Ready Player One was not a movie that I had any particularly strong desire to see. I hadn’t read the book, hearing that it spent too much time being nostalgic for ‘80s culture, of which I wasn’t invested in at all because, well, I wasn’t around back in the ‘80s, or even the ‘90s for that matter! When the movie came out, I heard the same thing from people, that it catered to ‘80s nostalgia. I barely heard a whisper about its story, soundtrack, creativity, or message. And that’s a shame, because when I was practically dragged out to see the movie in a cheap theater, I loved it, not because of any nostalgia, but because of those things I hadn’t heard mentioned.
Within the first few minutes of the movie, I was pretty much sold. The premise of this utopian “OASIS” in this virtual reality where pretty much everyone hangs out contrasts so well with the desolate world of actual reality, and immediately sets up an interesting world with a bunch of possible ideas to explore. I was initially worried by the somewhat ironic video game trope of requiring three “Mcguffins” to win the game, or in this case, the contract to the entire Oasis, which seems like a laughably bad business decision. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the twists presented in the second and third challenges, and those in between, that it prevented the format from getting stale at all, and I was really touched by the message about reality in the end. Throw in some stunning animation, a fantastic soundtrack, and some really good laughs, and I think Ready Player One just barely beats out Wreck-It Ralph as my favorite movie about video games!
But, as much as I love the ending, I’ve got one big problem with it, and that requires us to take a little trip into SPOILER TOWN. If that’s not your desired destination, this is the last stop to get off.
So in the ending, when Wade Watts and the rest of the High Five win the rights to the OASIS in a very touching and slightly mystical meeting with the deceased James Halliday, the game’s creator, he makes three major changes to the game. Of course, he bans the evil organization IOI and frees all of the indentured players, and hires Morrow as a consultant. But the decision I want to focus on, which Watts agrees was “less popular,” was to shut down the OASIS every Tuesday and Thursday, in a well-intentioned desire to have people spend more time in the real world.
If following along with the message of this movie about the importance of “taking leaps” and not living an entire life within a game, this sounds great! It’s very clear that everyone spends far too much time in this virtual world to avoid the pains of reality, which very likely creates a catch-22 and stops people from working to make the world a better place, thus making them spend more time in the OASIS, etc.
But the problem here is in the implementation. Wade is assuming that everyone is on the OASIS close to 24/7, and while this might be true for very many people, it’s certainly not everyone. Some guy could have gone on an exciting week-long camping trip into the mountains, or gotten back from a successful business trip, but if he gets back on a Tuesday and wants to chill in the OASIS, looks like he’s out of luck. It’s a very first-world problem to have, for sure, but one that could have easily been avoided.
So what would a better system be to encourage people to get out there and improve the world, without inconveniencing people spending a healthy amount of time in the OASIS? Well, one way would be to simply limit the number of hours played, kicking someone out after a certain number of hours a day, week, or month. But even this has some problems, as there are legitimately situations when there might not be much else for some people to do, whether they be sick or unable to leave the house due to unsafe conditions. And hey, while spending 15 hours on a game a day is really destructive of one’s health and social life, there’s nothing wrong with the occasional day off to play a new expansion. Plus, if you want to get together with your friends in the OASIS but someone’s gone over the limit, that could be really frustrating, especially if they have no means of meeting up in the real world. At the end of the day, the world of Ready Player One sucks for a lot of people, and not everyone has half a trillion dollars and a hot girlfriend like Wade Watts.
But some of the best solutions I could think of were ones that have already been implemented in real video games, those that don’t explicitly limit your time, but encourage you to either take breaks or go outside through in-game rewards. In some MMORPGs (which ones elude me, but I think World of Warcraft might have adopted this), they reward you for taking time off from the game, such as giving extra money for time logged off. Or, they could take a page out of Pokemon GO and give certain rewards for reaching certain locations or taking a certain amount of steps.
Or, hey, they could just let people live their lives. Even though I’m sure Wade did this with the best of intentions, there’s just no stopping people who want to play video games from playing video games. Just look at China. They might find a way to hack it, make an OASIS rip-off, or, I mean, what’s Nintendo up to in 2045? Maybe they’ll just play normal video games on their normal TVs, and then they won’t even get any exercise, which you’ve gotta admit the OASIS seems good for!
And that’s the problem with trying to get people to not abuse your product: you just can’t. If you make something that people enjoy in moderation and it gets popular enough, other people will inevitably use it beyond the point where it’s healthy.
This isn’t to say that there are no benefits to having certain days off for everyone. After all, it’s easier to schedule an “irl” get-together if everyone is logged off. But the sheer amount of (admittedly petty) inconvenience associated with this could be avoided by doing almost literally anything else.