From the title of this post you might gather that I didn’t enjoy Ready Player One, the latest movie from director Steven Spielberg, but it was actually very entertaining, and I am positive it will be a huge hit. Spielberg really knows how to manipulate an audience, but it is an enjoyable and entertaining experience to be manipulated by the master of manipulation, Steven Spielberg. He wants us to have his cake and eat it, too, but I’ll be darned if he hasn’t done just that. Here is what I am driving at: he has made a film that is escapist and made by a huge corporate entity, but the villain is a huge corporation that seeks to control the OASIS, the most escapist VR entertainment imaginable. The message is that as unpleasant as reality is, or can sometimes be, it is still better than a false reality, because it is real.
Along the way he manages to drop a ton of cultural references, to 80s pop music, video games, movies, and also motifs from classical literature. For instance, the search for an “Easter Egg” in the OASIS is likened to Parzivals search for the Holy Grail. The main character’s avatar is named Parzival and the movie was released Easter weekend, hence my choice of title. I could go on and on about the cultural references, and there is even a website that lists them with convenient links. I found this to be a delightful excursion down memory lane, or in other cases, an enlightening education about computer gaming and geek lore, but that digression would be a bottomless rabbit hole.
So, the thing is that there is this evil corporate entity that wants to get control of the OASIS, and Wade O. Watts (WOW) is like Parzival. Parallels can be drawn for other characters with Wozniak and Steve Jobs, the founders of Apple, and also with Disney. Jobs also founded Pixar, which challenged the supremacy of Disney, but was ultimately bought out by and absorbed by the Magic Kingdom. The RPO story is your archetypal Hero’s Quest straight out of Joseph Campbell’s Hero With 1,000 Faces. Another franchise that used Campbell’s Jungian blueprint was Star Wars. That grew into a massive franchise of its own until it, too, was bought out by Disney. We too face a Luke Skywalker moment when we learn that Disney is Darth Vader, Darth has gone over to the Dark Side, and by the way, Luke, he is your father.
My beef with Spielberg is that he is part and parcel of the whole corporate controlled big bright green VR pleasure machine he claims to deride.
Buried deep within Ready, Player One there is another Easter Egg: the whispered message that drab, quotidian reality is better than fantasy, because it is real. But who can hear his ostensible message among the deafening din, the oncoming onslaught of Computer Generated Images and dazzling Special Effects? Spielberg claims to be an advocate for reality, but his Public Service Announcement is in reality an advertisement for the Dark Side.