What do you value over everything else when it comes to video games? For me it’s story, every time. I don’t care if it’s an old game or if the graphics are just bad, or if the gameplay is a little clunky, or if it’s too long or short of a game. If it has an original and/or compelling story, there’s a good chance I’ll like it quite a bit.
Recently I’ve been quite into the fantasy/dark fantasy genre, specifically Dark Souls. Through my experiences with the Souls series, I’ve realized that it’s not only the content of the story that I enjoy, but how it is told and presented to the player. In many games, the story is basically told to you straightforward, without making the player do a whole lot of work to discover the story. There may be puzzles or little notes that you find to delve deeper into the story, but it is rare to find a game that just says “Go.” That’s essentially what the Dark Souls series does to the player. You begin the first game with a cutscene that means quite a lot if you are familiar with the series’ lore already, but is quite overwhelming to the novice player. The player is then given a simple instruction to ring two bells and then gets tossed in the (kinda) right direction. Now this might just seem like a bad game and, based on the evidence I’ve given, that wouldn’t be a terrible first impression. I promise that’s not the case.
Dark Souls found a way to have a vastly complex world and lore, with interesting characters and history; and the game doesn’t hand any of that information to you. You have to go out and throw yourself at seemingly impossible levels until you master them or quit. And bit by bit, the more you explore and the more characters you meet, the more of the story you uncover. FromSoftware took a gamble with this style of storytelling (which they started with in Demon’s Souls, the spiritual predecessor to Dark Souls). If you put in the work to find the story and learn what all is going on, Dark Souls will be one of the most satisfying gaming experiences you have. Because it’s not just about what the story is, it;s about how you tell it.
Writing a book is hard. Trust me, writing a blog and maybe a poem every other week is enough for me. So I give a thumbs up to Ernest Cline, the author of Ready Player One, and everyone else who decides to make art. So in this post, I’ll give RPO a thumps up with one hand and use the other to write (yes, this was all on paper originally) my critique.
The pervading problem with this book is that it is way too extra for me to enjoy, allowing for both contradictions and superficiality that lessen the immersion and importance of its subject matter. The paragraphs will focus on poverty, A.I., Wade’s skills, Wade’s love interest, a list of other ways the book was extra, a passionate discussion of Aech, a complaint on how the’80s theme was handled, and a conclusion. So While I encourage you to read all of it, becauuse it all points a thesis that I hope you’ll agree with, if not also feel in your bones, at least there’s a guide if you just want to pick and choose from my buffet of complaints.
One of the first contradictions that this book makes is between the overwhelming poverty in its dystopian setting and the isolation Wade feels for being poor in the OASIS. This book doesn’t really hold back on describing the world as being impoverished: energy crisis, mass migration, stacks, etc. So on one hand there is a world of poverty, which is fine on its own. On the other hand, there is a social elite, complete with virtual space ships, teleporters, planets, expensive virtual clothes, etc. So lots of stories explore this dichotomy, but they are consistent in a way that RPO is not. In this story, Wade seems to be the only poor person in school, and this is a major factor to his character and narrative. Every time Wade mentions the poverty or the rich people in his school, I found myself asking: where are all the poor students? Wade barely had decent grades, and halliday made sure that the OASIS public school system would receive funding forever, so why was Wade given a headset and no one else who was poor? This is a relatively unimportant contradiction, but it was the first I saw and it was repeated often, so I thought I’d start here and give harsher criticism later.
Another way that being too extra makes a thematic contradiction in this story is when Wade plays against the A.I. guarding the first key. On one page, he says that A.I. could never be like humans because the software can’t “improvise,” (82). In the story’s logic A.I. could never beat humans because they cannot do what humans do, so thus they are definitely not human. This would have been fine, but then the book goes further by having Wade also think that he “was actually playing against Halliday,” (83). He could have thought that he was playing against Halliday’s creation or something, but instead he breaks his own internal logic by saying both that A.I. can never be like humans and that the A.I. is Halliday. This is a simple contradiction that could have been easily avoided if the book wasn’t trying to be so extra.
