Ready Player One

Musings on Ready Player One


William Blankenship

       

Ready Player One

Spoiler alert!

This post dives into the movie assuming you have seen it. If you are planning on seeing it and don’t want the plot ruined STOP READING NOW!

The movie itself is just a mainline injection of nostalgia. The storyline is rather weak. It is a take on society with late stage VR. The year is 2040ish and it appears everyone has standardized on playing a single VR based MMORPG. The creator (and apparently sole designer) of the game has died and left the “keys to the empire” hidden away in the game as a series of easter eggs. Whoever finds all the easter eggs inherits the game, and apparently the rights to make decisions about how the game is structured.

The antagonist of the story is a large corporation that sells mods in-game. They want to acquire the rights to the video game in order to maximize its profitability by making significant changes. Essentially they want to turn it into this pay-to-play, advertising ridden, nightmare of an experience.

STOP!

I’m already bored with this. We aren’t talking high stakes here. The worst case scenario is that this company takes over the game and ruins it. Someone builds a new game and everyone re-standardizes. The protagonist isn’t saving the world here.

BUT!

The world surrounding the storyline is the most interesting part of the movie. This world is only given a handful of minutes of attention, but in those few minutes it tells a fascinating story about the importance of a government overseeing free markets.

It is obvious that there is a governing body here. There are clear contracts that are established between individuals and companies throughout the story, and there is police intervention on several occasions. This is a society with laws that are enforced.

Yet, the “stakes on the table” for the protagonist in the story is that the evil corporate company seeking to take over the game runs literal labor camps. This company offers loans to people so that they can purchase items in-game. These loans are on extremely unfavorable terms and are blatant debt traps. When people aren’t able to repay these loans, the company offers them a job doing work in-game and gives them housing. The company controls their salary and the cost of the housing, keeping them in perpetual debt until they die.

This isn’t a story about a kid fighting to save a video game. This is a story about a society where the government hasn’t regulated away debt traps. The day wasn’t saved when the antagonist prevailed. If a company that sells in-game mods is able to run literal labor camps, I can’t even begin to imagine what the rest of this society looks like.

I live in the states, and this is why I believe is critical for us as citizens to be involved in our democracy. Democracy doesn’t just give civilian oversight of our government, it gives civilian oversight of everything. Free markets work, but they only work when paired with significant civilian oversight. Democracy gives us the power to continue advancing human rights, and to prevent a future where we regress to literal labor camps for video game debt.

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