Could the Oasis of Ready Player One Exist in Our World?
If you’ve watched the movie or read the novel, you’d know how it’s like. The Oasis of Ready Player One is the stuff of dreams. A world made up of a thousand worlds. The collective accumulation of man’s creativity over half a century compressed into a digital cube 30 light hours long and wide. A universe, as the movie trailer describes, where people visit for all the things they can do, and stay because of all the things they can be.
Is such a fantastical realm within our grasp?
It’s anybody’s guess. For me, though, I’d say a firm no and I’m not doing so because I feel the technology involved is too unrealistic. In fact, given recent advancements in virtual reality and haptic technology, the actual science might be no more than a few years away. What makes me say no is instead man’s typical reactions towards technological or cultural breakthroughs. To put it simply, man’s endless obsessions, paranoia, possessiveness, and personal agendas will stifle any sort of digital paradise from appearing anytime soon. Even if it happens, you can be sure many would go to extremes to crush the fantasy. It will never be the incredible marvel it is in the novel and movie.
Copyright protects creators of all genres and is generally accepted to be a good thing. Because of that, it is sometimes forgotten that copyright is by its nature a double-edged sword too. Too often it switches to being a bane to creativity, be it in the form of barriers to entry or restriction to resources. This is made worse by the fact that anything justifying an international copyright is inevitably tagged with a monetary value carrying many zeroes. In some cases, the amounts run into the millions.
Author Ernest Cline is aware of this, and in the novel, he explains that fictitious genius James Halliday created a platform so popular and profitable, everybody wanted in. This scenario is plausible, though quite unlikely to happen in our actual world. Unlike the Internet which we now enjoy, the Oasis in Ready Player One is not merely an open platform or program for all to access and benefit from. It’s a digital daydream that thrives on the intense love people have for pop culture i.e. commercial brands. To put it in another way, many companies would balk at the very thought of sharing their profitable intellectual properties with another organization. Basic human possessiveness would also render any discussion impossible. It’s probably not too far to say some companies might even adopt a hawkish position towards any concept of sharing. Rather than jump in, they would incessantly monitor a universe like the Oasis. The moment they spot anything remotely resembling their creations, out goes their armies of rabid lawyers. Believe me, these lawyers will be deadlier than any futuristic army a virtual reality realm can conjure.
2. Commercial Competition
When considering whether the Oasis could become a reality in our world, you might think of Facebook. Indeed, the accomplishments of the leading social media platform are nothing short of astonishing. Not only has it transformed our lifestyles, it reshaped the way we communicate. What’s doubly impressive is that after 14 years, no organization has created a parallel that could remotely challenge Facebook’s domination. In every sense, Facebook is a cultural, commercial, and technological miracle. Which then suggests that given the right marketing and technology, a virtual reality “Oasis” could also transform our lives the same way.
Don’t forget. Facebook is a giant, but only within its own room in a house full of rooms. In competition are all sorts of other social media platforms, from Twitter to YouTube, to Tumblr, to Pinterest, just to name a few. Every hour, these players feverishly compete for more of the same pie. On most days, all end the day with little meaningful gain.
In the context of Ready Player One, this suggests that even if the Oasis does appear in our world, it is unlikely to achieve the kind of global pervasiveness described in the novel and movie. Competitors of all sorts would quickly appear, and in the long run, drive down market shares and advertisement revenues. The ultimate consequence of this is that no platform would ever accumulate the sort of financial value depicted in Ready Player One. Without that sort of money, innovation and development are constrained, or should I say, stifled. In worst case scenarios, some setups might even end up bankrupt very quickly. No thanks to the inability to pay for the massive resources necessary to make elaborate digital daydreams possible.
3. Health and Safety Concerns
If you’ve not read the novel, this will be lost on you, for the movie version of Parzival was portrayed by handsome and healthy-looking Tye Sheridan. In the original story, Parzival i.e. Wade Watts openly laments how he was overweight his entire life. He also attributes his weight problem to him spending too much time each day being in the Oasis. To have an idea, just imagine a frumpy teenager spending 10 to 12 hours each day locked up in his room. He survives on little more than junk food and soda. Outside of some arm and leg movements, he gets no exercise and sun too. Not a very healthy lifestyle at all, is it?
Of course, given we already have entertainment systems like the Xbox Kinect, one could argue not everyone would end up that way. Wouldn’t there be a plethora of fitness programs in the Oasis? Perhaps a whole planet devoted to fitness, aptly named as Balboa or Sparta? Chances are, though, few players would be inclined to sweat it out in any of these, simply because you don’t need to exercise to look fit and beautiful in a virtual reality world. All you need is an hour fussing over your avatar and there you have it, you’re the next Schwarzenegger. The next Leonidas. With this, how long would it be before governments are forced to intervene? Before both credible and suspect medical researches surface in the hundreds and terrify many with doomsday prophecies, particularly those aimed at parents? While none of these is likely to doom something as seductive as the Oasis, they would still constrict growth. Actually, all it takes is just one major health scare. The entire technology might be sent to its grave right away.
4. Political Opposition
Do you agree that politicians are the worst adversaries of a technology or a platform like the Oasis? If you don’t, I implore you to read up on what’s happening with the Internet worldwide. Globally, politicians are bending over backward to control and dominate information flow on the Net. When things get too rowdy for their tastes, few hesitate to press the big red button too. In the case of countries like China, they even cut off access completely. They do so, then install their own preferred version of things as ostentatious replacements.
To be fair, not all political motivations are insidious. Freedom of information flow does come with a plethora of ills, foremost of which being exploitation by extremists. (As with what’s happening with our existing Internet) That said, one cannot ignore the reality that most politicians would be appalled by the persuasiveness of information or opinions presented on a virtual reality medium like the Oasis, and correspondingly go all out to condemn, control, or crush the medium. Again, such antagonism wouldn’t outright destroy the technology or the medium, but it would certainly strangle it. If I were to hazard a guess, the most likely outcome of would be a mixture of what’s already written above. There would be many variants, each badly restricted by a slew of laws and regulations. None would dominate the world population the way Oasis does in Ready Player One. None would remotely be as enjoyable or as dreamy too.
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© 2018 Kuan Leong Yong