Are we living in “Ready Player One”?

          “Ready Player One” is a bestselling science fiction novel from 2011, written by American Author Ernest Cline, and more recently adapted into a blockbuster movie in 2018, directed by Steven Spielberg.  The book tells the story of a decaying futuristic society set in the year 2044, one in which the real world is in despair, but people enter a Virtual Reality type of a world each day as a way of finding happiness and escape.  While the world is in decline, people turn to the Virtual Reality world of the “OASIS”, which serves as its own nostalgic dreamworld, and also serves essentially as a real life video game, where everyone involved can compete.  The plot of the story involves a teenager who enters this world, tells the story of the character and his group of virtual friends, and ultimately focuses on a video game type competition created by a man who envisioned this virtual world called the “OASIS”.  Much like a virtual reality world, people are able to pick and choose what type of character they want to be, what the character looks like, strengths of the character, and ultimately whatever type of role you want your character to have. 

    Each day the main character puts on a visor and gloves, and enters the virtual reality “OASIS”.  Over time, the character develops his own circle of friends, a girlfriend, and a mastery of the “OASIS” , and essentially becomes the person who ends up conquering this particular video game.  The “OASIS” has its own form of currency, which serves as the equivalent of experience points in a video game, and offers a seemingly never ending virtual world, the ultimate role playing video game, where real life and the virtual reality world are definitely blurred.  Things get tricky towards the end of the story as this close group of Virtual reality friends all meet each other in real life in person, as it gets a little awkward finding out that everyone isn't quite like their respective Virtual Reality video game character, but the good news is that friendships and relationships can still survive outside of the game, it just may take a little adjusting. 

         After reading the book “Ready Player One”, and seeing the Steven Spielberg movie this year, it certainly got me thinking about how our own real lives are trending this way, especially when you consider our lives on social media, plus how video games themselves and virtual reality really have evolved.  I'm starting to believe that we all are becoming real life characters in the story of “Ready Player One”, and I'll explain further here.

                                         Video Games: How did we get here?

   “Ready Player One” does a really nice job of knowing its history regarding how video games have grown and changed over the past 30-40 years.  The “old school” era of video gaming took us back to the 1980's, where people could play a video game at an arcade, the games were overall simpler, yet still worth hours and hours of gaming fun and quarters thrown into an arcade machine.  As video games evolved after the 1980's, you would see more and more comprehensive video game systems and games themselves. Many video games expanded into more of a “role playing” type of format, where you could create a character and enter a virtual world.  Video game series's such as “Grand Theft Auto”, “World of Warcraft”, and “Call of Duty” seemed to take things to the next level, as far as being able to play around in a virtual reality world, allowing players to roam freely, without worrying about what the “mission” was as far as beating the game, and as more and more of these video games entered the online era, you could play these games with real life friends, or other real people online. As gaming moves forward past 2018, you can only imagine that the virtual reality world of video games is really only going to get more expansive, and more online friendly for everyone. 

 Social Media: The beginning 

      As the online world evolved after the year 2000, and the internet became faster and more common, we started to see the birth of what we know of today as Social Media.  Just over a decade ago, you had a site called “Myspace”, which was one of the earliest social media sites.  On “Myspace” you could create your own “page” which had a theme that you could choose, featuring your interests, and whatever other personal information you felt comfortable sharing on there.  For me, it was a place to share what sports teams I was interested in, and other things like what bands I listen to, or what TV shows I watched. 

           The photo above is the profile page of Tom Anderson, who was the creator of “Myspace”.  The cool thing about Tom was that he was your very first “friend” on the site.  You could then add your real life friends who had a page on the site, as well as other people you might not know, but could connect through similar interests, for example, you became “friends” with people who rooted for the same Professional Sports team, or had similar political interests.  “Myspace was pretty groundbreaking in many ways, but of course it would end up getting replaced. 

         As years went on, the social media world ended up getting taken over by the “Facebook” website.  With “Facebook”, the site took some of the elements like Myspace had in having “friends” , and made quite a few positive additions, such as the creation of a “News feed” where you could see your friends posting real time updates on things, as if you were watching the news on your television, but this was all about your friends in real life.  You could get updates of your friends posting real time photos of their vacation, photos of their pets or kids, checking in at a football game they are attending, as well as finding out if one of your friends had found a new girlfriend or boyfriend. 

         Facebook became quite an addiction for many people, as it seemed that posting your status on Facebook became nearly as important as what you were actually doing.  For example, I once took a trip to Las Vegas, but made sure to post a Facebook update for each stop in Vegas I made, which included many fun casinos and clubs. The need to share with friends on a site like this seemed to really take over people, and not surprisingly something like Facebook became an addiction to many.


