Set in the distant future, this movie directed by Steven Spielberg introduces viewers to the year 2045. The Earth has gone through a lot of noticeable changes and the typical day in the life looks drastically different from what it is right now. The idea of a virtual world, accessed through a specifically designed platform like Google is an idea in the making in the 21st Century.
Any avid Sci-Fi fan would agree, progress is defined by what daring directors and international authors imagine and portray through their art. Prominent examples include (but aren’t limited to) the masterpiece of HG Wells: ‘Time Machine’ and Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’.
In this article, we look into the constant that has been the game changer throughout human civilization- currency, more specifically the ‘economy’ of the world of 2045 as portrayed by Ready Player One.
Before we move into the crux of the topic, we should understand the background in which the movie is set through a brief summary of the plot. In the year 2045, people seek to forget the pains and hardships of reality through a virtual reality entertainment universe called the OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation) created by the characters of James Halliday and Ogden Morrow of a company named Gregarious Games.
After his death, a pre-recorded message left by his avatar Anorak announces a game, granting complete ownership of OASIS to the winner of the Golden Easter Egg which can be found after winning three challenges. This contest has led to the creation of a number of ‘Gunters’, or egg hunters, and the interest of Nolan Sorrento, the CEO of Innovative Online Industries (IOI) who seeks to control OASIS himself in order to insert intrusive online advertising. IOI uses a number of indentured servants through centers known as Loyalty Centres as well as an army of employees called ‘Sixers’ to win the set of challenges.
When one really understands this movie as an economics case study, four umbrellas of interest make the setting of the story even more meaningful:
The article is divided into the above points and relevant similarities and examples have been given to elaborate on the economic nature of such a world if it ever were to become a reality.
The Company, Innovative Online Industries (IOI) has been portrayed as an entity that operates by taking full advantage of the monopoly it holds in the marketing and advertising sector. We are able to understand the extent to which IOI dominates through the scenes that feature the result minded CEO of IOI, Nolan Sorrento as he presents the future of marketing to a board meeting where the presentation clearly places the benefit of the company before the best interests of players in the OASIS.
So, what is a "monopoly"? It refers to an establishment where a company (in this case IOI) and the products offered dominate a certain sector (in this case – Online Interactive Gaming). Monopolies can be considered as an extreme result of a free-market capitalism, where any form of restriction or restraint inhibiting such unchecked growth results in the company owning all or nearly the whole market.
We are also shown how in the board meeting, Nolan Sorrento wishes to win the challenge and make IOI the sole owner of the OASIS, resulting in them achieving complete monopoly in the world of interactive gaming.
This then becomes the case of a natural monopoly. By having ownership of the product, they were able to set their own rules in the market, making it impossible for other companies to show interest. For example, Microsoft Corporation dominates in sales with regards to the software and the operating system for personal computers.
As it turns out, the production of quality products does not always lead to the fact that the company in question is behaving as a monopoly. This can be proved by the case filed against Microsoft in 1994 which charged the entity for the interests in monopolizing the personal computer industry, and in 1998 was told to divest into two independent companies. This decision was later reversed.
The example of IOI implies that having full control of a market, customer rights, restrictions, and product quality have huge effects that hurt the very belief of a free market.
Every object, service, or commodity has a certain value. Be it, 100 Dollars, 40 Euros, 6000 Rupees, or 10,000 Dongs. This value of a certain object determines the strength of a nation’s economy. Similarly, in the OASIS we are shown scenes, where players are able to choose from a wide array of such appliances to help them fight other players in the world, which when the costliest, automatically becomes supremely powerful.
Currency in the real world is determined by the value of export and imports made by a nation. Initially, before the Bretton Woods conference, the gold reserves of a nation were used as the common ground for such a valuation. In the perspective of a game, virtual currency is determined by the quantity of a certain commodity that is available, ease of achieving the said object, and its effectiveness in helping the player win that specific game.
For instance, the Holy Hand grenade used by Parcival (Wade Watts) to defeat the IOI soldier’s in the final scenes. Similarly, the way Nolan Sorrento was able to commandeer a mechanical Godzilla to defend the final key from all the players, who by following Parcival stand up against the monopoly IOI holds over the world of OASIS.
Poverty is another aspect that is shown in the world of 2045. This reality has forced individuals to escape reality into the world of OASIS. This poverty is evident, in the living standards of the protagonists and their immediate support characters to that of the antagonist. We can also argue that the success of the OASIS is of such a massive scale due to the condition that the majority of the population live their lives in.
A value of a commodity is only known when such a commodity is introduced to a group of individuals who have not had the chance to use it and benefit from it. This case ensures any company to sell and evaluate the worthiness of their product by understanding its effect on communities who are not aware of such a product.
Medicines, though not comparable to virtual Gaming software serve as the perfect example as its benefits are far-reaching to the communities that have no past experience with such a product. This also allows various companies to exploit the demand for their product, through establishing a patent for their product, by creating artificial demand to boost supply which inadvertently leads to them establishing a monopoly in the said sector.
The best example is the production of Insulin, a lifesaving diabetic drug that brings with a hefty price making it almost impossible for low-wage earning families to afford the drug. The Insulin producing market is dominated by Elly Lily. By looking at this movie from such an angle makes us wonder as to the reality in which we live in.
Similarly, with low living wages, ensuring, buying the right commodities becomes a much desperate and unfair task for such individuals, groups. To buy their required items such individuals are forced to take loans to cover their monetary requirements, which if not paid back would be used as collateral. In the case of The Ready Player One, through indentured servitude in the IOI’s Loyalty centers.
The character Artemis is shown as the girl who stands against the monopoly IOI holds over the people since her father was a victim of unfair banking practices. This also brings our attention to the severe human rights violations by the IOI, which in reality highlights the actions undertaken by unchecked groups for their own benefits.
Through these pointers, we as Hollywood fans should also understand the deeper workings behind a Sci-Fi world which can become very true in the coming future. The questions, "what is reality?" and "why are we here?" come into our minds when we watch such movies for recreational purposes, with the objective to escape the stress of life or reality?
Finally, I believe the lines spoken by the character; Halliday… that reality is the only thing that is real. Because, it is also the only place, where as the character puts it ‘the only place you can get a proper meal’ and also the only place where we are able to live up to who we are and who we are meant to be.
Written by Nilabha Mukherjea