The new movie Ready Player One is a rousing crowd-pleaser about videogame geeks banding together to save virtual reality from the clutches of an evil corporation. But writer Carol Pinchefsky notes that the idea of gamers presenting a unified front on anything feels sadly dated in the wake of Gamergate.
“The [movie] speaks to a time when just meeting someone who knew Tolkien’s Elvish was enough to make them your automatic best friend, and we don’t have that anymore,” Pinchefsky says in Episode 304 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “The proliferation of geek culture has brought out some very ugly things about it.”
Kent Bye, host of the Voices of VR podcast, reports that virtual reality simulations continue to be plagued by the same sort of harassment that defined Gamergate.
“If I were to sort of boil down Gamergate and the trolling online, the trolls start to use other people’s emotions as if it were a game, and they perceive because it is digital then it’s not real, and so it’s just a fun expression of their own free speech,” he says. “So there’s this tension between free speech versus the people who actually want to create safe spaces online, and how do you create the culture to be able to do that?”
Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy host David Barr Kirtley is looking forward to movies that grapple with the post-Gamergate landscape, but believes that Ready Player One, which is based on a pre-Gamergate novel, was never going to be part of that conversation. “This story is a product of its time,” he says, “and in order to make it relevant to right now you would have to change literally everything about it, in which case why call it Ready Player One?”
WIRED senior editor Peter Rubin enjoyed the movie for what it is, but is hoping that future stories won’t be so firmly rooted in nostalgia.
“I think that this has kind of been great for everyone to get their giant nerdgasm out,” he says. “And my hope is that moving forward, whether it’s in depictions of VR in mass culture or in depictions of geek culture in mass culture, that we can move past the obsession with looking in the rearview mirror, and instead look ahead.”
Listen to the complete interview with Carol Pinchefsky, Kent Bye, and Peter Rubin in Episode 304 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Peter Rubin on the novel Ready Player One:
“When I went back and read it—it wasn’t on the same level as when I went back and read some Piers Anthony fiction that I loved when I was a kid, but I had a similar experience in that I had missed a lot of the stuff that I found now to be a little cringe-y, everything from the way that Wade can’t stop shoehorning incredibly clunky references into everything he says, and also the way that he views other people, especially women, where their identification with the thing that he loves kind of humanizes them in his eyes. … There’s something about this frozen-in-amber valorization of ’80s geek culture that, while I’m steeped in it and grew from it, feels kind of limiting.”
Carol Pinchefsky on references:
“I kind of missed the sly geeky references from the book, the kinds of references that only really deeply geeky people would have gotten. The only real example of that in the film for me was the use of the spell of making—’Anál nathrach, orth’ bháis’s bethad, do chél dénmha.’ At the very end you have to say a spell, and it was the spell of making from Excalibur. In the book there were so many references that it was just a delight to read, referencing Tolkien’s Elvish, Highlander, the movie Real Genius, Max Headroom, Electra Woman and Dyna Girl was given a mention. And Wade’s password at one point is, ‘Crom, strong in his mountain.’ When I first read it I just fell over laughing, because that’s Conan the Barbarian. So I would have liked more of that, the kind of in-jokes that only a few of us would know.”
David Barr Kirtley on Hollywood science fiction:
“One of the things that bugs me about Hollywood science fiction in particular is I feel like it’s always taken for granted that new technology must have more downsides than the status quo. … There just seems to be this implicit assumption that any technologically-mediated relationship with the outside world must be inferior, and it just doesn’t seem to me that that is necesarily the case. I mean, if the technology is not that great, then obviously that’s going to be the case, and that’s arguably the situation we’re in right now. But in 2045? In 2100? In 2150? I feel like it’s the role of science fiction to grapple with questions like that, and it just annoys me that Hollywood science fiction so consistently fails to do that.”
Kent Bye on hero worship:
“There was a myth that was assigned to the rise of Palmer Luckey as this individual boy genius who single-handledly brought virtual reality back into the mainstream, and I think that ignores the growth that’s been happening in academia for the last 30 or 40 years, as well as all of the research and the money that’s been funded by the government, and everything that was required to build that. And so this idea that an individual man like James Halliday is going to single-handledly build the greatest OASIS that could ever be imaginable is just ludicrous. I think that the open web and the metaverse that we all want and imagine is going to be built by a very diverse group of people who are co-creating the culture together, and that to personify it in one individual is kind of missing the magic of what the web is and what this open metaverse is.”
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