Animation as a Medium

I’ve been a huge fan of anime and animation in general for my whole life so I thought I’d use this space to share a few of my thoughts about a medium that I love.  (By the way, all the clips I added here are pretty short.)

At this point, becoming enchanted by Disney’s animated films as a young child is practically a universal experience and an integral part of growing up.  However, Disney style animation that caters towards kids is not the only kind of animation out there.  Over the last two decades Japanese animation, or anime, has seen a steady rise in popularity here in the west. And in particular, its popularity has exploded over the course of the last six years.  Back in 2012, the anime streaming service Crunchyroll had a mere 100,000 paying subscribers, making it a niche streaming service that catered to a relatively small community of fans.  However, last month the service announced that it had reached the 2 million subscriber threshold, a massive 20-fold increase in 6 years. The service now boasts over 45 million registered users and is one of the 10 largest online video streaming services out there (though it obviously lags behind leaders like Netflix).

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This charts the number of paid subscribers to Crunchyroll from September 2012 to February 2017.

Animation as a medium excels at telling stories that are fantastical in nature.  What really makes it shine is that it immediately creates a level of separation between the fiction on the screen and reality.  The fact that the show is either hand drawn or rendered immediately sets up an expectation that the world inside the story is different from reality, which makes it easier for the audience to suspend their disbelief.  To add to this, the nature of the medium also allows for the seamless integration of magical effects into the fabric of the show. When a live action show wants to add effects, the effect must usually be computer generated and then added in after filming. But, the juxtaposition between a computer rendered effect and a live actors and settings can often feel jarring and take away from the immersion.  And, an effect created at the time of filming using real-world techniques lacks the mysticism and feeling of wonder that is so important in fantasy and fairy tales for the simple reason that it can be explained with real world physics. It is far easier make an effect feel like it belongs to the world of the story in animated shows as the artist simply has to draw them both in the same art style.  Also, if we take a look back to old classics like Cinderella, many of the effects in these films probably would have been impossible to do in live action with the technology of the time. For example, I can’t imagine the fallowing scene where Cinderella’s dress transforms would have been feasible in live action with the technology available in the 1950’s.

Another benefit of the medium is that it allows for the creators to have a great deal more artistic freedom.  Creators can get away with more exaggerated expressions and actions in animation than they can in live action, again because of the separation from reality. We expect real people to act in a certain way, but the same expectations are far weaker for those that are animated.  What can reasonably feel like a hyped up battle scene in Dragonball Z would probably end up as just a bunch of dudes screaming way too loudly at each other in live action.

This is a clip from an anime called Nichijou that uses extreme and absurd reactions to great comedic effect.  Such a reaction could never even be considered in live action. It’s just not feasible and would make no sense if the show wasn’t animated.

Finally, animation in the west has this stigma as being a children’s medium.  And to be honest, with how successful Disney has become, it makes sense. But animation isn’t a medium that’s made just for kids.  Over the years it has also been used to depict topics far beyond what would be appropriate for children.  I think the best example of this would be the 1988 film Grave of the Fireflies created by Studio Ghibli and director Isao Takahata.  Yes, this is the same studio that brought us wholesome classics such as Spirited Away and Kiki’s Delivery Service. But whereas those two are great children’s movies, Grave of the Fireflies is a devastating and heart wrenching drama about the true costs of war.  In this movie, animation transcends the medium and strikes at the heart of what it means to survive as a human.

Grave of the Fireflies is a fantastic film. I definitely recommend watching it, but be warned, it will make you Sad.

Youjia Wang

Edit: I noticed that in a place or two I accidentally forgot a

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Same Old, Same Old?

Throughout this course we have gone over the influential nature of literature movements on newer forms of media and how varied—but sometimes similar—themes are evoked through different mediums. Specifically, we have studied the effect of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work on the evolving media landscape. To credit Tolkien and his legendarium, it’s easy to say that his work inspired Dungeons & Dragons and other pen and paper role playing games, helped grow the fantasy genre’s books and movies, and effectively made video games in that genre more popular. If we look at publishers like BioWare, Blizzard, Bethesda and more, we can highlight games such as Baldur’s Gate, The Elder Scrolls, World of Warcraft, Everquest, etc. that are all grounded in Tolkien fantasy.

