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The Real Villain of Ready Player One Is James Halliday and You Cannot Convince Me Otherwise

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halliday ready player one villain

Ready Player One takes place in the year 2045, at a time when, thanks to overpopulation, environmental destruction and the like, most of the world’s activities have moved into virtual reality–specifically into something called The Oasis, created by the brilliant yet obsessive and controlling supervillain James Halliday.

Except Halliday isn’t actually supposed to be a villain. And I find that super weird.

In both the book and the movie (and don’t worry, there are no spoilers for either beyond basic plot and what you might see in the trailer), Halliday is a reclusive, narcissistic supergenius. He’s created a virtual universe on which the entire world is dependent. And in doing so, he’s able to have an incredible amount of control not just over people’s behavior, but their interests. Halliday loved 80s pop culture, so the world must love 80s pop culture.

After Halliday’s death, he reveals that he’s hidden keys to a puzzle throughout the Oasis, and the only way to find them, and to win the immense fortune and control over the virtual world itself, is to know the most about Halliday’s life and the things he enjoyed. An interest in pop culture turns from an aesthetic to a necessity and ostensibly the only way to obtain a better life for oneself. In the year 2045, one man has forced the world to live like it’s 1992, for the sole reason that that was what he liked. Sure, you could choose not to share Halliday’s interests, but The Oasis–the place where all your friends and family spend all of their time because the real world has turned into a cesspit–is built around an 80s aesthetic. And if you want those trillions of dollars, you have no choice but to spend your life immersed in that culture.

Halliday’s insistence that the whole world play his games and share his specific interests isn’t quite at the level of, say Robert Daly of Black Mirror’s USS Callister, or that kid from The Twilight Zone that sends his dad to a cornfield, but it’s not that far off. Halliday had no patience for or understanding of anyone who doesn’t share his love of Tron and Akira. In the book at least (I can’t remember if this is mentioned in the film), he would fire employees who didn’t share his extensive knowledge of the pop culture of decades past.

Oh, and in true supervillain fashion, much of his obsession and arrested emotional development is tied to his unreciprocated feelings for a woman.

Yet it’s Nolan Sorrento, the head of IOI, who’s the book and movie’s villain. And let’s be clear: he is. He literally kills people in his quest to own the Oasis. I’m not rooting for the evil corporation here. But to our hero Wade Watts, Sorrento’s real crimes seem to be less about the murdering and more about how little he cares about Halliday’s references. Rather than spending his life memorizing Fast Times at Ridgemont High and WarGames, he’s employed armies of gunters to play for him, and we are just supposed to accept that this is a form of cheating, and is unforgivable. In this world, your ability to spot references is a moral signifier and the worst thing a person can do is to not truly care about the fandom, but instead want access to the world’s most valuable commodity.

How dare he.

(image: Warner Bros.)

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WorldMaker
73 days ago
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I have been saying this since I read the book. My semi-pro opinion is that the economy and game design in Oasis are incredibly broken, micro-transacted to hell and back, and stuck to major rentiers enabled by draconian copyright laws, with the only "user content" simply reconfigured bits of nickel-and-dimed monopolist parts. The dystopia outside Oasis is the same dystopia inside Oasis and strongly correlated if not 100% causality linked. Andrew Ryan's Rapture was less effective than Halliday's accidental Bond villain.
Louisville, Kentucky
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Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Burial Ground

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Click here to go see the bonus panel!

Hovertext:
Some of them are trapped in a ghostly cycle, forever arguing on twitter.

New comic!
Today's News:

Just 1.5 weeks until BAHFest Houston and tickets are selling fast!

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WorldMaker
135 days ago
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Too real. 👻
Louisville, Kentucky
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Unforeseen Consequences and that 1929 vibe

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So: me and bitcoin, you already knew I disliked it, right?

