Ready Player One’s quixotic ideas about the future of online life aren’t unique, because nothing is unique to Ready Player One. It’s a haphazard mishmash of more meaningful and resonant pieces of culture, a callow pastiche that stands on the shoulders of more interesting works and demands the applause they’ve earned for itself. But Ready Player One is also worse than that, in quietly unexamined ways that speak to the internet’s original sin. If the book has anything to say beyond repeating a litany of cool franchises, it is believing that the internet is a sublime, inherently liberating space where allowing anyone to say and do whatever they want will lead, inevitably, toward an abstract notion of freedom. While that may have been the case for some members of society — notably the most privileged ones — in practice, it’s meant injustice and abuse for a lot of others.
I’ve been working in the technology field for over a decade now, and what drew me to the Internet and web-based work was this same optimism. It’s taken some time—and meeting many people different from myself—to learn that it hasn’t happened that way for everyone, and in a lot of cases, has made things worse.
But I continue to work in this field and do what I can to push things forward because I believe these things are still possible. It’s just that the road is a lot harder than I thought it would be and will take different approaches than perhaps I’d previously thought.
Ready Player One is garbage, but it’s garbage that can partially reveal to us where we’ve been misguided.