Living my Faith through Babylon 5 Sep19

Living my Faith through Babylon 5...

Babylon 5 tells an epic, five-year story about a war of galactic proportions against a terrifying, ancient evil. Surprisingly (especially for a TV series written by a non-believer), the show also encourages me to examine my own faith and how I act on it. The station at the center of the series is a cross between an interplanetary United Nations and a busy seaport. While providing docking facilities and commercial opportunities, it also hosts diplomatic delegations from dozens of worlds. The station is run by the human representatives of Earth Force, who are charged with managing the day-to-day mundanities of life in space as well as providing leadership to the council and protection to all on board. Various faiths of humanity are represented throughout the series, with appearances by Muslim, Hindu, and Christian leaders. One of the most memorable episodes deals with sin and redemption, featuring a group of Trappist monks. But even more fascinating to me is the show’s in-depth exploration of alien religions. The Centauri and Shallow Faith The Centauri are an old race of humans whose religion is based on a pantheon of fifty or so individual gods. Although the people appeal to their gods periodically, their religion seems to make relatively few demands on them. Their empire is in decline and has been for a long time, but propelled by pride, they seek any means of getting ahead–even at the cost of enslaving or destroying other races. Their ambassador, Londo Mollari, embodies their pragmatic approach to life. He is a believer in name only, giving lip service to his gods, but never letting his faith change or challenge his actions. What I wanted was far more important than what God wanted. At the beginning of the series, Londo is a...

The Fundamentalism of the Jedi Order and Christianity Sep17

The Fundamentalism of the Jedi Order and Christianity...

Though the Jedi Council might frown on questioning their faith, Ahsoka Tano has no problem examining it (or anything else that piques her curiosity). If you’re a Star Wars fan, but you’re wondering who Ahsoka Tano is, that’s okay! Many die-hard fans of the series have yet to be introduced to some of its animated components, including the critically-acclaimed Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Chronologically, The Clone Wars takes place between Episodes II and III, featuring the adventures of the Clone Troopers, the Separatists, and the Jedi—namely, Obi-Wan, Anakin, and his padawan, Ahsoka Tano. Ahsoka is a Togruta who is introduced to us as a young girl. Not unlike her master, she is headstrong, defiant, and spunky, though she does have a side that is both cleverer and softer than Anakin. She is overwhelmingly compassionate and savvy, brought to life by the amazing voice of Ashley Eckstein. Ahsoka’s storyline is complex, and to some degree, she was always an outlier while training to be a Jedi Knight. Though she is obedient and strongly trusts in the Force, Ahsoka is never afraid to ask questions, which sometimes appears impertinent to her superiors. She questions motives, desires, and even her faith. In fact, in a climactic moment in The Clone Wars, Ahsoka is framed for a murder, and when she seeks help from the Jedi, they do not advocate for her innocence. Feeling forced to run, Ahsoka escapes the authorities’ grasp, but after her name is cleared, she is left with great doubts about the Jedi Order. I was taught not to question, to obey blindly, and thought that by performing, by being “good,” that I could earn approval. But Ahsoka doesn’t forget the Force, never confusing its solemn power with those who use it, and though...

Consent isn’t that Complicated: Dollhouse, Slavery, and the Sex Trade Sep12

Consent isn’t that Complicated: Dollhouse, Slavery, and the Sex Trade...

Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse (or as my sister calls it, “That Porn Show”) never got the commercial success I think it deserved. Arguably much darker than Whedon’s previous fare, the ethical grey areas of the show prevented it from the more casual tones of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly—shows that allowed for a comic flair that would diminish Dollhouse’s themes—in order for it to explore topics like slavery and sexual consent. Following a group of people who have new personalities programmed into them to satisfy the needs of rich clients, the  freedom of the “dolls” to consent seems complicated at first. They have given up the use of their bodies, supposedly willingly, for an allotted time. In the main character’s case, she agrees to the terms under duress. And it’s revealed later that one of the other dolls, Sierra, was put there against her will—an elaborate trap by a rejected suitor who was intent on “owning” her. Because their purpose is fantasy-fulfillment, all of the dolls are extremely attractive. As they are often programmed for sexual contracts, they are essentially sex trade workers, slaves unable to leave or even access their original personalities. However, clients’ consciences are pacified by the Dollhouse assuring them everything is consensual, with the original owner’s persona erased from that body and exchanged for whatever the client wants. While it is people with power that organize sex trafficking, people with less privilege allow the trafficking to continue. According to Canadian laws, it is generally accepted that consent cannot be given by someone who is impaired or sleeping: “It’s a strong and clear judgment that consent requires a conscious operating mind and that you can’t either actively consent or revoke your consent in the absence of that,” says Melanie Randall,...

