by hand, and also alone, it becomes obvious this corporate entity was not given any physical standing in this fictional world. It doesn’t have “soldiers”, and it doesn’t have “employees” nor “henchmen”.
Conclusion: 80s Memorabilia with no Coherence
The legendary director of this movie had already made questionable interviews before when it comes to his views on modern gaming. When asked about his VR experiences, “I played Mario and so on on the PlayStation. The first time I tried it I didn’t want to take the goggles off.” Critics did not make much of it at the time. Yet I can only see this as an omen of being so out-of-touch on gaming.
Ironically, thanks to the outdated framework on video games, the movie ended up as a mixture of general pop cultures of 80s with minor references to post-90s. Computers off two days a week? I can quote a Korean movie critic on the issues persistent throughout the film: “Are there only Bronze in 2040?”