Most futuristic science fiction films can be comprehended well through the architecture that they display. Futuristic science fiction movies enjoy plenty of freedom when it comes to their SFX, VFX, CGI and set design. The possible potentialities can create diverse physical scenarios which may not even exist in the real world, but is possible due to the growth of digitization and technology. 

Sci-Fi movies involving a dystopian plotline are by far one of the most interesting genres to observe regarding their architectural interpretations. Films such as Total Recall, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Elysium, Mad Max, The Terminator, Blade Runner, and WALL-E; have provided their respective takes on dystopian architecture, with most of them being adapted from Novels by famous writers such as Phillip K. Dick, Isaac Asimov, George Orwell and many more.

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Ready Player One Movie Poster _©Warner Bros /  www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/news/ready-player-one-poster-tye-sheridan-leg-steven-spielberg-a8102986.html
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The Physical Dystopia with a Virtual Escape _©Warner Bros /  theconversation.com/ready-player-one-we-are-surprisingly-close-to-realising-just-such-a-vr-dystopia-93623

Ready Player One is a movie that was released back in 2018 and was based on the novel of the same name written by Ernest Cline. The film directed by Steven Spielberg was done in collaboration with Cline himself, who wrote the screenplay.

Premise, Plot and Characters

Set in the Year 2044-45, the setting of the entire film is that of a physical dystopia. Extinct World Orders, post-energy crises and unbalanced economies have resulted in people escaping the real world and transitioning into a space of virtual reality called: The Oasis, as an escape. The plot of the film revolves around a team of five players: the protagonist Wade Watts, who goes by the name of Parzival in the Oasis, along with four other players who go by their fictional names of Art3mis, Aech, Zhou, and Toshiro; trying to win a competition via a three-level game, which would grant the winner control and ownership of the Oasis. The team also works to prevent the game from falling into the hands of Nolen Sorrento: the head of a corporation known as Innovative Online Industries (IOI), who wants to take over the game and insert intrusive online advertising in it, thereby monetizing and privatizing the system for political gain.

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Choose Your Avatar _©Warner Bros /  www.awn.com/vfxworld/how-ilm-animated-avatars-steven-spielbergs-ready-player-one

Throughout the film, major interactions between people occur in the VR itself, as the film transitions between virtual animated graphics, and scenes in the real, physical world. The characters are also displayed showcasing dual identities, with one of them in the real world and the second one in the virtual game world, while the games’ creators; partners James Halliday and Ogden Morrow have undertaken virtual aliases within the game, to guide the players as the competition progresses.

The Real and Virtual World Architecture

Besides the VR world, which is every pop-culture enthusiast and architect’s utopian fantasy; very few of the real-world backdrops of the movie are displayed, such as the stacks, the dump that surrounds it, a refuge for the homeless, a school is shown briefly at the beginning, the downtown area, the loan collectors building, and the IOI headquarters. 

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Integrating Real World and Computer Graphics _©Warner Bros /  variety.com/2019/artisans/production/spielberg-ready-player-one-vfx-1203144265/

A combination of these different places portray a picture of the dystopian society’s real-world architectural landscape, illustrated majorly via the 3 locations of The Stacks, the IOI Headquarters, and the Oasis. The former two locations, while differing in their architectural language and overall form; are however representative of the same ideas regarding the disinterest of living in the physical world. 

THE STACKS & WADE WATTS’ VAN

The city in context is Columbus, Ohio; which looks like a hyper-dense wasteland filled with high-rises of stacked trailers and cars. Humans only utilise the physical space around them to compensate for their basic needs such as eating food, sleeping and using the restroom. All other functions such as socialising, working, schooling and shopping; are done online. Special bodysuits are made available to everyone who uses the oasis, as the feeling of physical sensations from the game would give a better experience of the virtual world, all attention towards the real world is now in oblivion.     