Inception: Christopher Nolan’s Masterclass on Storytelling Sep05

Inception: Christopher Nolan’s Masterclass on Storytelling...

Writer-director Christopher Nolan is known for making mind-bending movies. From Momento to The Prestige to his Dark Knight trilogy to Dunkirk, Nolan’s signature style rests in cerebral storytelling that often takes the viewer by surprise, either at the end of his films, or at multiple points along the way as the stories unfold and you realize what you’re watching is not, exactly, what is happening—or at least, not what’s happening at the moment you think it’s happening. It’s a particularly effective storytelling method because it causes you to engage with his stories on another level, whether you want to or not. In Nolan’s films, pure story meets logical function and the faculties of analysis are engaged. As an exceptional storyteller, Nolan recognizes the power stories hold. All stories have the ability to change minds and hearts, and therefore culture, because it is through stories that ideas are planted. I maintain that storytellers are the most powerful people in society. Culture—more than politics or economics or anything else—changes the tide of history. Ideas have power, and it is our art, our stories, that plant those ideas into our psyche, where they take root and grow. Storytellers can slip inside the mind and change people from the inside out just like the architects in Inception. In 2010, Nolan gave us a movie that showed how keenly aware he is of the importance and power of stories. But not only that, in the movie itself, he instructs us in how to harness that power—a power that can be both very good, or devastating. The movie is Inception, a word he redefined for the purpose of the film as the implanting of an idea into the mind. Inception is Christopher Nolan’s masterclass in how to incept people through...

A Feminist Re-Watching of Stargate: SG-1, Season 1 Aug22

A Feminist Re-Watching of Stargate: SG-1, Season 1...

Stargate: SG-1 is one of those shows that sticks with me. Yet, the older I get, the more progressive I become, and I wonder if the post-gulf war, pre-911 military sci-fi stands up to my feminist, pacifist, and socialist standards. An ensemble based show that premiered in 1997 following a movie in 1994, SG-1 is carried by its four main characters. They are set up to present the fundamental conflict between scientific humanism versus militaristic forces. Jack O’Neill, retired air force colonel, and his alien buddy, Teal’c, fight on the side of militarism, whereas astrophysicist Samantha Carter and anthropologist Daniel Jackson represent scientific humanism. Jack and Military Masculinity I remember Jack to be affable, yet tough. In my rewatch, I was concerned what I perceived as tough might actually be an indication of toxic masculinity, but his humour and humility carry the show. Because he refused to blow up Abydos in the original film, we know that he doubts the chain of command, but still assumes he knows best. He is essentially date raped into marriage (a slightly more traumatic version of Daniel’s forced marriage in the original film), but despite being infected with an aging virus, he seems to treat his wife with respect. In fact, he treats all women honourably. Mostly. When forced to share a sleeping bag with Sam for warmth in an arctic climate, he says, “it’s my side arm I swear,” and comments on Sam’s crop top when she is suffering a primitive virus that makes her try to seduce him. He later says he is sad that “we’ll never see that saucy number again.” But on the whole, he is a generous, humble guy, presenting a different idea of the military as seen in other movies and in...

Ellen Ripley’s Path to Avoiding Friendships because of Past Hurt Aug08

Ellen Ripley’s Path to Avoiding Friendships because of Past Hurt...

Bishop looks like any other member of the Sulaco, a ship carrying space marines on a mission to investigate a colonized planet that hasn’t made contact lately. But when a thick white liquid spills from a wound on his hand, Bishop reveals himself to be an android. The others aboard the ship already know about his identity, but once Ellen Ripley discovers it, she doesn’t mince words: Bishop is not welcome anywhere near her. Ripley’s hostility is influenced by the events of the previous film, Alien, where she was betrayed by the android aboard her old ship. She’s only recently awoken from hypersleep, the only survivor of an alien attack on her crew. The events of Alien are fresh in Ripley’s mind—as she accompanies the marines to the same planet where her crew took on the alien lifeform. She won’t make the same mistake and let an android betray her again. Ripley’s hostility is influenced by past betrayal. Ripley’s response makes sense. We learn the principle of cause and effect from a very young age; it keeps us safe and helps us learn. Despite Bishop’s insistence that he is programmed specifically to keep humans from harm and explanation that Ash’s older model was “twitchy,” Ripley keeps her guard up around the android, at one point even asking a marine to hold him at gunpoint. To her, humans may run the spectrum of good to bad, but all androids are potential enemies. But Ripley has it all wrong. There is a betrayer among the crew again this time, but it’s not Bishop. Instead, it’s a human who betrays them. Bishop, on the other hand, is a hero, putting himself in great danger to save the others. He even rescues Newt, the little girl that Ripley...