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Screenshot from Shadow of Mordor, one of the many games that take place directly in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth.

As an avid Tolkien fan, I love that he gets the praise for his vast influence. However, I think it is unfair to not credit the myriad of literary legends that helped pave the same path. Authors like H.P. Lovecraft, Robert Howard, Robert Bloch, Orson Scott Card, Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and so many more fleshed out the iconic nature of science fiction, horror, and fantasy genres (which combined are called speculative fiction) that laid the foundation for many of the best videogames in existence.

To highlight a few of these examples we can inspect Lovecraft who’s mastery of macabre literature aided the popularity of sci-fi and horror style games like Eternal Darkness, Alone, and Bethesda’s direct adaption of Call of Cthulhu. Robert E. Howard illustrated worlds around characters like Kull the Conqueror and Conan the Barbarian which influenced games like Thief, Rune, Gauntlet, and Dishonored. I could highlight even more specific examples about the direct impact of literature on the speculative fiction genre and its growth into the digital media age, but the overwhelming amount of connections led me to ask the question: “where did these authors find their influence from and are they connected?”

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Left – comic book cover for Conan the Barbarian. Right – cover art for the 1985 hit game Gauntlet. Eerily similar?

With some minor digging and some understanding of the history of literary trends, it is easy to see that many of the most popular games, and more importantly their literature influencers, can be linked back to ancient mythology. At the heart of these classic, successful stories and games lies the interaction with worlds that are timeless and universal…perhaps so ubiquitously because these worlds and myths reflect something deep within a set of collective human themes.

In less words, I venture to say that if literature is the groundwork for which a large collection of the world’s creative minds turn to for modern inspiration, then ancient myth and folklore are the foundational roots that lie even deeper. Additionally, I think that at the end of the day, it is noteworthy that every author that has ever lived can only pull inspiration off of their own experiences which includes the literature and storytelling that they’ve been exposed to. This is not to say that the world is devoid of original thought, but instead that every creative output is at least slightly meta-referential, and usually that reference is inlaid with ancient mythological tales.

To support this point regarding the importance of mythology, I want to take a quick look at some of the most successful, acclaimed, and lucrative games in memory. One of the most successful game series of all time, Tomb Raider, has over 30 video games and 3 feature length films in the franchise. Additionally, the entire series is based heavily on the use of mythological narratives originating from the Mayans, Greeks, Norse, Egyptians, and more. The hit franchise Turok: Dinosaur Hunter directly rips off of Native American mythology, and the 8 prosperous games in that series would say that clearly this type of story works in the gaming world. All-time acclaimed RPG Shadow of the Colossus is based entirely on Japanese myths. Household name franchises like The Legend of Zelda, Assassin’s Creed, and Prince of Persia all rip off of popular mythic characters and universally the mythological theme of the monomyth or hero’s journey (think Homer’s Odyssey). It’s mind-blowing to think that some of the most iconic, foundation-breaking releases in gaming history all stem from the collective themes of mythic folklore.

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Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft exploring puzzles and finding treasure related to the Greek myths.

However, there might be no game that integrates mythology better than the God of War series. Besides the fact that it has reached astounding commercial success, the newest installment solidified the franchises legacy through flipping the traditional hack & slash nature of the games on its head while still keeping mythology at its core in the best of ways. The 2018 God of War brings about the best of the past, the present, and the future of speculative fiction. The game ties in great storylines and characters from mythic pasts in a stunningly beautiful form. It synthesizes pantheons from the Greek, Nordic, and Egyptian traditions which creates a new yet seemingly classic world. It triumphantly tackles combining successful game interfaces like The Last of Us, The Witcher, and Skyrim. In a time where online games, shooters, and battle royales dominate the market, God of War uses these classic stories to showcase that the traditional immersive third-person RPG is here to stay, iterate, improve, and succeed as long as the genre garners influence from the right type of relatable storytelling.

