Ready Player One is just a little less bleak than a standard Black Mirror episode, but even still, the gist of the message is that technology can be our greatest asset and most detrimental addiction.
[Warning: The following contains spoilers for Ready Player One.]
Wade Watts, the film’s heroic savior, comes to realize by the end of the movie that despite all the benefits a virtual world like the OASIS can provide, it can’t replace real life. Escapism can only last so long before we’re faced with the more unfortunate aspects of reality. It’s easy to get lost in the midst of a fictional world where, as Watts says, people can do and become whatever or whoever they want. It’s challenging to find a reason to exist in the real world when the OASIS offers everything.
Still, Ready Player One acknowledges that parts of the real world I personally hold dear still exist in 2044. I’ll admit that I let out a squeal of delight as I watched Watts thumb through printed out news clippings that he saved for his research into OASIS founder James Halliday’s life, and practically cheered when Halliday was presented as a genius on the cover of Wired magazine. A digital version of the magazine also appears on a futuristic tablet, which leads me to hopefully believe the magazine manages to survive. Maybe an altruistic billionaire, like Halliday, who probably grew up reading Wired purchased the magazine to keep it going. I mean, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos kind of did it.
It’s the same rush of joy I felt when Watts admitted to watching his crush, a girl named Art3mis who he eventually gets together with in the real world, on Twitch. It may seem silly and trivial to some, but the idea that people are still watching others play video games on Twitch in 2044 warmed me up.
It is partly a symptom of nostalgia; a word that both created a fanbase around Ready Player One when it was first released as a book in 2011 and led to its mockery by the time the film was released in 2018. The future is often scary and, when presented with a world that isn’t like anything recognizable to us, we cling to the few similarities we stumble across. Ready Player One’s futuristic dystopia is different from our world today, but familiar touchstone like Twitch or Wired magazine act as a calming salve even within a dire fictional world.
It wasn’t until the movie ended that I realized why seeing those references made me almost emotional sitting in a theater full of people arguing over the logistics of certain characters making an appearance: They survived. Ready Player One is a story about staving off destruction; of being reborn from the ashes of cruelty and change. The heroes celebrate relics that although they didn’t grow up with are still instrumental to their lives today.
The print industry is dying; hardly an alarming declaration in 2018. I broke into this industry interning for a newspaper. I learned the fundamentals of my industry putting in hours on a variety of different beats, listening to aging columnists recount their proudest moments of reporting. I also, like so many of my friends and colleagues in this industry, watched as friends lost their jobs because of declining ad sale. I helped people pack their boxes, carry their treasured belongings that sat on their desks for more than a decade, down to their cars. I saw people move out of the city in hopes of finding a better job with more security elsewhere.
This year, we watched as more layoffs hit the print media industry. Wired, still considered a lightweight bible among tech obsessed dreamers, introduced a paywall in hopes of boosting their own revenue. It’s scary. It’s a world I don’t really recognize. It’s impossible to say what the next five or 10 or 25 years will look like for the print industry; hell, even for the streaming industry.
Although streaming isn’t close to being in the dire predicament that print media is, there’s no doubt it’s changing. It’s becoming bigger. Tech conglomerates like Amazon are buying companies like Twitch. Facebook, a company that’s down $100 billion in valuation over data privacy scandals, is looking to break into the game streaming industry. Streaming may not be going anywhere soon, but Twitch, a platform and community that I love dearly, may be radically different in 36 years.
Ready Player One finds its hope in the belief that what we hold dear will survive the tides of change that are only accelerating in an always-connected, technology-first world. For author Ernest Cline and director Steven Spielberg, that means people will recognize Michael Jackson’s iconic red Thriller jumpsuit from the ‘80s.
I’m just happy that according to Ready Player One, I’ll still be reading Wired in 36 years time.