Android Soup for the Soul: How Robots Model Humanity Aug06

Android Soup for the Soul: How Robots Model Humanity...

From the panicky, nameless robot in the original Lost in Space (reminding me to always warn others of danger) to the much more sophisticated hosts in the newest incarnation of Westworld (suggesting I should know myself and look for a way out of my loops), characters who are human-built offer a great way to explore our own issues. Comparing my humanity to various robots has certainly given me pause for thought. Unhappily Duty-Bound When I was in high school, I discovered The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I devoured the novels—there were only two at the time—and listened to bootleg cassette recordings of the radio programs over and over and over until I could perfectly quote every word. Douglas Adams’ off-beat sense of humour matched my own, as did Arthur Dent’s constant low-level frustration at life. My favourite character, though, was Marvin the Paranoid Android. Although Marvin spent a lot of his time in the background, I couldn’t help but identify with him. Nobody seemed to understand how brilliant he was and they were always giving him chores when he could be doing something more useful. I felt exactly the same! Maybe I didn’t have “a brain the size of a planet,” but I was pretty sure I was smarter than just about everyone around me. My memory is a little fuzzy at this point, but I have a terrible suspicion that I quoted Marvin under my breath—or possibly out loud when my parents told me, again, to take out the trash, or when my teachers assigned homework that I considered busy work. Looking back, I can’t imagine expressing my inner Marvin did much for my popularity. “Here I am, brain the size of a planet and they ask me to take you to...

Pokémon Toys Are for Boys: Gender as Disability Jul30

Pokémon Toys Are for Boys: Gender as Disability...

“Do you want the boy toy or the girl toy?” the McDonald’s employee asked over the drive-thru intercom. “I’ll take the Pokémon toy, please,” I replied, eying my little girl bouncing in the back seat. She loved Pokémon, so when I heard that McDonald’s decided to add the franchise to their toy rotation, I was excited to bring her there and surprise her with something special. “You want the boy toy? How old is your little boy?” The employee’s attempt to be friendly backfired, as my daughter heard this exchange and, when the meal came, refused to play with the plastic Kyogre. She wanted nothing more than to trade it in for the miniature stuffed teddy from some franchise that I don’t recall. There was enough pink in its design to clearly indicate this was intended to be the girl toy. As a parent, I feel like it’s my job to shield my children from the bumps and bruises of life. It’s easy to teach lessons like, “No, a bedsheet will not work as a parachute. Get off the roof.” But I can’t protect my children from damaged hopes and dreams. It was that moment, sitting in the McDonald’s drive-thru, that I realized some of my daughter’s dreams will be crushed simply because she’s female. It’s easy to wonder if she would have an easier life if she had been born male. In episode three of The Orville, “About a Girl,” this issue is brought to light when the first officer, Bortus, hatches a girl out of the egg he’s been brooding. Bortus belongs to the Moclan race, which had been previously referred to as a single-gender species. But we learn here that female births are possible and considered birth defects, much like a...

Why I Envy Simon Tam’s Patience Jul16

Why I Envy Simon Tam’s Patience...

When it comes to my younger sister, patience is not my strong point. She and I are the exact opposite in every possible way: I’m tall, she’s short; I’m blonde, she’s brunette; I love science fiction, she loves chick flicks; I’m introverted, she’s extroverted. I haven’t been close to her since we were little and we’ve gotten into big fights because of our differences. It’s been hard for us to find common ground. I’ve always admired strong sibling relationships in fiction, the kind where the characters have a lot in common and will do anything for each other: Al and Ed from Fullmetal Alchemist, Ruby and Yang from RWBY, Fili and Kili from The Hobbit. But perhaps the relationship I admire most because of their closeness is River and Simon Tam’s from Firefly. Simon comes to accept all the parts of River and learns to live with who she is now. Even though River is a child prodigy and can probably school Simon at nearly everything, the flashbacks to their childhood suggest that Simon admires and loves his younger sister. He could easily have let jealousy get in the way of their closeness, but he doesn’t. Simon is, in fact, the one who notices something is wrong in the letters she writes home from the prestigious academy for gifted children she attends; he realizes she’s using phrases that don’t sound like her and talking in codes. When his parents don’t believe him, Simon risks everything to free his sister from her captors, but by the time he reaches her, she’d taken severe brain damage from the experiments she’d endured, leaving her unstable. “That young man’s very brave,” says Shepherd Book. “Gave up everything to free his sister from that place. Go from being a...

