Virtual Reality, Insanity, Actuality
Last night I went to Ready Player One, that being said, let me explain a few things and come back to what I thought of the movie at the end of the blog.
I’ve been waiting for this movie for a long time. After reading the book that Ernest Cline had created, I was lost in a universe where anything could happen. To live in the virtual world he described was exhilarating. The bar was set high and I could imagine the Oasis fully with all of its possibilities. I find it interesting that each generation has it’s own Ready Player One. When I was a kid the virtual world held a lot of my attention with movies like Tron, Jumanji, The Last Starfighter, Lawnmower Man and The Matrix, just to name a few. All of these movies deal with the protagonist being sucked into a virtual world/alternate universe to battle the throngs of evil and save the day. Most of the time they are pulled in against there will (Tron, Jumanji, The Last Starfighter) and on the flip side, there are the ones who delve into the world knowingly to become a hero (Lawnmower Man, The Matrix). They are fish out of water stories where the character has to not only overcome the conflict but learn the rules of the said universe. Like Alice in Wonderland, she is insatiably curious, following the rabbit, eating the cookie that makes her grow to gigantic proportions, she makes her decisions without thought or reason, she does what she wants to. Or when Flynn in Tron refuses to kill the other player in the ring game, he enforces his sense of morality in this new world and almost gets himself killed in the process. All of these examples give you a childlike sense when first entering the new reality. The rules of your world do not apply, you need to relearn everything like Neo when he says: “I know kung-fu“.
So if entering a new virtual world lets you hit the reset button, throw off the shackles and rules of your pre-existing adult life, then why wouldn’t you? Imagine if the virtual world you were in was indistinguishable from your current reality, in the real world you are a fat, middle-aged, balding man with no ambition or money and in the virtual world you are DragonNightmare, a 9-foot robot with laser vision, the ability to fly, and enough gold to choke a leprechaun. What world would you spend most of your time in? It’s a no-brainer. It doesn’t have to be carnage and destruction either, it can be erotic or visionary or inspirational, the virtual world would be your oyster. A place where you can be a god, start new, be whoever or whatever you want, it sounds intoxicating.
I have not used any of the new VR headsets. I have talked to others that have and while not being on the level of Ready Player One or the Matrix, they explained to me they were quite immersive. After spending a half hour in an Oculus Rift Demo, one friend described a feeling of uneasiness when he took the headset off, he felt that our reality was the virtual one. His brain had created the new norm inside the headset so when he left, the mind needed time to recalibrate, make this world real again. I had the same experience when I did a sensory deprivation tank float. You can read about the whole experience on my brothers’ blog here, I would highly recommend the tank float, it was amazing. My point is, when I was in the tank I thought I saw the inside of the tank just barely illuminated, I put my hand in front of my face and I could not see my hand at all, it was pitch black. My mind had constructed the inside of the tank, giving me an anchor, something tethering me to my reality. But once I realized the tank structure was all in my head I was able to let go, to lose myself in the experience. That is when I started to see things and experience things inside the tank purely created by my mind’s eye. I’m sure this is true for a virtual experience as well, your mind makes it real, fills in the blanks.
I have always been a fan of science fiction and virtual reality, and some of the stories I mentioned earlier inspired me to write one of my own virtual reality-based short stories. It was interesting that I didn’t go the fantastical Ready Player One route (which I thought I would have), but framed the virtual world as a crutch or an addiction, that could and would in some cases, become a problem. I think in the future people will have to find a virtual/real world balance that works for them. The story is ultimately about love. The protagonist must choose between the virtual world and real love, with some cool virtual World War II battles thrown in. I also have a villain that not only tries to destroy our hero in the virtual world but in real life as well. The story postulates how and when you should plug-in and more importantly when you should unplug. I think there are parallels in real life to some of these issues that we could learn from.
Now back to what I said at the beginning of the blog, what did I think of Ready Player One? Well, I have to be honest, it was very different from the book, major plot points were changed, but I thought it was a great movie. Once I got over the fact that the book was no longer in the picture, I started to enjoy it. Spielberg has done this before with one of my other favourite books, The Lost World. So I wasn’t surprised. The references to eighties culture were many, some being blatant like the Zemeckis cube which took you back in time 60 seconds, or the many posters, characters and symbols in the background you had to pay attention to notice. It will take multiple viewings to take it all in. The plot was good, stuck to the overall message that the book had originally put forward. The special FX in some parts were amazing (the race at the beginning) and sometimes the effects took me out of the film (Art3mis and her big anime eyes). The uncanny valley can be a bitch, we still haven’t figured that one out yet. But all in all, I would recommend it to any fan of the 80’s pop culture, virtual reality or games in general. Worth a watch for sure.
Virtual reality is still probably decades away, at least as we imagine it would be like in Ready Player One, but as tech gets better, bandwidth gets faster and pixels get smaller, it won’t be long until we are all tripping the light fantastic, travelling to faraway worlds and fighting epic battles in our living room in our underwear. So strap in, get your game face ready and I’ll see you on the other side. Game on!