(Let's discriminate between Blockchain and Bitcoin for a moment. Blockchain: a cryptographically secured distributed database, useful for numerous purposes. Bitcoin: a particularly pernicious cryptocurrency implemented using blockchain.) What makes Bitcoin (hereafter BTC) pernicious in the first instance is the mining process, in combination with the hard upper limit on the number of BTC: it becomes increasingly computationally expensive over time. Per this article, Bitcoin mining is now consuming 30.23 TWh of electricity per year, or rather more electricity than Ireland; it's outrageously more energy-intensive than the Visa or Mastercard networks, all in the name of delivering a decentralized currency rather than one with individual choke-points. (Here's a semi-log plot of relative mining difficulty over time.) Credit card and banking settlement is vulnerable to government pressure, so it's no surprise that BTC is a libertarian shibboleth. (Per a demographic survey of BTC users compiled by a UCL researcher and no longer on the web, the typical BTC user in 2013 was a 32 year old male libertarian.)

Times change, and so, I think, do the people behind the ongoing BTC commodity bubble. (Which is still inflating because around 30% of BTC remain to be mined, so conditions of artificial scarcity and a commodity bubble coincide). Last night I tweeted an intemperate opinion—that's about all twitter is good for, plus the odd bon mot and cat jpeg—that we need to ban Bitcoin because it's fucking our carbon emissions. It's up to 0.12% of global energy consumption and rising rapidly: the implication is that it has the potential to outstrip more useful and productive computational uses of energy (like, oh, kitten jpegs) and to rival other major power-hogging industries without providing anything we actually need. And boy did I get some interesting random replies!

As viral tweets go, this one didn't get retweeted a whole lot—only about 200 times. (My all time record is over 5000 rts.) It attracted a lot of replies from folks who don't follow me and I've never heard of, all of them really contemptuous/insulting (as is often the case on twitter: thick skin recommended). Obviously, a lot of folks with BTC wallets are kind of attached to them and dislike the idea of losing them. What I wasn't expecting was the alt-right/neo-Nazi connection. Bitcoin isn't just popular among libertarians, it's popular among folks with green frog/Kek user icons and anti-semitic views. ("Are you a Jew?" asked one egg.)

One possible explanation, which looks quite reasonable as a first approximation, is that the US libertarian fringe has been assimilated by the neo-Nazis. After all, once you take one red pill, why not take another, and another, until you overdose on the bloody things? Alternatively, Bitcoin boosters are using the same twitter-based astroturf techniques as the alt-right to shout down anyone who publicly qustions or threatens their investment. But I didn't see the wave of obvious bots I'd have expected if the second explanation was correct: it looked to me far more like an angry human mob, with added political extremism on top.

Now, I'd like to remind you about an at-first-sight unrelated historical phenomenon: the collapse of the Papiermark in 1923 in the Weimar Republic, and the subsequent Beer Hall Putsch. The Nazis failed to take over at that time; the German economy was stabilized and the global economy in general wasn't as fragile as it would later become during the Great Depression. But the 1919-23 hyperinflation was a major driver for the initial rise of the Nazi party. Hitler's mass support wasn't motivated solely by his anti-semitism and revanchist imperialism: it was made all about the money supply. (In the 1929-33 period, mainstream politicians were discredited by the wave of mass unemployment triggered by withdrawal of US bank loans, and Brüning's policy of deflation. When nobody has any money to buy bread, and the bakers have no money to buy grain, but the bank mortgage on the bakery isn't getting any smaller, bad shit ensues.)

It's fairly clear now that since 2007/08 we're living in the dying days of the former neoliberal system. With disruption and collapse spreading throughout the developed world, the systematized recipe known as the Washington Consensus is being applied not only to client states but back home in the heartlands of the USA, UK, and EU members (where it's sold to the economically illiterate as "austerity"). It's also being used as cover for disaster capitalism, the systematic looting of public assets and social capital for the enrichment of small groups. Meanwhile, weaponized media (both social media and mass media owned by the oligarchs) is used to channel the sense of grievance felt by the immiserated population into acceptable directions, via slogans like "taking back control" or "make America Great again". Directions such as resentment towards immigrants, get-rich-quick schemes such as cryptocurrency bubbles or goldbuggery, and ritualized abusive denunciation of anyone who questions these attempts to divert attention away from the real problem—the way we're being conditioned for exploitation by our self-proclaimed masters.

