Don’t Let Ready Player One Sell You Your Identity

Ready, Player One? Dig up your artifacts, still warm from hype and channel static. Excavate your chipped neo-antiques; line the walls of your museum with references gouged from their frames. Haunt every shot with the specters of gutted franchises. Fan fiction is never enough. Consumer fiction is that new hotness.

Shut up and take my money. Stay quiet. Say nothing. I’m not paying you to challenge me. I’m paying you to confirm my own identity. After I’ve seen your film, based on a book, based on games, I’ll probably buy the game you make out of the film. The novelization of the game, when’s that coming out? Film the novel. Why stop there? I can’t get enough. I won’t be satisfied until microscopic facsimiles of Sonic winking and throwing a thumbs up are etched into my DNA. I want to bleed in-jokes. I want to shit memes.Ready Player One

Players vs. No-one

For anyone who has suffered through the trailer, one thing should be abundantly clear: Ready Player One does not understand what a player is. But it’s not players it’s trying to appeal to. It’s gamers.

You can sell an empty signifier to a gamer, but not to a player. A gamer fetishes a culture, a player ritualizes an experience. A gamer confuses brand loyalty with identity, a player gravitates toward innovation, creativity. A gamer lionizes a set of fixed symbols, refusing to adapt when they lose relevance – lost in nostalgia like a speaker of a dead language. A player is, by nature, playful: curious, experimental, willing to draw out personal significance from unique moments. A gamer violently defends the status quo for fear of losing their identity. A player welcomes any change that will bring fresh, novel spaces to express themselves in. A gamer – as the reaction to Leigh Alexander’s infamous Gamasutra piece showed us – is more offended by insults towards outdated nomenclature and linguistic trivialities than they are offended at harassment and calculated marginalization of creators. Players? Players want everyone to feel safe, supported, respected and cherished so they can, you know, make. more. games.

Pop-Culture Taxidermy

Ready Player One is the equivalent of an aging streamer, surrounded by Nintendo Plushies and sweatshop-built collector’s edition statues; a marketers wet dream, a private shrine to consumerism. A streamer that presents themselves as the arbiter and guardian of a culture, their authority signaled by a hoarders instinct towards colorful memorabilia. A living testament to their disposable income. The amassed taxidermy of the inhabitants of another’s imagination.

Ready Player One

“All that once was directly lived has become mere representation.” Guy Debord wrote. Is our obsession with streamers like this – with movies like this – that add nothing to the art they have come to represent, except perhaps winning smiles and a hyperactive charm (and of course, free marketing), an attempt to confront our identities? A confirmation of the cultural relevance and social capital of a solipsistic pastime?

It’s Your Boy, Numb Detachment.

How many streamers do you really feel are themselves on camera, and how many of them don the carnival mask and prance about virtual landscapes in Benzedrine, puckish glee, before switching off the camera, wiping off the makeup, and sighing deeply and bitterly, like a YouTube-era Krusty the clown?

And if we are watching actors, then in our habitation of them – our vicarious experience of joy – we inhabit characters, playing as characters, splitting our capacity for parasocial empathy across multiple fronts. A matryoshka doll, alternating in layers of digital and meatspace? It’s everything, everything, everything to do with games minus the actual experience of engaging directly with them.

This is not who we are, is it? Please, let me know, because I’m genuinely confused. Between all the time spent watching streamers, arguing in comment sections, watching movies about games, buying game related merchandise, watching streamers stream movies about games while we argue in their comment sections about their advertising sponsorships trying to sell us game related merchandise….

…how do we find the time to ever pick up the controller?

Players are ready. They’re just not fucking interested. At least, I hope not.

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Nic Reuben

Nic Reuben likes to pause games every five minutes to ponder the thematic implications of explosive barrel placement. When he’s not having an existential crisis over CAPTCHA verifications that ask him to prove he’s not a robot, he’s reading sci-fi and fantasy short stories, watching cartoons, and mourning the writing standards in Game of Thrones.


9 responses to “Don’t Let Ready Player One Sell You Your Identity”

  1. Warhamster Avatar

    If you really do want to know, who we are is who we choose to be. Trying to identify everything and everyone as this or that is just more bullshit. So go be yourself, stop worrying about labeling others for the sake of doing so.

  2. The way people feel so intimately connected with their pop-culture interests is really worrisome to me. Some would rather spew hate to another human than have someone say negative about a product they like.

    On the flip side, the whole “They’re making a sequel to my favorite movie/game/book, it’s ruining the original!” How exactly does that work?

  3. Mark Blackburn Avatar
    Mark Blackburn

    This sentence alone proves you haven’t read the book. “I’m paying you to confirm my own identity. After I’ve seen your film, based on a book, based on games”

  4. Well if I am stereotyping, then I feel gamers are usually the Black Sheep. They are the I do not give a shit what others think of me types. Honestly, Jeez maybe pop culture is not for you. I feel like you’d be happier if you whittled a wooden duck with a rope to pull around behind you. So if you do not like mainstream entertainment then why let yourself be overly consumed buy it, or it’s culture. This article took a lot of effort.
    You could instead;
    Build something.
    Watch a VHS tape.
    Listen to classical music.
    Program a raspberry pi.
    Make a pie out of raspberries.
    Read a book.
    Or even go fishing.

    Guess what I’m a Pop Culture enthusiast. I also bet you thought that all of theese aforementioned things I told you to do, were meant to be offensive too. They are not, I would enjoy doing any of them.

    I do not care what others think of me.
    I focus on what I enjoy.
    Life is to short do what you enjoy.

  5. Nic Reuben Avatar
    Nic Reuben

    Hi, author of the article here.

    Just wanted to say that, although I feel that the Ready Player One movie is representative of some of the most plastic, money-talks, nostalgia-bait traits of movies and videogames culture, I certainly don’t think it’s right to judge anyone for what they enjoy. 90% of the coverage I’ve seen for this film has been overwhelmingly positive, and I think that if we ever see a day when something is beyond criticism, when all commentary boils down to marketing, we may as well just lobotomize ourselves.

    At the end of the day though, I’m a games writer. I play games and then I write about them, so I’m as much involved in the hype-spend-hype cycle of capitalism as anyone else. If you dig this stuff, don’t listen to some guy on the internet with a mid-tier creative writing degree who spends too much time reading bitter french philosophers. You do you x

    1. Allan Yagamy Avatar
      Allan Yagamy

      The fact that you need to clarify that kinda proves the existence of that “gamer” that you mention and that feel personally attacked because you criticized a product.
      I also have a doubt: So you pointed that some people are, basically, fanboy zealots. So some people here reacted in a very vocal way because SOMEHOW they got identified with what you said and they want to prove you wrong? How does that work?

  6. Allan Yagamy Avatar
    Allan Yagamy

    Been playing games for more than 30 years, working in the industry for 10 now. Had my kinda purist time sometime between my 15’s and 20’s. Said that: I still don’t understand people who take pride and sense of superiority for playing a particular game, or in one piece of hardware over another.

    1. Been in the industry for ten years?

      Pfft, n00b. 😛

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