Donna Noble and Our Irreplaceable Roles in the Universe Jul04

Donna Noble and Our Irreplaceable Roles in the Universe...

If there’s any Doctor Who companion who’s not shy about reminding humans and aliens alike of her value, it’s Donna Noble. Even in front of the renowned Shadow Proclamation, she states, “I’m a human being. Maybe not the stuff of legend, but every bit as important as Time Lords, thank you.” The paradox of her saying that is, in spite of all her bold statements and sass, Donna doesn’t actually believe her own words. She repeatedly mentions that she’s only “a temp from Chiswick,” as if this is the sum total of her identity. It isn’t until the Season Four finale, “Journey’s End,” that the Doctor realizes how much Donna undervalues herself. The half-human, half-Time Lord version of the Doctor studies Donna in sudden understanding and says, “All that attitude, all that lip, ’cause all this time, you think you’re not worth it… Shouting at the world ’cause no one’s listening.” Like many people, Donna’s life hasn’t gone the way she hoped. She works as a temp instead of having a steady job. She lives with her mother. She discovers that the man who claimed to love her is only using her. Is it any wonder that she feels lost and unimportant? Whether we shout at the world like Donna or stay silent and hope we’re noticed, we all want our lives to matter. Donna’s deepest fear is that, if she doesn’t speak up, she’ll be ignored entirely. By making people acknowledge her, Donna hopes that they’ll believe she’s important and then, maybe, she can believe it too. She’s spent so much time thinking her life is insignificant that she completely misses how valuable she is. Thankfully, the Doctor doesn’t. During her travels with the Doctor, Donna frequently proves to be the deciding factor...

Where is Hope for the Abused in Solo? Jun06

Where is Hope for the Abused in Solo?...

Spoilers for Solo: A Star Wars Story below. When we first meet Qi’ra in Solo: A Star Wars Story, she is virtually a slave, running tricks in “these mean streets” for the crimelady Proxima. Qi’ra comes from a nebulous background, but despite having a rough life thus far, she is resourceful and markedly full of hope, a fitting companion for a youthful Han Solo. In the initial scenes of the film, Qi’ra and Han run together in Romeo and Juliet fashion, dodging danger and dreaming of escaping together into a better life. They’re playful and brave, but reckless, fueled by adolescent love. Trouble is never far behind these two: upon a bold attempt to flee their home planet of Corellia, Han escapes and Qi’ra does not. This event seems to become a turning point in Qi’ra’s life, or perhaps, merely a confirmation of what she has always believed about the world and her basic value as a person. Does Qi’ra, like many manipulated, fractured women, believe that she is irredeemable. The next time Han sees Qi’ra, she is on Dryden Vos’s yacht. Everything from her appearance to demeanor has changed. Where she once was an edgy adolescent, brimming with hope, Qi’ra is now poised, worldly, and reticent. Han’s hope hasn’t dimmed, even after years of near-death encounters; but Qi’ra’s life has been harsh in other ways, and it shows. The most poignant, heartbreaking aspect of Qi’ra’s evolution is her confession to Han: “I’ve done terrible things.” And she considers herself worthless because of them. Even when, during a scene inside Lando’s superfluous closet of capes, Han tries to convince her that they can finally run off together, she refuses—not because she doesn’t see the good in him, but because she has lost the ability...

Unwilling to Take Responsibility: Doctor Smith and Manipulation May30

Unwilling to Take Responsibility: Doctor Smith and Manipulation...

