The recent box office success of Steven Spielberg’s movie Ready Player One, out on DVD and Blu-ray this month, has sparked a fascinating debate about how real the online world is, with some people asking whether it is better than the real thing. It is in the film, with characters appearing to be better looking, more skillful and more fulfilled than any of them are in the real world. While he lives in a slum in real life, when Wade Watts becomes Parzival, he becomes cool, hip and lives a much more exciting life.
The movie might be set 30 years in the future and seem a little far-fetched, but how far are we from living our lives online? How much time do we spend outside of the real world and how much of our lives are now a little more than a few lines of computer code?
These days, shopping online is considered normal, and the high streets and shopping malls are fading fast. People can order almost anything they want from their armchair and have it delivered to their door the next day. It’s quick and convenient, and it offers, quite literally, all the choice in the world. However, there is no interaction with the items before you buy, and no friendly advice from the shop assistant about what color looks best on you or what speakers would sound right in your apartment. And it doesn’t stop there.
Check out the latest apps and you’ll find hundreds of different virtual games, ranging from the quirky and fun to full-on VR environments that are not that far away from Parcival’s OASIS. You can find virtual Mum and Dad apps, a DJ, pool and school, for those who haven’t had enough during term time. You can even find virtual surgery, guts and all. And who could forget the famous virtual pets, the Tamagotchi, that every little one carried not so long back?
Living in the virtual world makes life so much easier, after all, Tamagotchi never smelled, messed on the rug or woke you up by barking in the small hours. And it can have more practical uses, too, with apps like Tinder taking away the awkwardness of a first date, and airline apps like Air China, allowing you to check in for your flight before you’ve even left home. You can even find the PokerStars app, which lets you change your cards if you don’t like them and peek at the next card in the deck to give you the edge.
Of course, real life is never this easy, so it’s no surprise that we are spending more and more of our time online. In fact, for some people, the line between reality and its virtual equivalent has become so blurred that they even object to the phrase real life, preferring AFK or away from the keyboard to describe their offline life.
At the end of the day, it is up to each of us to choose which apps we download and use. We have to decide whether we want those apps to augment our existing life by helping us to find love or a great deal on our next phone or take us away from it to fight epic battles, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. And maybe, sometimes, the latter is not such a bad thing. Just ask Parzival.