Revisiting ‘Prepared Player One,’ a futuristic novel that’s stuck in the past
Warning: This text accommodates large spoilers for Prepared Player One (the novel, not the movie).
Components of the web are about to tear one another apart over a movie that, on the floor, was made particularly for them.
Steven Spielberg’s Prepared Player One is a film adaptation of the 2011 Ernest Cline novel by the similar identify. The ebook, greatest identified for its ’80s popular culture nostalgia, is a futuristic story in which younger gamers should compete for management of a digital actuality world known as the OASIS to stop a main company from monetizing and corrupting it.
I couldn’t inform you how I found Prepared Player One. The one purpose I do know once I bought it (in 2012, lengthy earlier than I seen any of the backlash to the ebook itself) is as a result of the date is captured in my Kindle order historical past. I sped by means of the ebook and keep in mind liking it at the time, however till not too long ago I in all probability couldn’t recall what occurred other than the broad strokes. It’s like a seashore learn, one thing you possibly can choose up on a whim and devour with out having to fret about shedding your practice of thought if interrupted. I feel I loved it, nevertheless it was forgettable.
However with the movie popping out quickly, the many criticisms of the book are resurfacing—primarily its treatment of women and obsession with trivia and name-drops over substance. So, I made a decision to revisit Prepared Player One. I needed to see the way it fared now that we’re six years nearer to the future that Cline imagined. However after studying it, it’s obvious that a lot of the ebook feels rooted in the past.
Prepared Player One is entertaining, however the cringe-factor breaks the momentum
Participating with Prepared Player One will be thrilling and exhausting. The pages nonetheless fly by when you’re sucked into the story, and sure, there’s something form of cool about seeing these pop-culture references collide, even when most don’t go away something greater than a superficial impression. None of Prepared Player One made me wish to choose up any of the books, reveals, films, or video games it mentions, lots of which I had by no means heard of or missed whereas distracted by my very own ’80s popular culture consumption. However simply as quickly I received into the story, a flash of secondhand embarrassment would take me out of it once more.
There’s a passage from Prepared Player One that has repeatedly gone viral, and critics typically level to it as a summation of the surface-level essence of the ebook. You in all probability know the one, even should you haven’t learn Prepared Player One.
It takes place nearly midway by means of the ebook as Parzival—the username principal character Wade Watts goes by in the OASIS—makes his entrance at the celebration of OASIS co-founder Ogden Morrow. It’s a teenager’s description of all the modifications he made to his new automotive, however as a result of all of the modifications come from fictional and iconic rides, it turns into extra obnoxious by the second.
that is "prepared participant one"
should you haven't learn the ebook please don't let the trailer make you assume it is likely to be okay pic.twitter.com/X2BpfNrpgW
— etdp (@etdragonpunch) December 10, 2017
This passage can also be by far one in every of the lesser offenders of pop-culture overload. Early in the ebook, Wade and Aech, his greatest pal in the OASIS, spend three pages arguing about whether or not LadyHawke is a good film. Aech calls it a “chick flick disguised as a sword-and-sorcery image.” After the historical past behind the trivia-based problem to seek out OASIS creator James Halliday’s world-controlling Easter egg is defined, Wade takes practically 5 pages to listing nearly each film, TV present, ebook, online game, comedian, and album he’s consumed to organize. Two of the quests Wade has to finish to seek out the Easter egg (a common nickname for hidden gadgets) contain him reenacting WarGames and Monty Python and the Holy Grail in the position of main characters.
Hidden beneath the many, many references strung all through is a message about the darkish aspect of escapism and dwelling your life in digital actuality. Wade sees glimpses of this all through the ebook. After he strikes to Columbus, Ohio, and assumes one other public id, Wade doesn’t go away his condominium for a whole 12 months in concern that the ebook’s company antagonist will kill him. Wade turns into rich sufficient to afford devices galore (together with what is basically a intercourse doll you should use inside the OASIS), however they nonetheless go away him feeling empty, lonely, and ashamed. At the finish of the hunt, a model of Halliday in the OASIS places it extra plainly: As unimaginable as the OASIS is likely to be, it’s best to nonetheless expertise what life has to supply in the actual world.
“I created the OASIS as a result of I by no means felt at residence in the actual world,” Halliday says to Wade. “I didn’t know easy methods to join with the folks there. I used to be afraid, for all of my life. Proper up till I knew it was ending. That was once I realized, as a terrifying and painful as actuality will be, it’s additionally the solely place the place you will discover true happiness. As a result of actuality is actual. Do you perceive?”
It’s a superb message to make certain, even when it may very well be worded a little higher. However it arrives after Wade devoted a number of years to dwelling nearly solely in the OASIS and consuming all of Halliday’s pursuits with out pursuing any of his personal. Hell, what’s the level of telling somebody to stay in the actual world after you simply handed them management of the digital one?
