Ready Player None: Ludic Nihilism in Ernest Cline’s "Ready Player One"

It is always difficult and perhaps ultimately futile to emphasize the cultural impact of Steven Spielberg’s films. Almost every movie that the tremendously influential American filmmaker has produced--from Jaws (1975) to Bridge of Spies (2015)--is justly lauded as entertaining and smartly crafted moviemaking. 

However, for many, especially in the United States, Spielberg is more than a movie maker. He is the architect of the imagination of those who grew up in the 1980s and ‘90s, laughing along with “Chunk” in Goonies (1985) and tossing up popcorn when the T-Rex chased Dr. Grant and co. in Jurassic Park (1990). 

On the other hand, Spielberg’s movies, while undoubtedly the work of an intelligent director with a gift for dream weaving, often contain a more disturbing and crude side. Goonies, a film directed toward young boys, not only contains a tremendous amount of lewd language, the entire plot of the movie is structured around sexual innuendos. Moreover, films such as Jurassic Park, ET (1982), Poltergeist (1982) and the famous Indiana Jones series often contain new age iconography and themes in which Christian images are inverted and subtly mocked. 

It is thus very fitting that the director whose deceitful and often manipulative wizardry has enchanted generations of Americans with his ‘80s classics to direct the recently released retro-nostalgia fest Ready Player One.

The popular film itself, however, is based upon a book that, in many ways, is crude reflection of the toxic culture of selfishness and nihilism that is currently ravaging our world. 

Published in 2011 during the height of Obamamania and in the fall out of the 2009 economic crash, Ready Player One, written by Ernest Cline, in many ways mirrors the post-apocalyptic mood of the post housing bubble era. The novel tells the story of a boy named Wade Watts who lives in an overcrowded, chronically poor, and heavily populated American wasteland in the 2040s.  

Like the majority of other people in the toxic unhappy mess of future America, Wade spends the bulk of his time playing in a virtual reality world appropriately called Oasis, disguised by his avatar, Parzival. Oasis was designed by the ultra-geek James Halliday who encoded much of his childhood ‘80s geek culture loves into reality simulator. Somewhat of an eccentric personality (he is described in the novel as someone who “seemed to expect everyone around him to share obsessions”), Halliday, before dying, encodes a series of “Easter Eggs” in the game in the form of keys and gates, which can be found, giving the intrepid treasure hunter access to Halliday’s vast fortune and control over Oasis.

All of the Easter Eggs are eventually found through knowledge of ‘80s geek lore and skilling playing video games; in order to get the Copper key, for example, an avatar has not only have an extensive knowledge of 1980s role playing games but has to fight an undead king from the occult-laden game Dungeons and Dragons named Acererak, not in real combat, of course, but by trouncing him in an arcade match of Joust. 

This defeat of a fantasy monster by outfoxing him in an ‘80s arcade classic (itself played within the video game of Oasis) is both as ridiculous and awesome as it sounds, but after 50 or so pages of nonstop ‘80s nerd nostalgia and left wing nerd musings on politics, environmentalism, race, and “girlfriends,” the book becomes, at times, tedious and redundant, although it has enough “cool stuff” to maintain the interest of the now legions of members of nerd culture. 

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This is just an excerpt from Culture Wars Magazine, not the full article. To continue reading, purchase the May, 2019 edition of Culture Wars Magazine.

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Ready Player One - Reviewed By Jesse Russell