In the reboot of Lost In Space that premiered on Netflix last month, June Harris is a survivor at all costs. She doesn’t care who she has to take down to preserve her own life. When her sister prepares to leave on an expedition to colonize another planet on the interstellar spacecraft Resolute, she offers June her beautiful house, car, and clothes—basically, all her possessions. Accepting her sister’s gifts could have been a fresh start for June, a chance to redefine herself honestly. But, June is a jerk. She drugs her sister, stealing her identity and taking her place on the expedition. And when it’s discovered that she isn’t who she claims to be, June kills a guy to keep him quiet, leaves people in distress who she could have helped, and puts countless others in danger during her continued quest to save her own butt. When the Resolute is attacked by killer robots, several of the expedition’s ships crash on an earth-like planet, including the ship of the Robinson family. One of the robots also crashes there, and befriends (and becomes fiercely loyal to) the child, Will. June also finds herself stranded and in need of a new plan to ensure her survival and freedom. She takes the identity of a psychologist named Smith. By pretending to be a doctor and a trained member of the expedition, she puts everyone’s lives at risk because she has none of the survival or technical training that members are expected to have. June preys on people’s unwillingness to communicate or be vulnerable with each other. When someone lies, the freedom of everyone interacting with them is threatened. In a Catholic marriage, misrepresentation is clear ground for an annulment. The reason is that misrepresentation removes freedom; and...

On The Bright Sessions: Superpowers Can’t Cure Loneliness May23

On The Bright Sessions: Superpowers Can’t Cure Loneliness...

In the podcast The Bright Sessions, a scripted serialized drama about a group of misfits with superhuman abilities called Atypicals, characters explore a broader story of social isolation and the deep-seated desire for community. Writer and director Lauren Shippen surprised me by resisting clichés and overused tropes, taking The Bright Sessions to unique creative territory. Currently in its fourth season, it’s no wonder this show will have a series of YA novels published in the next year and is in development for television. Each Atypical patient describes the pain of feeling unconnected—the loneliness and isolation of feeling like they don’t belong. Each episode of the podcast’s first season is presented as a recorded therapy session between Dr. Joan Bright and one of her several Atypical patients. They have a lot to talk about as the patients try to understand how to cope with their developing abilities. While they have different and varied experiences with their abilities, they all struggle with social isolation: Caleb, an empath, can’t connect with his fellow high school students because he’s overwhelmed by their emotions; Sam, an orphaned time traveler, shuns other people for fear of hurting them; Chloe, a telepath, finds it difficult to be around others. Other superhuman characters occupy the margins of these episodes, suggesting similar frustrations: Frank, a homeless ex-marine, has PTSD and some Atypical abilities; Damien, an anti-social Atypical, can influence people to do his will. Each character expresses the pain of being alone, of not feeling connected to a larger group of family or friends. Shippen’s world is populated with people desperate to connect but unable to do so. Many of the characters use aliases to enforce their social isolation, deflecting personal and familial associations. Damien, for instance, uses his alias to project an...

Westworld and Basing Our Identity on Others May21

Westworld and Basing Our Identity on Others...

Spoiler Alert: This article contains details from Season One of Westworld. For the artificial hosts of the TV series Westworld’s resort, life is a daily invitation to be lied to, cheated, shot, or assaulted—all in the service of letting humans have a good time. In the first episode of Westworld, I wondered if the hosts had unexplored potential. Bernard (the lead designer of the hosts’ behavioural algorithms) is interviewing a host named Dolores. While she sits unblinking, he asks, “Have you ever questioned the nature of your reality?” Author and mystic Thomas Merton writes, “Every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self . . . My false and private self is the one who wants to exist outside the reach of God’s will and God’s love—outside of reality and outside of life. And such a self cannot help but be an illusion.” Living with humility is the hard work of pushing through the self-image I’ve created and deciding who I really am. In essence, when I define myself by outside forces, my “false self” conforms to other people’s ideas. The hosts of Westworld exist solely to prop up other people’s illusory selves. Similarly, we often do what we think other people want us to and let our actions define our identity. Fortunately for us, Merton suggests a way to shed the illusion and own the truth about ourselves; his solution is humility. If we are open to the circumstances of our own lives, pay attention to what really matters, and avoiding the temptation to feed our ego by imitating or placating others, we may find a more substantial basis for our identities. Living with humility is the hard work of pushing through the self-image I’ve created and deciding who I...

Why Choose Reality When We Could Live in the Matrix? May09

Why Choose Reality When We Could Live in the Matrix?...