The OASIS is a fantasy that ignores just about each one in every of its precise issues
At occasions, Wade Watts is an insufferable narrator. He made it his life’s mission to seek out Halliday’s Easter egg to flee his poor and depressing life in Oklahoma Metropolis. He thinks that changing into the world’s largest knowledgeable on Halliday and ’80s popular culture will get him what he needs, and effectively, it will definitely does. By the finish of the ebook, Wade has inherited the OASIS and Halliday’s total fortune, which he promised to separate with the three different gamers who helped him get to the finish. (He additionally will get the woman, who finally ends up being little greater than a plot gadget and motivator for him at occasions.)
Many people have in all probability met a Wade Watts—a gatekeeper who requires folks (primarily women) to go an arbitrary litmus check to be validated a “true fan.” They’re the one that could inform you they help ladies, however whose actions are likely to say in any other case. The one that creepily continues to message a lady when she makes an attempt to chop off contact. The one that refers to ladies as “females.”
Wade doesn’t change all that a lot as a character all through Prepared Player One, so by the time he insists to his love curiosity Art3mis that he’s “a very nice man, when you get to know me” it’s exhausting to consider him. And though he’s able to retaliate towards a company seeking to monetize a free and open OASIS, would he have carried out the similar if somebody had advised a social change? (On condition that he fortunately votes to reelect fictional variations of Cory Doctorow and Wil Wheaton to the OASIS Consumer Council, Wade isn’t too involved about altering the establishment inside the OASIS.)
That angle extends to his closest associates. In a scene that smacks of transphobia, Wade interrogates Art3mis about whether or not she’s biologically feminine after she laments that everybody assumes that she’s a man. (They assume a lady couldn’t clear up Halliday’s riddles.) Wade additionally initially views it as a betrayal when he discovers Aech is, in actuality, a black lesbian named Helen Harris, who makes use of a white male avatar due to privileges it grants her. Wade may have grown by exploring these problematic reactions additional, however the character (or Prepared Player One) isn’t in unpacking these concepts.
Didn’t anticipate Prepared Player One to seek out room for random transphobia and but pic.twitter.com/sBPb2SJAzH
— Lindsay Ellis (@thelindsayellis) March 3, 2018
Wade by no means comes to grasp that there could have been legitimate causes for them saved a part of themselves hidden, even with out the IOI conglomerate attempting to get rid of them. These fears are actual and exist exterior of Prepared Player One by the use of cyberstalking, blackmail, doxing, hacking, sexism, racism, homophobia, and widespread harassment campaigns. Wade’s privilege (and what Aech adopts together with her avatar) is actual in the OASIS. And whereas Wade is in the thick of it, he doesn’t have interaction with any of it; he even naïvely believes that his data is protected in the OASIS till the moments he discovers it isn’t.
We’re already so inundated with nostalgia that Prepared Player One feels empty and outdated
Prepared Player One was revealed in 2011, a number of years earlier than our present reboot renaissance with all of its triumphs and blatant money grabs. Reboots have taken over TV schedules. Online game producers introduced again the systems that defined our childhoods. And as obscure anniversaries roll in for the issues we love, studios and firms have tried to faucet the collective zeitgeist and become profitable off previous favorites. (Although followers can nearly at all times smell bullshit.)
Round 30 years in the past, being a fan of one thing or liking geeky issues was one thing that usually received mocked or ridiculed. In the form of popular culture that Halliday (and Wade) revered, they had been the underdogs, the heroes in their very own tales. Their information saved the day. They gained respect amongst their friends or no less than an understanding. And whereas the heroes nearly at all times regarded like them, they in all probability by no means noticed themselves in the villain.
In 2018, fandom has lengthy since gone mainstream. Game of Thrones, based mostly on a 20-year-old excessive fantasy ebook sequence, is the hottest TV present in the world. Marvel and Star Wars films dominate the field workplace. Harry Potter is a literary staple, one that may nonetheless forged a spell in film theaters and on Broadway. There’s just about a Funko for each franchise you possibly can think about—and the firm nonetheless releases new figures each month. And that media is lastly beginning to mirror the followers who’ve always been there as they proceed to disprove long-standing myths about who reveals up on opening weekend.
And for all of its inventiveness and the limitless chance of the OASIS, it feels restricted on what sorts of popular culture it reveals. Early on, Wade Watts listed the authors he learn and the administrators whose movies he watched as a result of Halliday thought of them amongst his favorites. What’s placing about it now could be how all of the folks Wade mentions are males; the majority of these males are additionally white. A lot of the films and TV reveals Wade watches have white male protagonists. Similar with the video video games that he performs. Prepared Player One does reference considerable media from after the ’80s, nevertheless it largely follows the similar sample.
If Halliday’s objective with the contest—other than bequeathing his total fortune to at least one fortunate particular person—is to get everybody as obsessive about the ’80s as he was, then Halliday had an unimaginative imaginative and prescient of it. (It was additionally the Golden Age of hip-hop, however you gained’t discover these artists lionized in this ebook.)
Prepared Player One could resolve a variety of the ebook’s bigger points, lots of that are extra evident now than they had been in 2011. It could discover methods to slide some depth and broader resonance into the popular culture overload. However for followers lengthy weary of tradition battles and gratuitous nostalgia, there’s not a lot in Prepared Player One value revisiting.
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