True identity is an interesting theme in Ernest Cline’s novel Ready Player One. Wade claims he’s in love with Art3mis, and she says that he doesn’t really know her. Wade’s best friend, Aech, is a person he has never met in real life. These interactions make readers ask: what really constitutes identity?
Wade has many conversations with Aech and Art3mis, discussing the game, but also likes and dislikes. Interests. Hobbies. Topics that make up parts of someone’s personality. Wade also sees Aech and Art3mis as they choose to present themselves to the world. This aspect of user design reminds me of social media. With websites like Facebook and Twitter, users can manipulate how they want to be seen in the world. But what they choose to display can also provide insight into their lives: what does a person deem important? What issues do they want to comment on? These things can be seen through social media.
In Ready Player One, the portion of identity that Wade cannot see is appearance. He has no idea what Aech looks like, or Art3mis. He often comments that they might not even be the same gender or age as their avatars. However, by the end of the novel, Cline seems to suggest that appearance is not a huge factor in identity. (Spoiler alert) Wade’s connection with Art3mis and Aech is not broken due to their appearance–in fact, he feels the same deep connection to both of them in the real world as he does in the game (End spoiler alert).
It’s also interesting to think about how disposable identity can be at times. Wade easily creates Bryce, a fake identity, and can walk around OASIS undetected because of this alias. When he’s done with the character, he simply sheds it. These moments also remind me of classic comic book characters like Peter Parker who employ secret identities. All of these aspects are part of their personalities.
Ultimately, I think Cline brings up some interesting questions about identity in Ready Player One. How do you discover a person’s true identity? What factors make up a person’s personality, and core of their existence? How are avatars and online personalities interwoven with who someone is in “real life” ? These two lives are intertwined in the novel. Can you know a person without knowing both lives?
On one hand, Wade is able to make connections with others without knowing anything about their appearance or other facts about them–basically the things about themselves that they didn’t choose. He can, however, see the appearances they choose for themselves, and have conversations to understand their personalities. He just can’t observe the moments that a person doesn’t choose to reveal.
However (Spoiler alert again…) he ultimately seems to come to the conclusion that the “real world” offers opportunities that the virtual world cannot. Halliday clearly has also realized this fact, though a little too late. (Spoiler alert end)
These questions about identity are very interesting, especially in an increasingly digital world. As people are able to control their online presence, the questions of how to truly know someone and how someone’s identity is defined are interesting discussion starters.