Feature Article

Why Ready Player One's Virtual Video Game Just Doesn't Make Sense

The Oasis is more like a mirage.

Like the unbelievably popular book on which it's based, Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One sends viewers to the incredibile virtual world of The Oasis. It's a VR paradise in which anything is possible, you can go anywhere, and everyone is welcome. Unfortunately, it makes no sense within the movie.

The Oasis is a beautiful fantasy, but it falls apart when you stop to think about it. Unlike Ernest Cline's book, the film doesn't have the time to delve into the specific rules for the virtual world. It leaves some of them deliberately vague to make room for plot twists and exciting action set pieces--like whether you can harm other players anywhere in the Oasis, or just in certain areas. The movie repeats other rules--like how progression and death within the Oasis work--as if they're gospel, then ignores them in multiple scenes.

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Now Playing: Ready Player One Spoiler Talk: Pure Spielberg Magic

None of this should prevent you from enjoying Spielberg's Ready Player One adaptation for what it is: A super fun homage to all the nerdy stuff we love. But since we also love picking those things apart, let's explore a few reasons why Ready Player One's Oasis doesn't work as a video game.

Movement makes no sense

This one should be fairly obvious, even to a casual viewer: The ways that players move within The Oasis don't really work.

The movie does just enough to try to explain this that you might not notice right away. Wade has an omni-directional treadmill in his junkyard hideout, and you see those throughout the movie. Sometimes, he sits in a chair while he plays, presumably to mimic sitting in a car and other similar activities. Other players, like IOI executive Nolan Sorrento, have big, expensive-looking rigs that look like they might be able to move in more complex ways (not that we ever see that), while Aech's van has wires that players can hang from.

Oasis players without these advantages apparently just run around on the street with their headsets on, as we see toward the end of the movie. Besides being incredibly dangerous, that just doesn't make sense. Players are fighting on a huge battlefield in the movie's climax; are they actually running that entire length, throwing punches and roundhouse kicks, while out in the streets of Columbus, Ohio? How does the Oasis detect your movement if you're just dashing around on the asphalt in sneakers?

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In that same battle scene, Aech tosses Wade a murderous Chucky doll to unleash on their enemies. We only see this in the real world, where actress Lena Waithe literally balls up her hands and mimes an underhand toss in Wade's direction. Only, in The Oasis, Aech is currently inhabiting the Iron Giant (more on that later), and Parzival is driving his DeLorean through the carnage. Did the Iron Giant just stop what it was doing in the game to physically toss a Chucky doll into Parzival's car? There's a reason we only see that little gesture play out in the van, and not in the game.

It gets even worse when you think about a scene like the dance club, where Parzival and Artemis go to hunt down the second clue. They spend half the scene twirling gracefully through the air, spinning and kicking like mermaid ballerinas. But as we can see when our view returns to the real world, Wade is still sitting placidly in the chair in the back of his van. Are they using pre-programmed dance move macros? Either way, the movie doesn't bother to establish that.

Death and progression make no sense

This is a big one, as it's one of those rules the movie repeats over and over again, yet also breaks constantly. When your avatar dies in The Oasis, you lose everything you have--all your money, loot, equipment, and items. The movie's version of The Oasis kind of has a leveling system, as it does refer to the levels of certain magic artifacts, like the level 99 artifact The Orb of Osuvox. But it never refers to characters' levels, so we have to assume that your gear is the only method of progression that exists.

But besides the most hardcore, niche games in existence, that's not how video games work, and if that's how The Oasis worked, it wouldn't be so popular. People definitely wouldn't be investing their life savings into upgrades or equipment that they might lose permanently the next time they log in. Most actual video games have a way to store things you earn, and purchases you make--especially expensive ones--are tied to your account so you can't lose them.

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Well, doesn't The Oasis have ways to store things? It must, since we see multiple environments--like Aech's workshop and virtual home--where she has everything from furniture, clothes, and posters to vehicles and half-finished projects stored. And yet, an experienced player like TJ Miller's character I-R0k is carrying "ten years' worth of s***" on him at all times, as he laments in the climactic scene, before being decimated by the Cataclyst.

If there was a way to store things, surely I-R0k would have used it; so then what's going on with Aech's stuff? It makes zero sense, and it's even worse when you consider the next point.

Combat makes no sense

In the book, there are PvP zones--player-vs.-player areas where you can attack other people's avatars--and non-combat zones where you can't, like the virtual school Wade attends. Like those VR schools, the idea that there are some places in The Oasis where you're safe from being attacked is completely left out of the movie.

I can see why they'd choose this route. The movie tries to establish only the most basic and simple rules for this game world, and leaves everything else up to the imagination. And this creates opportunities for narrative drama, like when IOI's sixers ambush Parzival and Artemis inside the Distracted Globe, a nightclub that, in a realistic game, would be a non-PvP social space.

