“Ready Player One” is one of the hottest new movies to be announced at San Diego Comic-Con over the past weekend. With an explosive trailer and a setting that’ll get any self-professed geek excited, the new Steven Spielberg-directed film looks like something worth anticipating.
But not all is well in nerd paradise, as critics who once praised the Ernest Cline book that it’s based on have since drank deep from the well of social justice kool-aid to now see how problematic it is.
After all, anything that caters to male nerds can’t be good.
When it was first published in 2011, Cline’s book was lauded as a science fiction masterpiece that combined real-world video game culture with a dystopian future setting in which the main character has little else to do besides play video games. The direct references to pop culture like The Matrix, Star Wars, and Mad Max spoke to reviewers who shared the same interests as its author.
Nostalgia helped, greatly. Gawker’s iO9 review even called it a “dystopian gamer novel that’s as addictive as a great game.”
Anticipating a success, Warner Bros. snatched up the film rights even before it became available, and they were right to do so — at least at the time. This was all before hating gamers became cool again, of course.
The backlash against gamers and their hobby arose with the GamerGate debacle that took the game industry by storm in 2014.
Gaming, as a culture, has been split in twine between the people who play them, and the progressives who want to revolutionize everything about it and make it their own. Ready Player One firmly caters to the former. Its detractors have come out of the woodworks to condemn the book, as well as the upcoming movie, taking to Twitter with out-of-context quotes. Game journalists hate it.
I haven't read Ready Player One, but it sounds like what you'd get if there was a Loot Crate novel.
— Kirk McKeand (@MckKirk) July 24, 2017
Ready Player One looks good in the sense that it confirms how much of a bummer it's been to watch Spielberg get worse over time.
— Patrick Klepek (@patrickklepek) July 24, 2017
Even moon rock enthusiast and congressional candidate Brianna Wu weighed in on the hype to call Cline “transphobic.”
“As long as people are critiquing Ernest Cline… In ‘Ready Player One,’ he shows how he does not believe transgender women are women,” Wu tweeted along with a passage from the book.
Others made up fake quotes to condemn it for “nostalgia mining,” which projects a lot of cynicism onto Cline’s motives for writing the book. It’s criticism best reserved for Stranger Things, which recalls a 1980s setting filled with retrowave synthesized music that sounds better than anyone remembers.
At least Cline captured that nostalgia before there was even a market for it.
At its heart, Ready Player One is an ‘80s fantasy story dressed up in sci-fi and pop culture references—just the kind of thing that the kids sitting at the cool kids table made fun of the goths and misfits for liking in high school. Given who it speaks to, it’s little wonder why some people hate it.
Ian Miles Cheong is a journalist and outspoken media critic. You can reach him through social media at @stillgray on Twitter.