 Twitter and the social media evolution

    Naturally, with the success of something like “Facebook” you were going to start to see other sites emerge as top competitors.  The social media site “Twitter” has really taken charge in this regard.  “Twitter” essentially removed some of the unnecessary things you would see on Facebook, and made things simpler, yet more effective in many ways.  Instead of “Friends”, Twitter uses the concept of “followers”, and has become more of a place for people to connect on a National or global basis. Celebrities and politicians have taken a real liking to Twitter, as they can simply share their message for all people to see, and it really isn't fancy.  President Trump, for example, loves using Twitter, as it is a quick and easy way for him to share his message, and at the same time allows the general public to weigh in on his message rather easily.  Other sites like “Instagram” and “Snapchat” also have gained popularity, each having their own twist or variation of social media interaction, and are especially accessible today in the age of smartphones, where you see both adults and teens on their smartphones, addicted to at least one of these sites.  Dating has now become more and more popular online, as there are now plenty of websites and social apps available for someone to try to find a date, quickly and easily.  Some sites try to pair people with similar interests as a possible dating match, while others are simpler, and ask you to simply “swipe right or left” on your phone, if you are possibly interested in a date with that person.  As social media continues to evolve, I'm certain you'll find even better sites and apps to connect with friends, like minded people, or find a date. 



 2018:  Have we reached “Ready Player One” now on Social Media?                                                 

      In 2018, The social media life of myself, and many others I know has started to remind me exactly of the “Ready Player One” story, where our lives have become blurred into some type of a matrix, a blend of real life mixed into a social media video game.  I will use the example here of “Twitter” as it is the social media site I use the most, but you could certainly substitute other social media sites into this comparison.  On Twitter, you can create your own profile, as however you want to see yourself, or your “character” for that matter.  People model their profiles after things like Superheroes, comic book characters, cartoons, political figures, celebrities, or even crazy things like robots, aliens, or dinosaurs.  You can choose your character, and make the character as crazy or unusual as you want it to be, or simply use your own profile with your real life identity or picture.  Whatever character you want to choose, it becomes your Twitter identity, for me, my Twitter identity is that of a cartoon character, which still totally has my personality, but it is more like my personality after drinking a pot of coffee, a bottle of whiskey, or whatever enhancing type of a drug you want to throw in here.  In my case, it is what I'd call a very hyped up, crazier, and a more insane version of myself, yet deep down it is still me inside. In “Ready Player One” we saw people's virtual characters connecting together, and different groups or cliques were formed of characters together based on their compatibility and interests. I've also connected with many people on the Twitter site,  and we have become connected by similar interests, as people can connect and/or group together based on their interest in something like movies, sports, or even their love or hate for President Trump for example. I've  totally found friendships that I have  developed on here, real people coming together despite essentially living in different parts of the country, or world for that matter.  Most are people that I've never met in real life, and sadly, won't ever likely really get to meet most of them, but you gain a connection, and some of these people you seem to know even better than your friends in real life.  I like to joke around and refer to other guys as “Twitter buddies” or girls as “Twitter Girlfriends”, but much like in the “Ready Player One” story, it is possible yet tricky if you really tried to meet any of these same people in real life.  In most cases, people aren't quite the same as their Twitter profile indicates, yet it certainly would be intriguing to meet many of them in real life, as real friendships and relationships have occurred through a platform like this.

  You can also gain video game type experience points using something like Twitter. People like to treat is as a badge of honor as to how many people follow them on the site.  Those with higher amounts of followers seem to immediately gain a level of respect on the site, as followers resemble experience points or currency in this particular pseudo real life video game.  For example, someone with 100,000 followers, can be seen almost as royalty on a site like this, while others with low followings, are essentially disrespected, laughed at,  and not taken so seriously. People seem to keep checking each day as to how many followers they've gained, and essentially a party is thrown for a milestone following, for example, a party if you reached 30,000 followers today.  Each day, and every time you decide to make a post on the site or a “Tweet”, you have a chance to gain experience points or currency.   A feeling of power ultimately takes place if you tweet something, and you see hundreds of people “liking” your tweet or “retweeting” or sharing your tweet.  Once in awhile I'll have a tweet that really has success, and gets thousands of people to like or retweet, and it can be seen as quite an accomplishment, as if you have achieved the high score on the Twitter video game, at least for that particular day.  Once you've had the gratification of a highly successful tweet, things move forward quickly, and you are off trying to figure out how to top you high scoring tweet, and winning the next day, or the next hour for that matter, as things happen to trend so quickly on our social media these days. 

   Conclusion

“Ready Player One” was a pretty realistic work of science fiction in my opinion, giving us a futuristic world look of a society that grew up in video games, social media, and other high tech things.  As we continue to evolve here in 2018, we are also as a society getting shaped by the culture of computers, video games, the internet, and social media.  The line between our own realities, and the virtual world or worlds we enter each day continues to be blurred.  At the conclusion of “Ready Player One”, you essentially learn a lesson, that while you may conquer the virtual world or video game you are involved in, it is also important to take the time and unplug yourself away from this particular game, and enjoy your real life. It is a good example I think for all of us to limit the amount of time we spend in our virtual worlds, social media, and/or cellphones to say the least.  As while we all can have quite a blast in our social media or virtual reality worlds, you don't want to let your own real life go to decay, like the people and society in “Ready Player One” had done.

Author: Shawn Gallagher
Follow Shawn on Twitter: @shawnG927

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