04/06/2018

Ready Player One - The Game Of The Creator

Thoughts On: Ready Player One (2018)

A young adult goes on a quest to own a vast virtual reality game set by its creator.


I've been hoping to say this for quite some time, and now I can: Steven Spielberg makes another great movie that, I'm sure, is destined to be a classic. In fact, I believe that Ready Player One sits up at the very top of Spielberg's filmography alongside Close Encounters and E.T as a film that not only entertains, as does the likes of Raiders of the Lost Ark, but expresses something of acute and touching profundity. Alas, Ready Player One is not a perfect movie. So, before I proceed to make a case for this being one of Spielberg's best films, let us touch on its shortcomings.

Whilst Ready Player One is imbued with an abundance of ingenious world building and has its fair share of meaningful and entertaining interactions between characters, it is riddled with plot holes, questionable world constructs and happenings, and also lacks depth of character. As a result, if one watches this with their CinemaSins hat on or is looking for a multi-variant character study with a strong antagonist, they will find themselves with a somewhat incoherent and unenlightening narrative at hand. In general, Ready Player One then fails to fully justify its scope and detail in the character and world building departments with its diverse cast and innumerable pop-cultural references ultimately seeming novel, not meaningful, symbolic, metaphoric, etc. before all else.

Alas, whilst this is quite far from perfect, Spielberg constructs a film that, at the level of narrative, not character or plot, is astounding. What I mean by this is that Spielberg creates a narrative in Ready Player One whose dramaturgy - which is to say, surface-level action - bears most meaning. It is then understanding the manner in which the unfolding of the narrative relates to our real world and symbolic world that reveals its depth. To make a start down this path, we then have to pick up on the fact that Ready Player One is, unmistakably, a film about creation and art; games.

Art, in my belief, is a means of communication between artist and audience at its most literally foundational level. That is to say that a movie is a construct that exist between a group of filmmakers (everyone from the writer, to the director, actors, editors, set-designers, grips, etc.) and a collective audience. To watch a film, however, we so often are an individual in an audience looking through the lens of a film to one singular, amalgamated and imagined artist, not necessarily a group of filmmakers. The director takes on this symbolic role of captain steering a ship and the auteur theory formalises such an idea. Nonetheless, the formula at the most literal level remains the same: art, cinema, is a means of communication between artist and audience. To press beyond the literal, however, one could suggest that an individual is a gateway into the symbolic universe. If one travels through the consciousness, the unconscious and deep into the collective unconscious, one may emerge into the universal space; a space of God, of Tao, of the singularity of meaning and purpose, or something equally fundamental. Let us not get stuck on metaphysics, however. Through the individual one finds something much deeper - call this what you will. I believe it is this that reaches out of a person, that moves through cinema and connects to what lies far within and beyond a filmmaker. And so, art, at the most symbolically fundamental level, is communication between the transcendent function, or quality, embedded in both artist and audience.

Whilst I believe this to be true, one would be foolish not to recognise that not all art is created equal; a Russ Meyer film does not equal a Tarkovsky film; my personal doodlings do not equal Monet's Sunrise; the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy does not equal the Tao Te Ching. There is then difficulty in defining art as a communication between the transcendency that resides within artist and creator. Because art is created, transcendency must be installed within it, and so the quality of art is dependent on the quality of an artist and so their ability to serve as a window between the realm of creation and the realm of the transcendent. This is also true, to a lesser degree, when it concerns the audience; a great film can only be a great film if it is fully recognised as such by its audience, and so, though a film may be great, it takes an in-tune and open audience to receive it as such. And such begins to explain the fact that art is not necessarily a means of transcendent communication; rather, art is a means of communication that can potentially be transcendent.

