Fantastic Worlds — Reality Part II

As you step into the doorway of Abraheim’s room, you see the old man standing near the far wall. He is clad in black. Black trench coat, black pants, black shirt, black combat boots, the ensemble completed with a pair of little black sunglasses sitting on his nose.

Intrigued, you approach him. He sticks out his hands. You are still too far away to see exactly what they are, but you see that one is red, and the other is blue. You feel a sense of deja vu. You’ve seen this somewhere before.

Finally you realize, ‘Ah, it’s that scene from The M–

“EAT THIS!” Screams the old man. The small red object whizzes towards you and hits you square in the forehead. A red jolly rancher falls to the ground in front of your feet. As you pick it up, part of you wants to throw it back at the old man. But, seeing how he was unnaturally spry in the past, and given the context of this situation, a fleeting thought of him leaning back like Neo to dodge it crosses your mind. The old man is looking at you with a beaming smile.

“Come with me down the rabbit hole!” Abraheim pulls up an old wingback chair beside his desk and beckons you to sit.

“Last time you were here we were testing our definitions of reality by looking at certain stories. Let’s continue that today.”

The old man sits down at his desk.

“It is at this point that the rabbit hole begins to branch off. You see, with the anime such as SAO and Log Horizon, the “reality” of their game comes from actually being trapped inside of the video game they play. There is no viable option to just unplug or logout to return to the ‘real world’. For all intents and purposes, the game IS their real world. But in a book like Ready Player One, or Ender’s Game there is the option to unplug or logout, but the consequences and emotional connections the players have with the games still test how we generally perceive what is ‘real’.”

Abraheim removes a book from beneath a pile of papers.

“I’m assuming that you have some familiarity with the books, at least in the context of what we’re discussing. You have heard of them, yes? I will warn you that what we are about to discuss does contain spoilers for both of these stories, so I understand if you do not want to continue this discussion until you have read them.

He hands you a copy of Ready Player One so that you can read the synopsis if need be.

The synopsis of Ready Player One reads:

In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines—puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them.

But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

“Ender’s Game is a little more complex branch of this rabbit hole, so we will talk about that at a later date.”

You hand the book back to the old man, and he places them on his desk.

“Let’s look at Ready Player One. In this story, Wade has two realities. The first being the world where his actual human body exists; and the OASIS, where his avatar exists. But what makes the OASIS one of Wade’s realities? It’s not a game as much as it is an alternate life for its users. Players can be and look however they want. They can go to a real school in it — hold a real, paying job in it — own homes, land, or even whole planets, all within the simulation. The economy within the OASIS is real, and can have a direct effect on how much money you actually have in the human world.”

Abraheim smiles. “Sounds like fun, right? But none of those things matter if there is not some sort of connection with the real human behind the avatar. With Wade and most users of the OASIS, there is. Things happen within the OASIS that actually have an effect on Wade’s life outside of the OASIS. Money, danger, friendships, love — all of these things originate in the OASIS and ultimately drive Wade’s decisions in his other reality.”

The old man looks back over to you. “By the way, did you eat that red jolly rancher?”

He continues:

‘Wade forms friendships that have connections with real emotions with a real person. He has a crush/love interest that is connected to his real emotions. There is danger within the OASIS that translates to danger outside of the OASIS.”

“Honestly, perhaps two realities isn’t even how we should look at this. If they are both reality and affect each other, and are connected to each other, could they just be different facets of the same reality? For most parts of the story, one reality is no less real than the other when it comes driving Wade’s decisions or affecting how he feels.”

“I feel it needs to be said that within this story, a sort of hierarchy of reality exists. However, I believe it to be fluid. For example, obviously players can’t log into the OASIS if they are dead. So in that case, the realities of the human world override the reality of the simulation. Players have to take care of yourself, at least somewhat. But we could flip that on its head. If a player works a job within the OASIS, their presence and work in the simulation is what earns them an income, that they need in order to buy the basic necessities to keep their health up and not die. Hmm, so is it equal again?”

“It seems very strange that I would talk up how the OASIS in Ready Player One is real, only to dismantle it by making this next point. Alas, it is what I found at the end of the rabbit hole. By the end of the story, with the help of the creator of the OASIS, Wade realizes that the OASIS might not be as real as he thinks. To him and millions of others, the OASIS is real because they choose to believe it is real. The choose to let what happens inside the simulation dictate what happens outside. For many, the OASIS is an escape from reality. For others, much like SAO or Log Horizon, it becomes a trap and a reality is assigned to it by the player. Lucky for Wade, all he has to do is logout — stop playing — leave one reality to exist in another.”

Abraheim stands up from his seat.

“There is still another branch in this rabbit hole, but we will explore that next. If you have a chance, read up on Ender’s Game. The hour is late, and I know that you need to move on.”

The old man walks you towards the door, and smiles.

“Thank you for coming to see me. Until next time.”

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