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God of War (2018)

So I’m curious, what do you think? Do you see the commonality of these themes in popular games? Do you think I am completely off my rocker? Do you agree that the blanket of myth lore when applied to games has made your gaming experiences most enjoyable? Or do you think that the application of the more refined story-crafting nature of referential literature has brought you your best gaming memories? Let me know in the comments!

Ben Root

Seveneves: The Role-Playing Game!

 

[featured image taken from https://www.nealstephenson.com/news/2015/05/26/seveneves-site/%5D

When you were a kid, did you ever play those games where you would look up to the sky and imagine the clouds as bunnies, dragons, or anything in between? Did you ever play the ever-popular “the floor is lava” game? If so, fantastic, because as a kid you’re sort of expected to have an active imagination. But why does this expectation fade over time? What about “growing up” means that you have to lose your creativity? Well, we believe there is absolutely no reason for that imagination to wane, and in this blog post we’d like to suggest a fun way to keep your inner kid alive and well.

It’s called a role-playing game (RPG for short), and you may have heard about more popular ones, like Dungeons & Dragons, as there has been a resurgence of interest following the use of this particular RPG in popular culture (think Stranger Things). We made an RPG that was a combination of Dungeons & Dragons, Stars Without Number (a sci-fi RPG), and Seveneves (a science fiction book by Neal Stephenson). Ours may not be the best RPG out there, but if anything we hope this blog post shows you how, without enough time and thinking, anybody can have a great time making and playing an RPG.

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The idea of the RPG is one that has been solely rooted in the fantasy genre, and by association, the wider genre of romance, something that we have discussed at length in this class. The RPG brings together a group of people, often with varying skills and interests that offset each other, with a shared goal. There is usually some form of quest, self-redemption, or self-revelation that occurs, and because RPGs are more focused on player character development than most other forms of interactive media that we discussed, we thought it best to use to remediate a science fiction novel. Additionally, we both have years of experience playing role-playing games such as D&D and Pathfinder, and have planned our own campaigns before as well as played personal characters in others. All of those campaigns were solely in the fantasy genre, however, so if we were going to make a science fiction RPG, we would have to do a little research.

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The first order of business was understanding the book in which we were basing our RPG. Internet synopses can tell you more than we can here, but this is the gist: the moon was destroyed by an unknown “Agent,” and in the two years before the moon rocks crash to Earth and destroy everything, humanity stashes itself in space to return thousands of years later as collection of seven races, stemming from the seven fertile women who survived in space. You can see more contextual information later in the post and in our notes, or if you’re really invested you can even read the book. The point is this book was perfect for creating a sci-fi RPG.

Furthermore, we scoured the Internet for tips and resources on how to make a sci-fi RPG. From Googling those exact words to thumbing through Reddit threads, we took a few days to amass as many ideas as possible. We settled on the system Stars Without Number, as this RPG system was freely available and seemed to be quite well developed for our purposes. Specifically, this system did a great job at reframing D&D classes into various jobs and skills that were more suitable for life in space, rather than a fantasy world, and the system itself was flexible enough to modify.

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Why would we need to modify the system? Well, our goal for this project was to develop a “one-shot” game, or an RPG that is meant to be played in a single session rather than in a multiple-session campaign. With this in mind, our primary concern was providing the players enough time to explore the world we were creating. We easily adjusted the mechanics for making skill checks to be less based on players stats and more based on intent and narration. In more practical terms, players could essentially do whatever they wished without all the role-playing and messing about that takes time, so the Game Master (GM) could provide more narration about the environment. It worked out pretty well, as you can see in the videos we’ve placed here and throughout the post.

