Overall Rating: 5/5
Ready Player One, a 2018 film based on the 2011 novel by Earnest Cline, focuses on five heroes who are all competing for the keys to the Oasis. Each key can be gained through a puzzle-style challenge created from the memories and documentation from the life of the creator of the Oasis, James Halliday. Meanwhile a large corporation, IOI, is attempting to stop the Gunters (egg hunters) from gaining control of the Oasis, with Nolan Sorrento as the main antagonist. Each character has their personal reasons for going after the keys to gain the egg, but the main character, Parzival or Wade Watts, has to learn about the real world consequences of IOI gaining control. Along the way he meets his clan, the High 5, and learns that escaping to the Oasis will never be as real as living in the real world. Sometimes people need to spend time in the real world.
This film is a great science fiction adventure that displays the diversity of online friendships, combines online adventures with real world struggles and shows how each member of the High 5 is dealing with their own personal journey. Alongside all of this, there is deeper message within this film which is brought up at the end by the deceased James Halliday. The film highlights the idea of escapism within video games and virtual worlds. Most people who use the Oasis are trying to get away from the struggles and frustrations of their real lives and be worry free for a few hours. In the Oasis a player has the ability to recreate themselves to be whoever they imagine, go on wild adventures, and experience the feeling of freedom from their real lives for a few hours. Wade’s reason for using the Oasis highlights this idea of video game escapism: he wants to escape his real, somewhat rough life and live a happier and free one. His home life has been miserable ever since he lost his parents so he goes to the Oasis to live the life he always imagined having. He plays as a Gunter to hopefully improve his life in the real world with the money he’ll get from the Oasis if he wins the egg.
On the other hand, Art3mis or Samantha Cook, is trying to prevent IOI from gaining control of the Oasis because she is painfully aware of the harm they’ll cause in the real world. Her father died in an IOI Loyalty Center working off his overwhelming coin debt and she is fighting to prevent others from facing the same fate. Throughout the film she shows Wade that the battle for the Oasis is bigger than the game itself because there are real world consequences in this fight. She later gets taken to an IOI loyalty center and Wade and the other members of the High 5 see first-hand how dangerous IOI can be. They work to break her out and are more motivated now to stop IOI from taking over the Oasis and removing their virtual freedoms. By the end of the film, Wade has learned how dangerous escapism can be and how important it is to live in the real world. After he wins the egg, Halliday leaves him with an important message that he repeats at the end of the film, “Reality is the only thing that’s real.”
While this is a seemly obvious message for the audience, they were most likely swept up in the adventure and incredible graphics to really ponder the idea of escapism. In today’s world, people play a variety of video games to distract themselves from real world stressors. These games can range from a short Indie story game to a virtual reality game, similar to the Oasis. In fact, a large amount of what people do today to distract themselves from reality is a form of escapism. Scrolling mindlessly through Instagram, watching YouTube videos, binging a comedy show and playing a video game are all forms of escapism. It’s this idea of escaping and becoming someone else that Ready Player One depicts. The audience is left to contemplate the different forms of escapism they apply in their own lives.
In the Oasis, and many games played today, each player can customize their character to their liking and put on airs about who they are. Samantha changes her appearance completely because in real life she has a birth mark on her face that she wants desperately to hide. Wade puts on a “cool guy” appearance and has his dream car, the DeLorean from Back to the Future. H creates a tougher looking character that is a different gender than in the real world. Sho doesn’t display his age to prevent other players from thinking lesser and him and works in a team with Diato. This ability to be whoever someone wants to be is why video game escapism is so popular. While there may be limits in certain games for the amount of customizations available, people can still change who they are and play as someone else for a few hours. They can even be popular characters from other popular entertainment, such as Marvin the Martian, Master Chief, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Harley Quinn (as seen in the Oasis).
However, one does not have to play a game to escape, the act of watching a game is a form of escapism that is less interactive. Wade is so deep into his sense of escapism he watches other people play levels and games in the Oasis. He mentions having seen all of Art3mis’ walk-throughs and Twitch streams featuring different levels and challenges within the Oasis. Twitch is a popular streaming forum where people watch gamers play through games that they may be interested in playing or just want to see.
Ready Player One gives it’s viewer a deeper look into the idea of video game escapism and allows them to contemplate their own personal escapism choices. Different people from all walks of life are featured to show that escapism affects everyone, not just people who are having a rough time. It is important to remember the message at the end of the film and apply it when getting lost in a world that is not real. “Reality is the only thing that’s real.”