Which would you take—the red pill or the blue pill? The question isn’t as easy to answer as you might think. The red pill represents the full picture of reality—truth and all it entails. Your eyes are opened, but in that freedom you will find struggle, even overwhelming hardship. The blue pill, on the other hand, allows you to live happily unaware. You’ll be able to live the way you always have, remaining blind to harsh reality. As Cypher notes in The Matrix, “Ignorance is bliss.” The red and blue pill metaphor has become entrenched in our culture as a reality check. After all, I never wondered if Neo made the right decision to gulp down the red pill and battle against alien machines; I just cheered him on as he did. And I became angry with Cypher when he took the blue pill and jeopardized the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar. But I have to admit, the choice is tempting; the reality of the Matrix is ugly and dangerous, and that steak that Cypher is eating as he contemplates his decision looks really delicious. I like to think that I would never pick the blue pill like he did, but I’m not sure the choice is that simple, especially when the truth can be unpleasant. Why would you swap comfort for cold fact? Real life is a little more complicated than red and blue pills. Although I want to be like Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus—not only perceiving reality but fighting against the very things that enslave them—I often live the way Cypher wants to, blissfully enjoying my ignorance. I distinctly remember in seventh grade, I tried reentering my school building from the courtyard during lunch break, which was against the rules, and a teacher...

Expecting People to Conform is Not Love May02

Expecting People to Conform is Not Love...

Over the course of my life, I’ve developed a mold in my head for the ideal way to live. I often think I know better than others, with opinions about how they should act, what job they should have, etc. When someone doesn’t fit into this mold, I’ve disassociated with them or tried to cram them into it. Subconsciously, I’ve thought of these people as “uglies”—a term from the YouTube dystopian short film by David Armsby called Being Pretty. Being Pretty is a three-minute video that’s gained over three million views. In the video, “pretty” doesn’t mean physically attractive, but refers to conformity into the artificial intelligence-controlled city of Autodale. The first half of the short is a public service announcement, given by a Handyman (a robotic sentinel), explaining to children that their dad is “pretty” because he reads the newspaper, kicks his feet up after a hard day’s work, and provides for his family; their mom is “pretty” because her cooking is great, she keeps the house clean, and reads them bedtime stories. The Handyman tells the children they will grow up to be “just like” one of their parents and reminds them to “stay pretty.” Perhaps people I think are “ugly” just aren’t like me. In Autodale, anyone who doesn’t conform is considered “ugly.” The second half of the film reveals that “uglies” include anyone old, gay, crippled, sterile, disfigured, fat, or even those who suffer from depression—and the Handymen brutally discard them like trash. This chilling tale made me think, “Do I see people as ‘uglies’ and discard them out of my life?” If we consider beauty as something more than physical appearance, the phrase “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder” takes on new meaning. Someone I consider “pretty”...

Ready Player One and Forging Real Relationships Apr13

Ready Player One and Forging Real Relationships...

One of the first things you learn from the book-turned-movie Ready Player One is that once you log in to the OASIS, you can look, sound, and act however you want. The opening of the film pans around a number of different scenarios—an old woman wearing a VR visor boxing an invisible foe, a young girl playing piano through her haptic gloves, and a woman pole-dancing for an audience we can’t see—all of them doing something in the real world that looks very different in the OASIS. That’s the tantalizing point of a digital world; when you’re unhappy with how you look, just log in and change it. We even see our hero, Parzival (the OASIS avatar of the real-life Wade Watts), turn on the “wind effect” to his anime-styled hair because he thinks it will look cool. Parzival’s heroic journey requires sifting through a library’s worth of obscure pop culture knowledge to solve a set of complex riddles. Before long, an evil corporation takes notice of his success, and the hunt to save the (digital) world is on. Parvial’s closest in-game allies are Aech and Art3mis, his best friend and love interest respectively. Parzival treats these relationships very differently. Art3mis is the clumsily-written caricature of a “cool gamer chick” who earns Parzival’s naive trust and affection because she’s (almost) as good at clue hunting as he is. After a handful of interactions, Parzival decides he’s in love with her. She rightfully rejects the idea, telling him he doesn’t know anything about her other than what she wants him to know. Parzival has only ever known the extreme version of the “first date” self she’s chosen to show him and he can’t possibly know her well enough to truly love her. In the book,...

Reading Ready Player One: Friendship Mar09

Reading Ready Player One: Friendship...

