When I find myself away from gaming, or when my sorry excuse for a social life wrestles me away from the controller, I like to indulge in a good movie. Mostly big Marvel super-hero blockbusters of late, but it was recently that this ‘social life’ found me in a cinema watching a screening of Ready Player One. Admittedly, I had been greatly anticipating this release, what with all the pop culture references hidden within, and I was eager to be treated to a movie all about what I have found a passion for.
But as the movie came to its inevitable epic climax, I had a thought – how is this movie portraying the community I firmly identify in? Of course, I’m talking about the gaming community, and whilst the days of everyone stereotyping gamers as lazy, typically overweight, lonely people who can’t be bothered to do anything else with their life are firmly gone as the gaming industry expands, I still think the positives of gaming should be out there to see.
So, does Ready Player One have a ton of references and nods to games just for the face value of “Oh look! It’s the Joker!”, or is there an extended metaphor throughout reflecting gamers in a positive light?
I’m happy to say, everyone, that it is most definitely the latter.
As with every movie Ready Player One starts off with setting the scene. Viewers find themselves in a near dystopian future of Columbus, Ohio, where everyone is obsessed with the OASIS, a virtual reality system that allows everyone and anyone to do what, and go where, they please. The creator of this wonderful technology, James Halliday, is long deceased by the 2045 timeframe of the movie.
But in this beautiful utopia, much the stark opposite of the real world setting, there is a competition to find three keys scattered around the OASIS. The winner of this competition will gain full control of the OASIS and receive the fortunes Halliday left behind. So imaginably there is an evil, corrupt organisation hell-bent on winning, whilst the unlikely band of heroes must work together in the real world and the virtual world to win themselves.
Enough of the plot: how does Ready Player One convey the beauty of gaming? Well, for starters the virtual world setting is simply breathtaking, with neon lights and everyone seeming to be having a good time – reflecting playing video games in a similar fashion. Additionally, in the opening moments of the movie we see a plethora of worlds and activities, including a Minecraft world and going mountain climbing with Batman for some reason. Again, this suggests that gaming can take you anywhere and let you do anything, with nothing out of the bounds of possibility.
And then we have the ‘heroes’, a mish-mash of personalities from the measly and cowardly Wade Watts to the seemingly dashing and beautiful Art3mis, the latter of which we initially only see in the OASIS. Of course, there’s the big dude who is the brawn of the operation but is in fact scared of everything… and a ninja and a samurai (why not?!). None of these characters have ever met in real life, but the producers make a real statement about how they are, or become, best-friends, despite the lack of meeting outside the OASIS. This is true to gaming, as gamers can form meaningful relationships with people they have never met, but it’s friendship all the same.
But the real message that Ready Player One presents about the gaming community is the fact that by becoming immersed in a good game brings to light some key life skills. This is especially shown in the hunt for the three keys to winning the competition, as each requires an extensive knowledge of retro gaming and Halliday’s life to figure them out. The protagonists are pictured working away at these clues, and the determination to not give up, and the perseverance to do what is right, is present throughout the plot of the movie. The ending, which of course I will not spoil, shows this perfectly in an explicit way, whilst also showing that the high level of intellectuality that Watts has gathered about gaming helps greatly.
And all these messages, whilst many are hidden and some I am still only understanding now, need to be explicit as amongst the metaphors, the love and the tale of overcoming evil with the power of good is an extremely fun and enjoyable movie. If you wanted a decent movie to get you through a tough day or a lazy Sunday, then boy is Ready Player One that movie. You don’t need to have a ton of gaming knowledge, but half the fun of watching is to spot the hundreds (and I mean hundreds) of references to gaming and other elements of pop culture sprinkled throughout.
The Arkham Knight pops up a couple of times, Tracer from Overwatch lends a helping hand, and even obscure and older games are shown like with the Battletoads. And whilst they are there for no reason other than for it to be a nice touch, it’s great to point them out all the same. For this reason, Ready Player One can be enjoyed by younger and older gamers alike; by fans of all different genres. Thinking about it, given that the movie takes place in 2045 and an Atari is a key plot point in the movie… that’s even stranger than it would be in the present day!
In a quite large nutshell, Ready Player One can be taken one of two ways. You can either see it for face value as a colourful romp through the world of pop culture, choc-a-bloc with references left, right and centre, or you can see it as a meaningful homage to everything that videogames have done for the world. Through videogames we can form relationships with other people. Videogames have the ability to make more determined, patient and intelligent people. But most of all videogames have the power to unite a millions-strong community, all under one love.
Ready Player One shows all this whilst still being one of the most fun movies of recent years.