Speaking of being too extra, let’s talk about how much praise the book gives Wade for his video game skills and 80’s knowledge. Wade, after not playing a game for 2 years, beats the A.I. on his first try. Then he goes on to beat every other challenge without breaking a sweat. This means that our hero never fails, never has to reflect on the fact that he isn’t a perfect gunter, because he is. This really takes out the tension of each challenge and makes the story less interesting, since we don’t know how Wade reacts to not being perfect, which is something that everyone deals with. Not only this, but it is also unrealistic for him to be so good. UNREALISTIC!? But it’s just a book, who cares. The author, for one, seems to. He also seems to think that we will, since he goes into a lot of effort to show how much time Wade puts in to playing games to justify his perfection. In bragging to us about how much Wade knows, Wade concludes by telling us that he studies “Twelve hours a day, seven days a week” (64). If we factor in 40 hours for school and only 7 hours of homework a week, that means that he only sleeps for 37 hours throughout the week, which is just 5.3 hours per week every day during the school year. I’m no doctor, but I’d imagine that if someone only got that much sleep for the school year for 5 years, he’d be dead, or at least unable to function even in the virtual world. His knowledge, talent, and obsession is just too extra to be realistic or entertaining narrative-wise.
Wanna talk about the character of Wade being extra? Let’s talk about how far the author goes to show how genuine and accepting he is. When describing how his crush is pretty much the only person in OASIS to have a female avatar to not have “the absurdly thin yet wildly popular supermodel frame, or the top-heavy, wasp-waisted porn starlet physique” we get the impression that his crush is genuine because he likes her for who she really is (35). First, the stereotype of almost everyone changing their body in such stereotypical ways is too much to even be called cliche; second, the fact that she is one of the few who break it is such a “she’s not like other girls” trope used to – third – show why Wade isn’t like other guys, because he likes the genuine girl. Also, he has a crush on her. No, not a crush, more like an unhealthy obsession, going so far as to keep a picture of her to look at. Next, lets look at her narrative: she gets helped (read: saved) by the protagonist for parts of the egg hunt, opens up about her personal life to someone she really doesn’t know and thus of course falls in love with him, breaks up with him to work on her own, then realizes what a great guy he is after the final battle and gets back together with him. Her journey revolves around realizing how genuine the main character is. Blegh.
I could talk about a LOT more: Halliday’s inconsistent, unimportant platitude to live in the real world, Wade’s lack of reaction about the deaths he caused by refusing Sorrento (wow look how alpha and determined he is!), their portrayal of internet culture with I-Rok and how the WORST aspects of the internet were staged in front of a cheering crowd without any deeper reflection (for heaven’s sake, they call him a retard and two derogatory terms for gay people without a blink of an eye), the constant insistence that just because Wade knows a lot about 80’s culture means that he somehow deserves to win the prize attached to the contest (does anyone remember how he wanted to spend it all on escaping Earth?), Halliday’s creepy and unrealistic, and seemingly justified obsession with someone who doesn’t like him, the total lack of anything but superficial character growth, predictable ending, the constant use of deus ex machina explained after-the-fact (oh he bought a tool to hack IOI’s network! and Pacman gave him the extra life!), the undeserved and superficial reference that turns out to be totally irrelevant of ““No one in the world ever gets what they want and that is beautiful,” (199), the constant spelling-out of references, and the amount of times that the book gives us the same exact piece of exposition over and over again (how many times have I read that about Halliday’s backstory?). Sure, this is all extra, but there are two more topics that I want to talk about in more depth.
The first is the reveal of Aech. I’ll start with the artistic decision to make her a checkmark for every victimized identity he could think of: female, black, lesbian, and heavy. This would be amazing if Aech’s character was actually influenced by her identity. Instead, we get a short backstory that seems to only explain why she has a van and why she doesn’t live with her parents. Before and after this, Aech’s identity DOES NOT MATTER. It impacts nothing, and we learn nothing more. Is Wade interested in how she feels about not representing her race/gender and thus not providing a good model of those minorities? Surely she has some opinion on that. What about how weird it is that she feels discrimination in the real world and not in OASIS? Or how her family feels about this? Or about how her behavior is sort of encouraging her to be ashamed about her identity? What about how she feels when people talk poorly about any of her identities in the game (what about when Wade calls I-Rok a twink or when I-Rok calls them fags?). There is a wealth of characterization here, and we don’t get more than two paragraphs about it before we return to how Wade feels about all of this.