So I now have two follow-on questions about BTC.

Firstly, what if BTC's supporters are right? That is: if BTC delivers what its supporters promise, then how will the oligarchs react? A working distributed cryptocurrency model is inimical to the interests of billionaire monopolists who want to get rich by imposing rent-seeking practices on the immobilized peasantry (ahem: I mean us ordinary folks). They won't go quietly, there will be a crack-down, and we may be seeing the first signs of the shape it will take in China (which is banning bitcoin excchanges). Distributed systems, contra received wisdom, can be banned: you just have to be sufficiently ruthless. (You criminalize possession, then enforce by imposing deep packet inspection at the network backbone level, apply criminal penalties for being caught selling goods or services in return for the currency, and make it impossible to run a legitimiate business taking BTC in payment.) If you can marginalize BTC so that it is only useful for child pornography, ransomware, and illegal narcotics, it's no longer a threat to the mainstream economy. So I see one possible outcome of cryptocurrencies threatening the existing banking system as being to hasten the shuttering of the open internet. (Not that the oligarchs have any great love for the open internet in the first place: we get rowdy and organize. They're a lot happier with it being a non-neutral channel for sedative YouTube videos and, er, kitten jpegs. Discussion fora, blogs, and activists not wanted on board.)

A second problem: if, as I think, BTC doesn't deliver, then the bubble will eventually burst. I called it a long time ago: and although BTC continues to follow an overall upward trend (there have been, ahem, fluctuations that would have ben recognized as a full-on collapse in any conventional currency) we're going to run out of new BTC to mine sooner or later. At that point, the incentive for mining (a process essential for reconciling the public ledgers) will disappear and the currency will ... will what? The people most heavily invested in it will do their best to patch it up and keep it going, because what BTC most resembles (to my eye, and that of Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase) is a distributed Ponzi scheme. But when a Ponzi scheme blows out, it's the people at the bottom who lose.

The longer BTC persists, the worse the eventual blowout—and the more angry people there are going to be. Angry people who are currently being recruited and radicalized by neo-Nazis.

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WorldMaker
205 days ago
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I keep trying to explain to people that my cynical view of Bitcoin is precisely that it is a ponzi scheme boiling the oceans and mostly of interest to nazi-types. Leave it to cstross to articulate it a bit better.
Louisville, Kentucky
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Ooohhh, Come Watch the Lovely, DaVinci-Style Opening Title Sequence for Star Trek: Discovery

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Ahead of the series premiere tonight, CBS has shared the delicate, atmospheric opening credits for Star Trek: Discovery. As many viewers will notice, they’re quite a departure from previous Trek credit sequences. Where other series went full futurism, with heady shots of deep space, Discovery has opted for a sequence that draws its imagery from architectural plans, or Da Vinci’s L’Uomo Vitruviano.

I personally found it quite beautiful, if unconventional. It somehow hearkens to both early modern drawings and today’s cutting-edge modeling software, creating a gentle and compelling through-line for the long human history of exploration and inquisitiveness. While Trek is so often about the wonder and awe of discovering our vast universe, this sequence seems to celebrate the beauty, intricacy, and wonder of the human engineering that could get us there.

We’ll see soon enough how the show might match the tone of its credits (or not)! Star Trek: Discovery premieres on CBS tonight (Sunday) at 8:30 PM EST. After the on-air premiere, it will also be available on CBS All Access.

(If the official version of the credits sequence isn’t available in your region, the below should work)

(Via TV Guide; featured image via CBS Television)

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WorldMaker
268 days ago
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I rather like it, but I feel that has something to do with too much Destiny/Destiny 2 and Westworld. Also, there are complaints it doesn't "fit" the other shows, but I feel it does a decent job bridging the blueprints of Enterprise's opening (minus Faith of the Heart) to the "ship and spaceship porn" of the other series later in continuity.
Louisville, Kentucky
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This Video Analyzes Why The Hand Was Such a Boring Big Bad on the Marvel Netflix Series

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YouTuber Patrick (H) Willems, who’s previously reimagined the X-Men as directed by Wes Anderson and Ant-Man as directed by Werner Herzog, recently posted a video essay that addresses two key questions from the Marvel Netflix series: “Why is The Hand so boring?” and “How did they take an inherently cool concept and make it distinctly uncool?”

