Reading Ready Player One: Identity

Ready Player One book cover illustration by WHISKYTREE.
Though Ready Player One will soon be released as a movie, the novel has biting social and political commentary, tropes that have come to be expected in science fiction. It also focuses heavily on the individual in a world where people’s importance has been snuffed out by corporate greed. Because each player in the OASIS, an immersive, mega-internet experience, must create an avatar in order to interact in that virtual world—taste, preference, and representation are key plot points in the novel.

The first chapters introduce us to Wade, the novel’s protagonist, who attends a virtual school. Though students are limited to human avatars, “no giant, two-headed hermaphrodite demon unicorn avatars,” they have relative freedom a far as body type, hair colour, and dress. Wade himself chooses an avatar which he dubs “Parzival” that is not so dissimilar from his corporeal self: “My avatar had a slightly smaller nose than me, and he was taller. And thinner. And more muscular. And he didn’t have any teenage acne. But aside from these minor details, we looked more or less identical.” Wade modifies himself in this virtual world so that he looks more “desirable,” but ultimately does not choose an entirely different form.

Other characters choose to mask, hide, or completely change their identities via their OASIS avatars. Our narrator writes, “People rarely used their real names online. Anonymity was one of the major perks of the OASIS. Inside the simulation, no one knew who you really were, unless you wanted them to. Much of the OASIS’s popularity and culture were built around this fact.”

If I had the power to be seen and heard in any manifestation I desired, what might I choose?

Students in Wade’s school are even able to turn off the “real-time emotion feature,” which, when enabled, causes each avatar to mirror its player’s facial expressions. Yet others go even farther than masking their names and facial expressions when logged in to the OASIS. Parzival admits that his teacher, who looks like “a portly, bearded college professor [with] an infectious grin, wire-rimmed spectacles, and a tweed jacket with patches on the elbow… could have been a small Inuit woman living in Anchorage, Alaska, who had adopted this appearance and voice to make her students more receptive to her lessons.”

As a college instructor myself, this recognition of the power of appearance and how individuals choose to represent themselves resonated with me. And it made me wonder: if I had the power to be seen and heard in any manifestation I desired, what might I choose? Though my “look” is a fairly utilitarian one, marked by conservative colours (black cardigans!), minimalistic makeup, and short, asymmetrical hair, I was surprised when a friend referred to me as “badass” (I also have a few ear piercings and a tattoo on my wrist). How might this look (intentional or unintentional) translate to the OASIS?

How do the characters’ avatars shed light on who they are and who they hope to be? This is a question we can consider as we continue into the next chapters.

Discussion Questions

  • Would your avatar in the OASIS be a realistic representation of yourself? Why or why not?
  • What effect would the universal ability to change physical appearance have on society? How would that impact individual identities?
  • Why does Wade choose a fairly accurate (though slightly adjusted) version of himself as an avatar?

Area of Effect is reading Ready Player One in preparation for the upcoming movie! Read along with us as we post our chapter commentaries every Friday and post an answer to one of the questions in the comment section!

Christy Chichester

Christy Chichester

Guest Writer at Area of Effect magazine
Christy Chichester is an instructor at Penn State University, where she teaches Composition and Rhetoric, Writing in the Social Sciences, and Sci-Fi Literature. When she isn't teaching, writing, or grading, Christy can be found watching Star Wars, quoting Tolkien, or snuggling with her two pit bulls.
Christy Chichester

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