How Ready Player One Defined My View Of Virtual Reality & Burning Man

How Ready Player One Defined My View Of Virtual Reality & Burning Man

Steven Spielberg’s box office smash, Ready Player One, has given me a new outlook on Virtual Reality.

But it was listening to Ernest Cline‘s book nearly 7 years ago that really changed me.

It was a smoldering late August afternoon in Southern California, some years back.

I was cozily nestled into the driver seat of my silver midsize, with 2,500 pounds of food and survival gear and about 1,000 pounds of human bodies in tow. My three best friends, turned business partners, turned husband (just one of them), and I were en route to our second Burning Man together. This was our first major “official family” road trip.

It’s hard to stay focused on anything except Burning Man, especially when you are on your way to Burning Man. I had been “on the way to Burning Man” for nearly a month now, between packing, crafting, planning, and daydreaming. I could feel my energy buzzing with the prospect of what mystical, fantastical, and wondrous experiences lay await for me… and OH, the costumes I would wear to them all.

(Don’t worry, Ready Player One comes into this shortly…)

Ready Player One

Just then a jovial and familiar interruption to my playa fantasies called out from the back seat, “Are we there yet? Let’s listen to an audio book together!”

“Great idea!” I shouted. “Got one in mind?”

“It’s called Ready Player One and it’s about the future and Virtual Reality.”

Everyone in the car perked up a bit at that. Our fascination with and foray into Virtual Reality had only just begun at that point and we were insatiable in our appetite to watch, listen, or talk about VR and the impact we believed it could make on humanity and the world. We were (and still are) modern philosophizers and dreamers who believe in the power of technology and humanity to overcome any challenge and to create a more connected and more harmonious existence.

But what happened next, shaped my entire framework for how I thought about and related to Virtual Reality and the future.

For the next 9 hours, Ernest Cline took me on a devilishly pleasurable scavenger hunt into the heart of the VR future through the familiar lens of 80’s pop culture and the OASIS. When we arrived at Burning Man with a third of the book left I was noticeably conflicted. I had, for nearly a month, pined longingly to be back on the salty desert flatlands of Black Rock City, but as the gates approached on the horizon it took all my will power to hit pause and wait for the other side.

Ready Player One

Wade Watts in VR.

It’s difficult to say exactly how Ready Player One affected my experience at the Burn that year.

Of three that I have been to, it was the most challenging in every way imaginable. From 10-hour white-out dust storms to 50-degree daytime temperatures and freezing nights, to the fact that I was, in my life at that time, within an emotional and transformational cocoon dissolving myself in an acid bath so that I could grow some wings.

Leaving that Burn, I remember feeling a deep stillness inside of me, the kind of quiet that you experience after you’ve just survived a harrowing or near death experience. The kind of contemplative inner presence and nothingness that is simultaneously empty and completely full with all the possibilities of life. I was changed, I had walked through the fire and emerged more myself, I was integrating and raw and very ready to leave Burning Man.

That year was a challenging one for all of us but by the time I was marching back to the cadence of the audio narrative, a new feeling began to fill the empty space that was me-post-Burn. It was a familiar feeling – I was on the same road, in the same driver seat, facing the opposite direction only two weeks before when this warm full-body-bubbly-tingle last took me over. I recognized this as the feeling of possibilities (which also happens to be my Burner name). This is the same feeling I get when I’m able to visualize my dreams and make an energetic connection with them that let’s me know everything is possible.

Ready Player One

Innovative Online Industries, IOI, the evil corporation in RP1.

As I listened to Ernest Cline’s depictions of Virtual Reality schools, social spaces and situations, an unquestionable knowing began to root itself within my heart.

Virtual Reality (and technology in general) could, and would shape our future whether we liked it or not.

Moreover, WE actually get to decide the manner in which that would happen. We get to decide whether VR becomes synonymous with perspective shattering transformational experiences or sexually shocking pornographic ones. We get to decide if these Artificial Intelligence’s model themselves after our ideas of “survival of the fittest” or our true nature of harmony and balance. We get to choose whether Blockchains and Cryptocurrencies create more prosperity or bankrupt us entirely. We get to choose.

Whether it was the classic tale of the unsung hero, the vivid depictions of the endless opportunities within Cline’s virtual world of The Oasis, the Earth shattering experience of Burning man, or a combination of all three, I landed back in Los Angeles with an unshakeable belief in a brighter future – and some radical ideas of the path it might take to get there.

Ready Player One

Ready Player One characters taking on IOI.

Virtual Reality is a powerful visionary tool that can give us the ability to see things differently.

It doesn’t matter if you are using it to visit a 6-year-old refugee and her pregnant teenage sister in a Turkish camp or to fly through the skies in a squirrel suit made from ultra thin fabric.

It doesn’t matter if you are a recovering opiate addict using it to help alleviate post-op pain without the support of medication or an alcoholic using it to break the bonds of addiction altogether.

It doesn’t matter if you are a paraplegic who gets to experience what it’s like to walk again or if you are experiencing what it’s like to walk on the moon, Virtual Reality can be a gateway into the folds of our imagination, onto the path of healing and into the future of creativity, technology, and humanity.

If there’s one thing I’ve heard a lot recently, its that VR “isn’t there yet.” There’s not enough interest or adoption, the tech isn’t quite up to snuff, and its “not easily monetizable.” While all those things are potentially true, they are also choices in how we decide to hold the technology within our minds.

For me, something that is so promising and with so much potential deserves more than “not easily monetizable.” If you don’t believe me, go see Ready Player One (I still haven’t), or better yet, read the book. Then tell me that it’s not worth your time or money, or at least your curiosity. Realistically, Virtual Reality is just one vehicle to a brighter future, and our choices are the fuel.

You get to decide: what reality do you want to live into?


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Arin Pitcher
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