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2045 Urban Habitat _©Warner Bros / www.everymoviehasalesson.com/blog/2019/12/guest-essay-hallidays-golden-ticket-in-ready-player-one

The presence of Stacks showcases the lack of attention towards the organization or pedestrian considerations and the lack of newer development. Life itself has been substituted from the real world to the virtual one, where imagination can run wild and no practical concepts to withhold any possibilities, so much so that the Oasis is where people’s livelihoods and almost all of their time is invested. If one was to die in Oasis it would be equivalent to starting their life all over again, as is shown that someone attempts suicide after dying in the game. With the physical world no longer accelerating but moving at a constant rate, the virtual world is comparatively a boundless world of growth where all new development is focused.   

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Making do with the Best out of the Waste _©Warner Bros / www.everymoviehasalesson.com/blog/2019/12/guest-essay-hallidays-golden-ticket-in-ready-player-one

A noticeable trait in this type of physical world is reduced resource use. It can be inferred that in this physical world, resources may have been completely depleted, therefore people predominantly exist in the virtual one, a world with unlimited resources. Instead of utilizing or developing newer technologies for the betterment of the actual earth, human habitation has digressed into megastructures of trailer homes that are stacked on a minimal steel frame. 

The brittle physical infrastructure is showcased as the circulation, vertical movement throughout the mid-2000’s Ohio is done through a mesh of fire escape stairs, ladders and even descending rope jumping across peoples living spaces. As we see Wade move through the Stacks in the opening scenes of the film, it gives us an idea of this vernacular but uneconomic or time ineffective solution. Even Packages are carried by drones to people’s homes which makes it seem that people don’t often leave their homes, as there is no reason to; and the informal built-up of the complex does not aid in creating a need to move beyond their habitat.

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Urban Dump _©Warner Bros / www.everymoviehasalesson.com/blog/2019/12/guest-essay-hallidays-golden-ticket-in-ready-player-one

IOI HEADQUARTERS & NOLAN SORRENTO’S SPHERE

The real world has stopped being a plane of existence for almost everyone, except the major organizations who are running the games and seeking control and power over the world. The IOI building while far more formalised, refined and developed in its interior layout; showcases the lack of good working/living environments; all of their employees exist in virtual pods that are barely five feet by five feet, working like a slave trying to pay off their debts and increase profits of a company that is inconsiderate towards them.

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A Technological Abyss of Lifelessness _©Warner Bros / www.onthebox.com/features/ready-player-one-we-are-surprisingly-close-to-realising-just-such-a-vr-dystopia/

The body of the film’s screenplay shows a race against time pace in the competition; with a constant battle between the 2 groups: The Gunters (Wade and his team) and The Sixers (Nolan and his henchmen). The latter group’s members are shown to be no different than mindless automatons; faceless, emotionless and without a name, known only by a six-digit number, and who treat the Oasis as a job. A scene in the movie showcases the IOI headquarters to be nothing more than a large undivided space that comprises lengthy stretches of virtual pods; homogenous and a typical yet expensive gadget. The only individual who does stand out from the unending series of pods is Nolan, who oversees all of the operations given his stature in the company. 

IOI is representative of the new dystopian futuristic monarchy. The only difference is that the royal bloodline has been replaced with access to technology; the living individual with the best available money and gaming technology is the ruler, the top of this one-tier hierarchy. 

THE OASIS

The virtual architecture in the entire film comprises mind-blowing set pieces and 1980s pop culture references from games, TV shows, and movies; notable examples being those of The Iron Giant, Godzilla, Back to the Future, and The Shining. The Oasis is represented as a haven for all enthusiasts, wherein the possibilities of creating your world are extremely probable. A city filled with Neo-futuristic and Brutalist designs by some of the World’s most renowned architects are only a code or algorithm away from virtual reality.

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Nightlife in the new Virtua-reality _©Warner Bros / www.onthebox.com/features/ready-player-one-we-are-surprisingly-close-to-realising-just-such-a-vr-dystopia/

The Oasis being global in scale and as a platform, everyone in the game has access to the same resources. As needs increase, considerations towards the place and site transform. As the designers of the built environment strongly consider the site while being in control of the context, influencing the site, and building an immersive design.