All of this, all of her identity checks, backstory, possibility for characterization, is all just there to show that Wade is a good person and that he will still be friends with Aech despite this. F*ck that bs. I already disliked this book a lot, but this made me throw the book against the floor. Marginalized identities to a side character should not be used to make the main character look more accepting. They should not be used as just a plot twist. And they do not deserved to be ignored, as Wade so easily does by continuing to refer to Aech as a “he.” Does he ask her which pronoun to use? He couldn’t care less. How Wade wants to refer to Aech is all that matters, her identity is nothing more than Wade’s interpretation of it (much like how Cartman is treating Token in the picture above). But so, while for a brief moment there could be an interesting character in this book, is then taken away because the author really doesn’t want to explore the issue beyond how it can make the protagonist look tolerant. In short, the book is so extra in making Wade look genuine that it makes one of its characters fit every marginalized identity and explores it with as much brevity as possible to keep the focus on how Wade is so great for accepting Aech. This alone is pathetic enough to make me hate the book.
One more thing. The book is filled beyond the brim to ’80s references. The narrative is constantly interrupted with explanations about references, and many more are name dropped in there. This would be fine if there was more, but that’s it. There is no theme to connect everything. It’s just there, and it could easily be replaced with anything else and not change anything. The ’80s references are just there as wallpaper, having no significance beyond letting the reader feel good about remembering some references. What is significant about the ’80s that Halliday became obsessed with it? Why does it pervade everywhere? No reason, just that he was a kid there.
It’s more of a trivia challenge than something interesting. The author could have expanded upon how the escapism of that culture matches that of the OASIS, or it’s origin in the powerful economy of the ’80s and how that relates to their society, or something. Instead all we get is a list of things that people remember from the ’80s. And I didn’t care. Nothing about it was interesting.
In conclusion, this book isn’t so much suffering from a few flaws as much as it is filled to the brim with problems. That is why I can’t just find it fun. However, I don’t mean to offend anyone who did enjoy the book, since reading is a subjective and personal experience. I’m just suggesting that if you want to swim in this book’s water, don’t dive headfirst; brain injury may occur in shallow waters.
Hint about my username: Art isn’t easy. ___ is a major decision.
It conjures an image of a place that is safe from what is surrounding it where unpleasant things like the heat of the desert can’t reach you. In the book Ready Player One however it is an Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation which is a virtual reality device used to connect the player to the other players and many worlds that they can explore. The characters use this as a real oasis where they can pretend that the atrocities of the outside world can’t reach them and they can escape into a fantasy setting or a version of the world before they ran out of fuel. This escapism is a major point throughout the book because the world they live in is full of poverty and they have become reliant on a second virtual world for their economy, education, and entertainment. Besides sleep, food, and bodily functions everything can be done inside the oasis and they never have to interact with many of the unpleasantries of their real world. With technology like the hamster ball rooms and haptic feedback suits and chairs the characters can become fully immersed and even be able to touch and feel objects in whatever world they want to make their own personal escape to. However, they can’t escape from the real world forever since their makeshift fuel solutions will only hold up for so long without anyone trying to fix them. Though the oasis can help them escape from the world, it can’t help them fix it and eventually they will have to step out from their safe haven to mend the world they actually live in.