What’s worth more than seven billion dollars? Wade can’t think of anything. He believes his chance of winning Halliday’s Easter egg is gone when Sorrento and the Sixers are the first to clear the Second Gate, and he doesn’t see much point in living in a world that IOI controls. But then he gets a visit from Shoto that changes his perspective. Daito and Shoto, or “Daisho,” are one of the great duos in nerd culture, in my opinion—up there with Fred and George Weasley, or Han Solo and Chewbacca. You don’t find one without the other. They proclaim themselves brothers, even though they’d never met in person. Though only one person can win Halliday’s prize, Daito gives up his opportunity to collect the Jade Key to protect Shoto. These displays of friendship make Daito’s real-world death heartbreaking, and I bet Shoto feels at least partly responsible, since their team-up is what helped them stay at the top of the leaderboard. Maybe he’s wondering if their friendship was worth pursuing when it ended in tragedy. Maybe he’s tempted to shut himself off from the world again, like he did before meeting Daito. But he makes a different choice. Shoto doesn’t meet Wade to tell the story of Daito’s death just to warn him about IOI and its real-world reach; he could’ve sent him a video or an email to accomplish that. He also didn’t need to tell Wade his real name, which not even Daito knew. But something about this tragedy made Shoto reach out. For some reason, he is completely honest with Wade, and a bond is forged. IOI’s challenge is a personal one, now, and perhaps Shoto’s vulnerability and honesty—something none of the hunters have attempted with each other until this point—will...

Reading Ready Player One: Loneliness Mar02

Reading Ready Player One: Loneliness...

Everything falls out beneath him after Wade confesses his love to Art3mis. Art3mis, full of concern about the basis of their relationship and desiring to put the contest for the egg as her focus again, ends all connections with him. Heartbroken, Wade retreats into frustration and sadness before diving headlong back into the contest. He buys state of the art equipment, shaves every inch of hair off his body (don’t ask), and spends day and night trying to decipher the clues that will lead him to the next piece of the puzzle, the jade key. But even with a singular focus in his life again, Wade doesn’t seem any happier. He longs for something more, something beyond what he can disguise under an avatar and username. Virtual reality can only provide him so much; it doesn’t cover the dissatisfaction Wade feels with who he is outside of the OASIS: “In real life, I was nothing but an antisocial hermit. A recluse. A pale-skinned pop culture-obsessed geek. An agoraphobic shut-in, with no real friends, family, or genuine human contact. I was just another sad, lost, lonely soul, wasting his life on a glorified video game.” Before he met Art3mis, Wade seemed content with living a life focused on his desires and wishes. What changed? Wade’s obsession with the hunt for the egg is understandable. Who doesn’t want to play endless video games and watch your favorite pieces of media day in and day out, with only yourself to worry about? A hedonistic lifestyle is all about pleasure; why worry about others when you can live in self-indulgence? Living for you brings elation in the moment, but it’s what happens afterwards that sucks, when you feel a sense of emptiness, when all that energy you poured...

Reading Ready Player One: Trust Feb23

Reading Ready Player One: Trust...

Life is lonely when you trust no one. When Wade enters a chat room with Nolan Sorrento, the Head of Operations at IOI, I wasn’t surprised to learn that Sorrento is hungry for power and will stop at nothing to get the Egg. But I was surprised to see a similarity between him and Wade—neither of them trusts anybody, and nobody trusts them. Sorrento’s relationship with IOI is made clear when Wade “agrees” to work for the IOI as long as they fire Sorrento: “‘I don’t want to be second-in-command,’ I said. ‘I want your job, Sorrento. I want to be in charge of the whole shebang. Chief of operations. El numero Uno. Oh, and I want everyone to have to call me El Numero Uno, too. Is that possible?'” Although Wade is just asking to make a point, the IOI agrees with his demands. Surprisingly, Sorrento doesn’t sound that upset when he relays their agreement to Wade’s terms; I’m not sure if it’s because he knows Wade is playing with them, or if it’s because he knows his relationship with the company is about power and usefulness, not about trust. It’s later, when Wade meets with the High Five, that I notice Wade’s situation isn’t all that dissimilar to Sorrento’s; he has no one on his side. The Five aren’t willing to work together—even though a unified force stands a better chance against the IOI—because of distrust and greed. Wade isn’t even willing to share information with Aech, his best friend. As Daito says, “Only one person can be the first to find the egg and win the prize.” Discussion Questions Why do you think Sorrento isn’t upset when the IOI agrees to fire him? Would you propose an alliance if you were Wade? Are you afraid...