With the mass acceptance of video games and the general rise of nerd/geek culture both in visibility and as a marketing base, it was perhaps natural that Ready Player One by Ernest Cline would be developed as a big budget studio release (with Spielberg at the helm, no less). It is a favorite of video game fans and also a best-seller success, offering both a name-check-romp through the eccentricities of fandom and a titillating peek into shouted mists of video game history for outsiders. Despite being positioned as a scion of fandom, my recent experience playing through Gone Home, with its far more complex portrayal of the way people interact with art, made me think back to all of my many experiences in subcultures, and deeply question this "beloved novel’s" vision of fandom, both past and future.
In Fredric Jameson’s book on utopian literature, Archaeologies of the Future, he proposes a nifty Occam’s Razor for science fiction. Which is that one way you can judge a sci-fi work is based on the potential veracity of its imagined version of future or alien art. Works that have art that seems to make sense for its world, both historically and socio-economically - say sculpture on a Mars colony that incorporates its barren landscapes and low gravity, or in a bug-person district whose inhabitants see and smell with a wildly different set of sense organs - seem to Jameson to correlate with novels that have a strong grasp of the multitudinous, often idiosyncratic and conflicted, perspectives and forces that come with any imagined society, small or large.
If you look at Ready Player One, it fails this test with the dullest colors. In Ernest Cline’s version of the world, there is nothing but pasteurized nerd culture and buzzing-fluorescent white corporate wasteland. Is there any thought put into what the evil corporate guys listen to while they cheat at the grand contest? Nope. Any kids making music with hacked gear in the slums? Nope. Virtual environments where you don’t have to grind levels as a class from Dungeons & Dragons? Nope. Fifty years in the future there is just 3D virtual reality based on Everquest that is divided into “planets” which are individual recreations of assorted 80s movies and arcades.