As an education major at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of Education and Human Development, I have a particular interest in different ways students can learn. When my class read Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, there were parts of the novel that denoted different ways in which the main character, Wade Watts (avatar Parzival online) learned and studied in a virtual world called the OASIS. What was most interesting is this apparent dichotomy between learning in a physical versus learning in a virtual setting. It appears that the OASIS, as you will soon come to learn in the opening chapter, emphasizes virtual components as the main vehicle of getting really almost anything done. Along with currency and communication being almost completely virtual, the schools seem to be as well. Taking a look at a quote in the beginning of the book,
” I was more or less raised by the OASIS’s interactive educational programs, which any kid could access for free. I spent a big chunk of my childhood hanging out in a virtual-reality simulation of Sesame Street, singing songs with friendly Muppets and playing interactive games that taught me how to walk, talk, add, subtract, read, write, and share,” (Cline 15).”
This quote points out the power of Virtual reality in promoting the healthy social/emotional development of students a an early age. An award winning and in my opinion one of the best, highest quality children’s programs of all time, Jim Henson’s Muppets- Sesame Street- Cline discusses through the main character how certain elementary concepts and lessons on social skills could be learned at a more interactive, much more tailored pace through this use of virtual education. Let’s take a look at a video that relates to this (Video #65 on the list:
After watching this, you may recall Dr. James L Moore III remarking that, “We need schools that are student centered and always factor in the human element.” This is juxtaposed with this idea of virtual learning that is the way of learning and understanding in the OASIS. What is better? Virtual learning to give an extremely tailored learning experiences to almost all students, or more expensive individualized learning, with a physical presence of a teacher?
(Spoiler warning for Ready Player One by Ernest Cline in first two paragraphs. Links contain sensitive content relating to sexual harassment in online/gaming communities.)
Ready Player One: 80’s nostalgia trip, celebration of gamer culture, cyberpunk dystopia, hero’s quest, and – teenage love story? I’ll admit, I haven’t finished the book yet, but from the beginning our protagonist Will Wade/Parzival is smitten with Art3mis, a fellow gunter and popular online personality. He even has pictures of her (or at least, her avatar) saved on his hard drive. When he first encounters Art3mis in the Tomb of Horrors, he gives her advice on how to beat the lich king. Once they’re both High Five celebrities on the famed scoreboard, they begin a casual romance. Art3mis breaks it off when she feels their time together has become too much of a distraction from the hunt. Parzival, lovesick, sends her unread messages, flowers, and stands outside of her virtual castle with a boombox: part persistent “good guy,” part slightly creepy stalker.
Ready Player One has not (yet) examined gender politics on the OASIS, but it acknowledged the age-old mantra: “There are no girls on the Internet.” Even in a world where virtually the entire population uses OASIS and a game event with a massive prize, the default is presumed male. Parzival persistently questions Art3mis’s gender until he is assured that she’s “actually” female, accusations that Art3mis takes with good humor.
(Spoilers end here.)
But as we all know, there are women on the internet and in the gaming world, and they have been there since the beginning – even when the climate is hostile. Shortly after starting Ready Player One I found this article about the writer Jordan Belamire’s experience with sexual harassment in virtual reality. Despite all players having identical avatars, another player recognized her voice as female and followed her around attempting to touch her avatar inappropriately. She finally exited the game. The game’s developers were shocked and dismayed when they heard of the incident and in response developed an in-game “power gesture” that creates a privacy bubble around the player. They hope that other virtual reality developers will take harassment into consideration when designing their games. Online or in-game harassment is nothing new, but as we pioneer exciting new platforms and experiences, it continues to be a thorn in the community’s side.
Ready Player One might take place in the distant dystopian future, but in characters’ interactions with each other the culture seems closest to the Wild West of the 2000s internet – complete with flame wars and skepticism on women’s presence in the OASIS. Presumably, harassment continues to be an issue in this brave new world of the OASIS – but is the response closer to QuiVr’s developer-implemented “power gesture,” or the old advice of “just ignore it and it will go away?” Perhaps it isn’t even a talking point in the OASIS’s community – why worry about it when, after all, there are no girls on the internet?
What do you think of QuiVr developers’ response in implementing the power gesture? Do you think that this is a valid solution, or do you believe it is too much/too little? What responses to harassment have you seen on other platforms and games?
