Conversely, one has to ask: What exactly is meant to be celebrated in Ready Player One beyond the number of licenses that Steven Spielberg and Warner Bros. have the rights to use? There’s no introspection of gaming culture in the present day and how that would affect the future of 2045 beyond “everyone needs to go outside and live a little,” and that’s just… basic. There’s no insight into why a virtual world full of pop culture and the things we loved in our youth would be a needed comfort in our lives reaching all the way up to adulthood. The film just looks to weaponize the most popular or eye catching things from the last 30 years and hopes it’ll land a headshot to satisfy the audience.
Black Panther is no stranger to weaponizing nostalgia and blackness, since it’s based on a comic book stretching back to the ’60s, but it feels less insidious here and more like a result of using common sense. Anyone can see that superhero movies are desperately lacking in representation for anyone who is not a white person, and it’s even more glaring in the MCU since that’s the most popular superhero film franchise around. Black Panther would’ve been a hit no matter what, just by being an MCU film, but its impact was particularly strong because it appeals to different facets of black people. It appealed to black women who haven’t really been represented in genre films by introducing Nakia, Okoye and the Dora Milaje; older black communities who know and love Angela Bassett; young black girls into STEM via T’Challa’s younger sister Shuri, and so on. This is a movie that is literally appealing to an underserved minority.
The same can’t be said for Ready Player One and gamers.
Gamers are not and will never be a minority endanger of experiencing violence simply for existing. Wearing a Pop Team Epic shirt or t-shirt from Dark Souls is not going to get anyone shot in the chest while they’re shopping in Walmart. Presenting Ready Player One as some sort of much needed respite to celebrate gamer culture as being on par with what Ryan Coogler and company provided with Black Panther is just absurd.
Everyone is playing video games these days. Everyone knows someone who plays video games these days. If gamers need to be taken more seriously, they need to take themselves seriously instead of demanding it from an audience who has learned to live and let live with the interactive medium already.
Ready Player One will not be Black Panther for nerds, because they’re not even operating in the same star system, let alone the same level of ambition and thematic depth. It serves no favors to Player One in particular, given the distaste that appears to have grown around the original book and the film’s marketing. If for no other reason, it’s a good idea to keep Panther out of Player One’s sights, because coming at the King will all but guarantee a miss.
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