Next week marks the arrival of the film adaptation of Ready Player One, based on the 2011 novel of the name from Ernest Cline. Because it’s been heavily marketed, is packed to the brim with pop culture references spanning nerd culture from the last 30 years, and has Steven Spielberg in the director’s chair, it’s drawn a lot of attention and hype. It looks like a video game movie that is unashamed to be a video game movie, which is honestly something of a rarity for that particular genre.
However, as the movie’s gotten closer to release, some fans have taken to claiming that this movie is for nerds and gamers in the same way that Marvel’s Black Panther has been for black people in terms of impact.
The meaning of this comparison primarily stems from the logic that Player One has the possibility of bringing a particular “culture” to the big screen that mainstream audiences have never really gotten to see before. And you know what? That’s actually a solid point. It’s almost always nice to shine a spotlight on a perspective that audiences haven’t seen before. In this day and age, representation matters, and there are plenty of minority cultures which deserve to be properly represented.
But the idea that this extends to Ready Player One is foolish, and blatantly ignores everything going on in the world right now in relation to video games. This film is coming out in theaters just two weeks after Tomb Raider, itself based on a long running video game franchise that is iconic in its own right, no matter how audiences reacted to the actual film.
And the ubiquity of video game culture this month doesn't stop there. Not long ago, Canadian rapper Drake spent a night playing Fortnite with a famous Twitch streamer, and even brought along a bevy of other rappers along for the ride. The idea that gaming needs any kind of “legitimacy” in 2018 comes off as both ironic and ignorant, as though a trailer for the upcoming God of War game didn’t premiere literally on the floor of a Golden State Warriors game just a month ago. Video games are a multimillion dollar industry that stopped needing to be legitimized around a decade ago, and even if they did, a movie that just has cameo after cameo wouldn’t be the way to do it.
To compare Black Panther and Ready Player One is a gross misunderstanding of what made the former the juggernaut that it is and will forever be remembered as. Yes, there were black superhero films before, both good and bad, but Black Panther aimed to be something different, and still something that was specific to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s a genuine celebration and examination of black culture from the perspective of both Africans and African Americans, and that’s something that shows throughout the film, from the costuming to the music to the dialogue. It's clear just from that first trailer alone and the venom with which Andy Serkis’ Ulysses Klaue talks about how Wakanda is a “golden city” originally thought to be in South America instead of Africa.