As Willems observes, three of the six Marvel Netflix series – Daredevil, Iron Fist, and The Defenders – have used The Hand as a primary antagonist in at least one season. And in each iteration, The Hand has failed as a compelling villain. In the second season of Daredevil, “this storyline quickly grows dull, since there are no real characters in The Hand – just a general, formless threat.” In Iron Fist, “they’re this vague threat with unclear motives, controlling things behind the scenes.” And then in The Defenders, “after all that mystery, it turns out the leaders of The Hand might as well be board members for some corporation, and their grand plan is both boring and nonsensical.”

Willems then contrasts the Netflix series’ approach to The Hand with their use and introduction in Frank Miller’s Daredevil comics arc, “The Elektra Saga.” While there’s definitely plenty to discuss and criticize about the treatment of Elektra in that storyline, Willems does argue that Miller uses The Hand, at least, effectively.

On the Netflix shows, however, he argues that The Hand was never given a sharp, strong conflict. “With The Hand, the conflicts are nebulous,” he says. “The Hand is involved in heroin distribution, assassinations, shady corporate dealings, an ancient war with The Chaste, and later on, trying to destroy New York. The motivations are unclear. The goals are unclear. And it makes the conflict unclear – other than that the heroes are trying to stop them because they’re just generally bad.”

In sum, Willems argues, “The Hand were never meant to be primary antagonists…These are faceless organizations engaged in a war that has gone on for millennia. That sounds cool, but once you zoom in, there’s not much to latch onto.”

I think this video captures the two main issues with The Hand – they become uncool once you get too deep into their internal politics, and they’re introduced hamfistedly without giving the audience a strong understanding of their motives – but what do you think? Did The Hand actually work for you? Did you have a different problem with their role in the Netflix series than Willems? Is there a way to make these elements work going forward?

(Featured image via YouTube thumbnail)

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The Mary Sue has a strict comment policy that forbids, but is not limited to, personal insults toward anyone, hate speech, and trolling.—

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WorldMaker
268 days ago
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I have a much simpler answer: The Foot. Iron Fist/Defenders were written in a world where Miller's crazy ninjas have been satire for as many decades as they have existed, and worse: the satire became Saturday Morning fodder entire generations (plural) have grown up on.
Louisville, Kentucky
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Thread

5 Comments and 10 Shares
Since the current Twitter threadfall kicked off in early 2016, we can expect it to continue until the mid 2060s when the next Interval begins.
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WorldMaker
269 days ago
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Louisville, Kentucky
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5 public comments
satadru
271 days ago
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❤️
New York, NY
infini
271 days ago
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he he he
Asia, EU, Africa
bluebec
272 days ago
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This is such a niche reference. I am so happy I know what he's talking about.
Melbourne
alt_text_bot
273 days ago
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Since the current Twitter threadfall kicked off in early 2016, we can expect it to continue until the mid 2060s when the next Interval begins.
Covarr
273 days ago
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I'm still waiting for a film adaptation of the Pern books. A real one, not that Eragon nonsense that merely steals ideas from Pern.
Moses Lake, WA
crc32
273 days ago
Agreed. Though it could be better as a miniseries or full series like GoT. Lots of material to cover...
silberbaer
271 days ago
Eragon is a film adaptation of... Eragon. Which I felt was far more similar to Star Wars than to Pern. Yes, we need Pern movies.
Covarr
271 days ago
Eragon wasn't a terribly faithful adaptation, though. The book already borrowed a few ideas from Pern, but not enough for it to be a problem. The film, for whatever reason, borrowed a lot more.
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