There are a lot of ways that characters can be developed in games. This could be something as simple as their communications with other characters in the game, dialogue, or simply a narrative. Every game has a different approach to the way they develop their characters, however almost every game depends on some form of communication to achieve this. Some of my most favorite games such as the Ratchet and Clank series on the Play Station Portable follow the idea of using a narrative to develop characters. The game uses short films in the middle of game play to both develop characters and further the plot of the game. This form of character and plot development is seen quite often in many games.
Journey is one game that uses a very different way to develop the main character and communicate between characters and the gamers. Journey is set in a vaguely Egyptian region, with appearances of several things such as many glyphs and symbols and of course the figure that possibly depicts the Egyptian goddess Isis, that point to this Egyptian influence. The way this game communicates between characters and gamers is something I have never seen before and find very interesting. Throughout the game, we control a robed figure that travels through a desert towards the mountains in the distance. What’s surprising to me was that the game had no mechanics allowing us to communicate with other characters, and we didn’t even see any cinematic scenes where the characters talked.
We start off as single player but often come across other characters, soon to realize that these are actually other players playing the game from around the world. Usually in cases like this, you would expect to be able to communicate with those players, for example, in Lord of the Rings Online, the world chat enables us to communicate with those characters, and we can also interact with them, and challenge them to duels or form a fellowship with them. However, in Journey, we can’t do any of this and the only possible way we could “communicate” with those characters is by “singing” and signaling to them. I found this form of communication very interesting, and after watching a couple of walkthroughs, I found that gamers ethos plays a big part in the game. I saw that many gamers would guide new gamers through the game and wait for them as they followed them – even though they didn’t actually know them. The game has an overlaying theme of maternity and has a very calm feel to it, and the actions of the gamers really represents it. The game shows clear and definite themes of romance, and this game really shows that games allow portray their creativity by using familiar themes in and shows that the same effects can be achieved in different mediums in variety of different ways.
I’m sorry, Tolkien – I love your work and all, but this is happening.
Per the quote above, and the message in the foreword, it’s not incredibly hard to figure that Tolkien was not fond of allegory and especially its application to his work. While the times might indicate that the War of the Ring has some pretty strong parallels to some of the recent events of the time (namely World War II), Tolkien and his followers have strongly protested this idea, and said they had nothing to do with each other. And others have connected his work to religious texts, namely the Bible (Frodo as Jesus, Melkor as Lucifer, etc.), which would (and likely has been refuted by his fans).
Unfortunately for Tolkien and many of his fans, that’s not really the way literary criticism and allegory works. The intent of the author is not necessarily considered when reviewing texts and parallels with other texts. Even if Dante Alighieri had not planned on making his own epic journey through Hell laden with images of his political rivals, the parallels between his depictions of members of society and his expulsion and dissatisfaction with how Florence was conducting itself were not invisible, and connections can be made.
So it is with Tolkien. Allegory doesn’t require the author to have written the text with allegory in mind. And as it is, many writers write things with parallels that are discovered after the fact and that were completely unintentional. Unfortunately for Tolkien, his Catholic upbringing and fellowship with writers like C.S. Lewis allow there to be a solid injection of hidden meanings and ideals thrown into the mix.
While I don’t necessarily subscribe to the idea of religious allegory, the makings are there. As previously mentioned, there are characters who bear resemblances to Biblical figures – Frodo carries the ring (sins of the world) and he alone is capable of making the sacrifice necessary to destroy it; Melkor was an Ainur (essentially angel) and corrupted many Maiar (lesser angels) to follow him, including Sauron and the balrogs; other examples that elude me.
There are plenty of unintentional allegories that exist in the world. You don’t have to look much further than this year: “Warcraft,” the fantasy movie based on the strategy game series, has been linked by some Redditors to the Syrian refugee crisis despite preceding the crisis by decades. And even if Tolkien is sincere in saying no allegory is meant to exist within The Lord of the Rings, it exists.
And even if it can be vehemently ripped apart and destroyed, the story is good enough stand alone; in fact, if the reason Tolkien was and Tolkienites are so vehemently against the trilogy as being described as allegory was/is to establish it as a root text for future allegories, I’ll gladly support it.