Ready Player One Is An Open Conspiracy Against Your Imagination

Joust has a major part to play in the Ready Player One novel.
Joust has a major part to play in the Ready Player One novel. Williams Electronics

Getting trapped in a theater with the Ready Player One trailer — it ran in front of Star Wars: The Last Jedi — felt like being subjected to a highly compressed Ludovico Technique. The vision of a future where everything’s worse, nothing has gotten better, capitalism still grinds the world, and the only consolation is an immersive VR video game stuffed with 80s and 90s pop culture references… bone-chilling stuff. The source book was too terribly written to spread its impoverished vision of culture stripped to soul-deadening nostalgia. And the general reaction to the trailers suggests not even Steven Spielberg in his dotage could inject this sick shit into our collective conscious with any staying power. Hating on Ready Player One became fashionable enough that it seemed easier to ignore than to join the pile-on. But then this new trailer came out and the full maliciousness of the operation revealed itself.

The new Ready Player One trailer is set to a familiar song, a version of “Pure Imagination,” from the 1971 Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Previous Ready Player One trailers featured orchestral versions, but this new trailer adds back the lyrics to sickening affect.

“Come with me and you’ll be…” the song goes.

Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) interrupts with some voiceover: “It’s a place where the limits of reality are your own imagination.”

The song continues. “ a world of pure imagination. Take a look and you’ll see into your imagination.”

So what are the limits of your reality? What does the inside of your own imagination look like?

Well, it looks a hell of a lot like product. Hello Kitty is there. And so is the Iron Giant and King Kong and the T. rex from Jurassic Park. In your imagination, you drive the DeLorean from Back to the Future and it has Ghostbusters license plates. The limits of your reality are Mario Kart references and hordes of identical Master Chiefs and MechWarriors from 20-year-old computer games.

What happens when our culture can no longer produce anything new? Can a culture dedicated to sanctifying and wallowing in its own past really be called a culture at all?

Ready Player One may just be a hollow vehicle for nostalgia, but its latest trailer claims a more elevated mantle. By insisting that this vision is somehow a representation of our interiors, a reflection of the powers of our still-living imaginations, the new trailer reduces all of humanity into what British cultural theorist Mark Fisher called the “consumer-spectator, trudging through the ruins and the relics.”

It’s insidious not in spite of being just a trailer or just a movie, but because of that package. By offering up the safety of the past, shielding us from the terror of change, Ready Player One encourages us to accept our role as spectators, rather than active agents in either the world, or, as “Pure Imagination” would indicate, our own interior lives. It urges us to hide in the comforts of past rather than step bravely into an unknown future.

There is a conspiracy to shunt your imagination into smaller and smaller spaces; spaces defined by known properties so that those same products can be sold and resold to you in ever-tightening, increasingly less imaginative configurations. As your imagination shrinks, so does its hunger. They’re counting on it.

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