There are many other mechanical considerations you have to make when planning an RPG. Where is the game set? What is the history of this setting? What is society like? What maps do you need to make? Who might the players encounter, and what will that encounter look like? Is there a point system? Since we based our game on the world of Seveneves, we had a lot of the contextual questions taken care of already. We answered the RPG-specific questions, and you can see our notes in the Google document link in this post later on. The doc can speak for itself, but we’d like to briefly elaborate on the point system, which we developed from the ground up. Normally “points” in the RPG world are experience points that accumulate to level up the player. However, we used “assets” as a way of measuring how well the players were forming bonds with the species on Old Earth, and so whichever team (Red or Blue) had the most assets by identifying and succeeding in more opportunities by the end of the session won.

We gathered up some of our friends to play a short one-shot on a Monday. In RPG terms, a “one-shot” is usually a game or storyline that takes one or two sessions to finish (as opposed to usual longer story arcs in regular play). We planned on filming the session to use in our presentation, so we wanted to have every possible race represented. Our friend Penn played an Ivyn engineer, Jacob played a Camite priest, Nick played a Julian aspiring politician, Jamz played a Moiran biologist, Ethan played a Teklan transport specialist, Jordan played a Dinan astronavigator, or “astrogator,” and Matthew played an Aïdan technician. Torie acted as the “GM,” or the Game Master, who essentially narrates the campaign and prompts the players to make various “checks” in order to see if they successfully complete the actions they wish to perform.

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The plot itself was simple: each of the player characters had been gathered as part of a co-racial mission from an orbiting space station around the Earth to explore a newly terraformed surface and investigate for human life. You can read more about it here. You can also see the racial traits and backgrounds we provided for our player characters to choose from. In our game, which lasted about three hours (typical for a standard RPG session, at least for us), our group encountered a race of humans that had adapted to living underwater for over 5,000 years that the orbiting population nicknamed the “Pingers,” after the sonar-esque transmissions they intercepted from their society. While at first a little hostile, our group managed to curtail the growing violence and managed to establish good terms with a group of Pingers. (Here is a video of their “first contact”). They shared technological knowledge and made some vague promises at treaties with military leaders, and were pointed to the underground race of humans (“Diggers”) to assist them in repairing their broken communications device.  

As a player character, or PC, I found the sci-fi context fascinating. Personally, I’ve always loved engaging with any media from this genre; though everything is scientific and futuristic, it’s still all imagined and possible, so it makes me feel optimistically youthful. For this game, we had a mix of rambunctious and withdrawn players, so that made the three hours we played pass with much entertainment. I was in the unusual position of being a quasi-GM, meaning that I was privy to everything that might happen in the game, but I still had to engage as a player who did not know these things. Thus, I found myself motivating the players to pursue various paths that I knew would keep the action in the game flowing. I wish we had had more time to thoroughly explore the world that we had created, but that’s just the nature of a one-shot game.

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As a GM, Torie found that there was a lot of the story that she did not prepare for. Unfortunately, only one member of the group besides us had actually read Seveneves ( a couple of them did read it after the session, though!), and this proved to be a bit of a problem when Torie ended up killing a lot of game time explaining background situations and mechanics of the players’ society and objects to them. Both of us (Torie and Matthew) have been Game Masters for our own games before, and while Torie had over twenty pages of GM notes, we both knew that planning a successful campaign and story took a much longer amount of time than a single month. Even with the most careful planning, though, the fun of RPGs is that the players make their own decisions, which means that there is always something happening that the GM has zero plans for. Torie expected this, and because of it, was able to work mostly successfully with the players’ wishes as they went. We were hoping to have contact with both the Diggers and the Pingers in this, but, after three hours, the group had only made it to the Pingers, and we decided to call it a night. (This is common with our experience as GMs and players, stories always take a little longer to tell/roleplay than you think they will). 

In conclusion, we loved the opportunity to take something we both love to do as a hobby and integrating it with the themes that we have learned in ENGL 3726 with Professor Clayton at Vanderbilt. We have both grown up with these “new” forms of media that we have discussed in class, and have been fans of the fantasy and sci-fi genres since childhood. Being able to put those together in this new creation was a really satisfying culmination of these themes for us, and we know that our friends enjoyed playing through the story with us as well.