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But that also makes the previous point--that you lose everything your character has when you die--seem even more nonsensical. If any random player could walk up to you at any place and at any time in The Oasis, pull out a gun, shoot you in the head, and steal all your stuff, the entire virtual world would be a bloodbath that makes Planet Doom look like a merry-go-round. There'd be nowhere safe.

If a place like the Distracted Globe actually existed in The Oasis, it would have to be a non-combat safe zone, or it would be impossible for players to relax and have a good time there. But the movie establishes explicitly that the Distracted Globe, like Planet Doom and the rest of The Oasis, is indeed a PvP zone (unless IOI can somehow cheat and break the game's rules, in which case, why would they need to do any of this at all?). And that doesn't make any sense.

The Economy makes no sense

Aech being a superstar on The Oasis's "mod boards" is a cute little character detail that establishes that she's handy and resourceful, setting up her later use of her custom-built Iron Giant. But I have to ask: How does The Oasis's economy work? Because it seems like it doesn't work at all, if you look at it logically.

In the scene where Parzival and Aech go shopping after Parzival's first big win, we can see that Tracer from Overwatch is a purchasable skin within The Oasis. We see her zipping around in several other shots, so presumably more than one player is running around with a purchased Tracer costume on. You have to assume Blizzard is making money off those sales, since they own Overwatch and by extension Tracer.

So why is Parzival so amazed when Sorrento tells him that IOI owns the Millennium Falcon? We don't see any visual Star Wars junk in Ready Player One for real world licensing reasons, but if something like that existed within The Oasis, wouldn't anyone be able to buy it? Why would that be impressive?

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Maybe it's just prohibitively expensive, so few people can afford to own one. OK, so where does Aech's game mod workshop fit in? Games that support modding don't typically mesh well with microtransaction-driven in-game economies.

If Aech builds and sells a custom Iron Giant, or the Galactica, or The Valley Forge from Silent Running, do the rights holders get a cut? Why doesn't Aech just build everyone in The High Five a custom Millennium Falcon, with Ghostbusters decals and the dashboard from Knight Rider, that transforms into a Gundam suit and lasts indefinitely? Why would an artifact that lets you turn into a giant robot for two measly minutes, like the one Daito uses in the final battle, even be special if you can just build your own Iron Giant and run around in it forever (or at least until Mecha Godzilla owns you too hard)? It doesn't make sense.

The Easter Egg hunt makes no sense

Lastly, the entire hunt for the Easter Egg makes virtually no sense. This is an interesting one, because the version in the book--incredibly obscure puzzles hidden in remote corners of The Oasis where you'd never think to look--arguably makes more sense, even if the movie's high octane race and recreation of The Shining are more exciting.

When building his ultimate Easter egg hunt, Halliday would have known how gamers operate when faced with a challenge. Therefore, he would have known that any puzzle with a solution as simple as "drive the wrong way on the race track" would have been solved on day one.

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You can even ignore the fact that IOI has teams of researchers supposedly poring over every second of Halliday's life, and that the clue Parzival discovers--Halliday literally saying "put the pedal to the metal and go backward as fast as possible"--is way, way too obvious for them to have all missed it. Just look at the lengths gamers in the real world have gone to solve massive, game-spanning puzzles like Destiny's Outbreak Prime, the Trials Evolution riddle, or Spelunky's infamously elusive depths. And that was without the fate of "the world's most important economic resource," as Sorrento calls it, hanging in the balance.

As soon as it became clear that getting past King Kong was impossible, the thousands or even millions of players hunting for the first key would have simply brute-forced the solution by trying every possible variation of every action that could be taken during the race. Driving the wrong way is way too easy to have taken five years to discover. It doesn't make any sense.

But that's OK

I have way more questions about how The Oasis actually works. Like, how can Ogden Morrow be the curator? When the hunt started, there must have been thousands or millions of players clamoring to access the Halliday journals, despite the fact that they're virtually empty by the time the movie takes place. One man dressed up as a robot butler couldn't possibly handle all their requests. Does Ogg just slip into the character whenever Wade comes around? Maybe, but the movie doesn't feel like muddying up that emotional reveal at the end with things like "details."

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What about Parzival's climactic live broadcast to everyone in the entire Oasis? We see that every player has a floating droid companion that can take selfies for them. Does Wade's have special abilities? Because if not, and every player has the option to broadcast a live video to the entire Oasis at any time, then this virtual world would be constantly flooded with spam and trolling and none of it would function. If Wade somehow gained this ability through his fame or wealth, the movie never explains it.

I could go on and on. The more closely you examine this movie, the less sense it makes. But the strangest thing of all is that I ultimately don't care. Ready Player One's virtual video game world was designed to be as simple and accessible as possible, not to please nitpicking gamers, but to appeal to the widest audience it can. Ultimately, Ready Player One is a blast, and no amount of nitpicking can change that--not that that will stop us.

What were your biggest gripes with The Oasis or Ready Player One as a whole? Let us know in the comments below.

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mrougeau

Michael Rougeau

Mike Rougeau is GameSpot's Managing Editor of Entertainment, with over 10 years of pop culture journalism experience. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two dogs.

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