The Game shows a world without hierarchy, a world where one is assessed on their skill and ability to perform in games. While not everyone is adept in doing so, it creates a level ground for individuals all over the world. Irrespective of how they look in the real world, the virtual world gives them a choice to alter their appearance according to their suiting, with only their dexterity and quick thinking being their tools of survival.

Socio-Anthropological Influence of the different Environments

The film also highlights the philosophical and cultural impact of gaming and affiliated technologies. Class separations are prevalent when comparing Wade and Nolan, through noticeable differences in their ‘gear’ and playing space. Wade plays in a junkyard in an abandoned van, borrowing playing gear from his aunt, while Nolan plays in a top tech bodysuit and gaming sphere. 

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Real World Disparity _©Warner Bros / www.everymoviehasalesson.com/blog/2019/12/guest-essay-hallidays-golden-ticket-in-ready-player-one
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Real World Disparity _©Warner Bros / www.everymoviehasalesson.com/blog/2019/12/guest-essay-hallidays-golden-ticket-in-ready-player-one

The stacks illustrate the separation of the classes, a vast collection of trailer parks overflowing and carelessly stacked on top of one another. The industrial building acting as a refuge exists in large empty cold spaces. Along with the dump around the stacks which Wade utilises as a third space. 

Money is mainly made in the virtual world, and this is highlighted throughout the movie. Oasis is where its users earn and spend, it’s not a free utopian world, as it is made out to be. Therefore, unlike money; the freedom of identity becomes the aspect attracting people towards using the Oasis increasingly.

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Pop Culture and Gaming _©Warner Bros / www.hollywoodreporter.com/movies/movie-news/how-ready-player-one-vfx-supervisor-created-shining-1182378/

Physical appearance has no limitations in the game. People can alter their hairstyles, gender, and even species. This is shown in the film’s beginning when Wade changes the hairstyle of his avatar, and also when his online best friend: a large strong male semi-cyborg ends up being much different in the real world. Not only does this show people’s need of considering their appearance and manipulate it, but is also reflective of how one chooses to be seen. 

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The Future Storehouses of Information _©Warner Bros / www.reddit.com/r/MovieDetails/comments/hq8zkv/in_ready_player_one_2018_parzival_bets_curator/

The game is a paradox, while it does develop social interaction and personal expression, it causes the players to withdraw from the physical world into a fantasyland. Oasis users retreat into the virtual to escape or in some cases, find more out about themselves. In a world where one can be whatever they want, free of real-world limitations (even in terms of career); questions arise on the effect on people that this retreat into self can bring. The way we appear on social media is similar to how Oasis avatars are showcased, in the game, people can express themselves freely, hide their real identity and become whatever they wish to be.

Concluding Opinions

Science Fiction or Potential Reality? _©Naavik / www.cointribune.com/en/columns/adopt-a-crypto-project/metaverse-the-world-between-technology-and-reality/

The transitions and comparisons between the 2 realities showcase a contrast within themselves, on one hand is the Oasis, a haven where anyone can be anything and do anything; compared to the real world, where nothing that would incite human activity and interaction exists. The Oasis acts as the perfect distraction for the public, in the world of Ready Player One; the game shows a virtual utopia within a real-world dystopia, one where the true meaning of life has been lost, and what matters to people is intangible and exists digitally. Oasis is representative as a place to hide or escape from the grim apocalyptic reality.

The growth and development of an NFT virtual world- bitcoin’s rising prices and NFT games are considered to be stepping stones towards what is known as the “Metaverse”, an interconnected universe composed of virtual worlds with possibilities of architecture, virtual concerts and shows, fashion, museums, and a whole lot more existing on this platform. With Metaverse just being the beginning, the potential probability of Ready Player One’s story becoming a real-world possibility seems likelier now more than ever. One can merely hope that the world of the future is a hybridised one between the real and the virtual, and not the physical dystopia that it might become. 

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Author

A final year architecture student, currently studying in SVKM-NMIMS Balwant Sheth School of Architecture, Mumbai, he has allied interests towards architectural photography and writing. Having a penchant for films and philosophy as well, he is of the belief that architecture and design have the ability to capture the most pivotal moments in life itself.

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