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Learning the Ropes about Tropes

ENGL 3726 - Gone Home

Spoiler alert for Gone Home — Don’t read further if you want to avoid spoilers.

Just say the word “western,” and I can immediately visualize a high noon showdown, as if I were hiding behind a barrel on the porch of a saloon. Say “sci-fi,” and now we’re zipping by the stars at light speed and shooting lasers at corrupt galactic empire forces. I played a game called Gone Home recently, and everything about it was telling me “mystery” and “horror,” so you can well imagine my thoughts as I stepped into the dimly lit, sparse mansion in the middle of a forest on a dark and stormy night.

Turns out, it’s not horror — your character, Katie, is just trying to figure out why the house is empty on the night of your return from abroad. The reasons are dramatic, rich with complexity, but totally benign of anything supernatural.

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Why was I so scared, though? Why were my immediate thoughts upon entering my family’s new home, “Something horrible has happened here”? Granted, I scare fairly easily, but I think there was more than my lack of fortitude at work. I’d like to say a word about tropes, how they’re used in Gone Home, and how mystery and horror tropes were perfect for this game.

trope is an easy way to make the participant feel standard things: just like I described at the top of the post, they provide a framework for thinking about setting and emotions. I’ve definitely been one to harp on tropes in the past, but really, they’re crucial to storytelling. Without some expectation for what’s about to happen, there can be no surprises, no twists, no novel deviations — the things that are more beloved of a story. Tropes may be a heavy-handed way of establishing the expectations, but they can be incredibly important when used right!

All that said, I think Gone Home uses tropes expertly. In Gone Home, even the title screen, with its silhouettes, secluded look, and one light eerily lit, is a trope of horror, and it immediately makes you feel jittery. I even used the word “eerily” just now, and I’ve already played the game and know it’s not horror! Throughout the game there are a number of tangible cues that make you feel like something in the house is amiss: the house is called “The Psycho House”; the lights flicker constantly; your father has an obsession with conspiracies; the list goes on. My favorite example is the upstairs bathroom stained with red, but you find out it’s just hair dye.

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You might now be thinking, “So what? Why does it matter that Gone Home uses these tropes?” Well, if you think about it, this game desperately needs to rely on them. You are the only player in the game, and you have only one environment to explore. Without the notion of mystery and horror, you would have very little incentive to explore the house — actually, you would have no incentive to explore. This and many other games relies on the assurance that the player, when confronted with a mystery (Sam saying, “Don’t try to find out what happened”), will promptly disobey and begin to search. The trope of flickering and dim lights, secret passages, and a paper trail are tediously common, but they draw you in so the true story can unfold. I guess that’s what I’m trying to get across: the tropes do not make the game; they create the tension players need to discover the game.

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Moreover, I find the implications of the horror tropes in this game fascinating. How many times have you awakened in the wee hours, gone to the bathroom, and then the floor creaks in just the wrong way, making you complete your mission a little too early? Certainly in such circumstances, we have the very same tropes of horror in mind, but we can still recognize they’re just fiction, right? I think Gone Home recreates the very same effect we experience in real life. There is absolutely no danger in the game, but good grief it just feels like something is going to get you!

I’ll leave you thinking about that — is a trope really something you feel just in a book, a movie, a game? Or is it something you carry with you and project? Gone Home wrestles with these questions and blurs the lines between virtual and real experience. It makes an ordinary home come alive with mystery, mythos, and the thrill of discovery. Isn’t that what we all want, a way to make the unremarkable, unforgettable? If that’s the case for you, I have a great game to recommend.

Thanks for reading!

Matthew

Tell me a story

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.

Things to Ignore When Reading Ready Player One

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.

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This shit is serious. I’d like to see Wade halllucinate, or at least yawn.

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.

token
When Southpark gives their tokens a stronger racial identity than Ready Player One

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.

-EveryMinorDetail

Escaping to the OASIS

When you think of an oasis the first thing that comes to mind is probably something similar to the definition of the word given by merriam-webster.

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.