I am focusing on this network of ideas to the degree to which I am because this is precisely what Ready Player One concerns itself with. Games are a form of art. I do not believe that those who create games have fully recognised this fact and, in turn, have properly realised the potential of games-as-art, but, I cannot formulate a coherent argument in this regard as I do not play enough games - nor have I studied them like I have films. Nonetheless, games are a form of art. Video games are a particularly special form of art as they fully curate the arena of play in which people can exist. In turn, one exists in the rules of a world far more literally than they have historically done. Furthermore, they exist in a world of rules that are far more complex than any other rule-set presented via historical games. Let us then take an example of chess and compare it to any modern video game. Chess exists in the real world; it is a board with figurines placed upon it. The rules are given, but they are not all-encompassing, nor are they especially complex in their design, as they are in video games. Thus, the difference between chess and a modern computer game is like the difference between traditional theatre and movies; one exists, to a far greater degree, in the imagination than the other; the simulation and projection of fantasy in one is far superior than in the other; one looks at a chess board, one arguably steps into a game - just like one looks at a play and one arguably steps into a film - thanks to its verisimilitude and detailed cultivation of game/cinematic space. Alas, the argument between what is more encompassing and real is nullified in Ready Player One with games existing in a virtual reality. With virtual reality, gaming quite literally exists in its own realm - which is unambiguously different to the realm of chess. As a result virtual reality is pure creation and all-encompassing art. And as a result of this, the creator of the game, the artist, becomes a sort of god. This produces a new relationship between artist and audience, one in which the transcendence within both is far more tangible. As we are then told in Ready Player One, not only does the central game's (Oasis') creator become a god-like figure whose life is studied as if he were a prophet and the remains of his life were religious texts, but the gamers themselves become all-powerful thanks to the gifts bestowed upon them by this god-like figure. This is how the artist and audience's relationship changes; transcendency is embedded into the creation itself and played out, it is not just within audience and artist.

What is manifested in such a narrative construct is a re-positioning of art's meaning. When one watches a film in our reality, transcendence--profound meaning--lies beyond. It is difficult to see and access by virtue of this fact. In Oasis, the virtual reality game of Ready Player One, transcendence is all around and embedded within. So, whilst one must analyse a film, must try to look through it, connecting what is beyond 'the within' in us and beyond 'the within' in the filmmaker, to find its meaning, one must play, must explore and excavate, in the realm of Oasis to find its meaning. Meaning in Oasis is then especially difficult to recognise as, a little like in reality, the target to which attention must be directed is not clear; games and their purpose are hard to identify. In real life, we have to manifest the direction, meaning, ourselves by essentially looking up; in a game you, too, have to look up - not into the firmament, but into to the reality from which you have descended.

This is what fascinates me most about Ready Player One. In life, we play a series of games with a god or an entity (conception) of higher moral standing above us. In the world of virtual reality you, too, play a series of games with higher moral standing above. However, this higher above is, first and foremost, the real world. In Ready Player One, this world is pretty desolate and meaningless. Nonetheless, meaning can be embedded in it - and it is: by characters finding meaning in the virtual game world and transposing it onto the real world; taking lessons from art and acting them out; heeding the word of god, of the great artist. This is why Ready Player One's dramaturgic quest is ultimately a journey towards finding the artist who made a game; its philosophy pertaining to why we play games concerns connecting with the maker. As a result, Ready Player One suggests that the heart of all games is not just its creator, but the process of coming into contact with them by playing their game and discovering the meaning underlying it. We see this with the juxtaposition of the easter egg quest in Adventure - which only leads one to a page that says the creator's name - with the quest towards owning Oasis, replacing the creator, by finding all three keys and understanding the creator's life lessons; which is all about sustaining the community around you and acting out of compassion, not self-consumption.

What Ready Player One is then ultimately about is an artist conveying truths of a supra-reality--which he has accessed by walking his own winding path--through his body and his creation to his audience, his gamers, who in turn interpret his words and act out the truth they carry. And for this, Ready Player One is a profound meditation (as well as a joyous thrill ride) on art as communication which leads to growth and virtue through playing and understanding, which, in my view, solidifies this as one of Spielberg's very best films.

To bring things to a close, however, I'll leave things in your hands without delving into the very particulars of the narrative. So, have you seen Ready Player One yet? What are your thoughts?






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