Wednesday, November 28, 2018

COLUMN: Ready Player One

Over the years, I've amassed a fairly decent movie collection. But in today's age of streaming media, I've been buying fewer and fewer Blu-Rays lately. This week, though, I had to make an exception.

When Ernest Cline released his novel "Ready Player One" back in 2011, it became one of my fast favorites. Spielberg's film adaptation earlier this year was equally awesome. I saw it in the theater, and I've now been watching it on repeat viewings at home this week. With a fun nerdy plot and non-stop references to the 1980s, it's the kind of movie custom-made for a pop culture geek like myself. But I also discovered that after you watch it umpteen times, you can easily get lost daydreaming about Cline's world.

"Ready Player One" is set in a not-too-distant future where global warming and overpopulation has plunged much of the world into poverty and slums. As a result, most people instead spend their days in the OASIS -- a virtual reality universe where you can live, love, work, and play from the confines of your dilapidated shack. Strap on some VR goggles, plug yourself in, and suddenly you're anywhere you fancy. You could climb a virtual Mt. Everest or drive a virtual Batmobile -- the possibilities are limitless. The virtual currency inside the OASIS is valued more than real world money. Even if you live in a real world shantytown, you could be a mansion-owning millionaire in the OASIS.

If you want to know what happens, watch the movie or read the book. I recommend doing both, since they're quite different from one another.

But it's made me ponder: What if the OASIS really existed? What if there was a virtual world that we could escape to any time we fancied? Where would I go? How would I live? What would I do with my time?

If I had to pick the ideal virtual location for my virtual mansion, my mind immediately goes to mountains. I have no idea what makes tall stacks of ground majestic and beautiful, but nothing wows me like a good mountain vista. I think having some kind of Stanley Hotel-type mountain fortress with spectacular virtual views would be my first choice.

Then again, I know a guy who just went to Colorado and crashed his mountain bike to avoid running into a rattlesnake. If I had my global pick of locales, I think I'd rather live someplace without venomous and/or beclawed wildlife. Even in a virtual world, I'm enough of a weenie to be virtually afraid of virtual snakes and cyber-bears. I sincerely doubt the existence of Bigfoot, but in an imagination-fueled world where anything's possible? I'd be surrounded by robo-Sasquatches by sunset.

My next pick, then, would be ocean-side. Nothing centers me quite like staring out over an infinite sea. Going to bed with the sounds of waves crashing against craggy rocks would beat the heck out of any white noise machine the real world could offer.

Hmm, but once broke my foot walking down a sidewalk. I should probably avoid craggy rocks. I can't swim in the real world, so what makes me think my virtual avatar would fare any better? I don't want to be the first virtual corpse to wash up on a virtual beach. It'd be safer to set up virtual residence somewhere land-locked. Maybe I should just settle for, like, a river or something.

A desert? Too virtually hot. A medieval castle? Too virtually cold. I suppose it really doesn't matter WHERE I virtually live, as long as I have a massive mansion that I could deck out any way I saw fit.

Then again, in all the virtual worlds and virtual homes in "Ready Player One," I never once saw a virtual maid. I don't want to exhaust my imagination building a massive virtual dream house only to spend all my virtual time having to virtually clean the place. Plus, unless I round up a virtual girlfriend, which is virtually unlikely, I'd be stuck by myself in some echoey mansion that, knowing my luck, will be virtually haunted.

No, I'd probably be better off in a small simple imaginary home with a nice TV and a couple of virtual cats.

In other words, if I had access to a virtual world where I could live anywhere and do anything, I'd probably live in Virtual Rock Island, in a house identical to my own, sitting on a virtual couch playing virtual video games and watching movies about people who live in other virtual worlds.

And something tells me, as long as I had access to virtual Harris Pizza, I'd get along okay. Virtually.

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