What Parents Need to Know About 'Ready Player One'

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.
Wade / Parzival (Tye Sheridan,) Art3mis / Samantha (Olivia Cooke,) Daito (Win Morisaki,) and Shoto (Philip Zhao) star in Ready Player One.

Ready Player One is director Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Ernest Cline’s bestselling 2011 sci-fi  book by the same name. It’s about a society that’s obsessed with virtual reality videogames. Every waking moment is spent playing videogames and living vicariously through your “avatar,” or character created for the game, and it isn’t just any game. It’s a virtual reality scavenger hunt that enables the winner to be wealthy beyond their wildest dreams. 

Ready Player One is definitely a suspenseful, action-packed ride. Teenagers will liken the movie to being on a roller coaster, with curves, sharp drops and upside-down loops. However, it’s a movie that’s probably too intense for anyone under 13 years of age.

The story begins in 2045, with a teenage boy named Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) living in the poverty-stricken “Stacks” of Columbus, Ohio, which is a rundown trailer park of mobile homes stacked vertically one on top of the other. Wade’s parents have died, and he lives with his aunt and her alcoholic boyfriend. To escape the drudgery of life, Wade plays computer games in the world of Oasis, which is a virtual universe where he can go anywhere, do anything and be anyone.

Inside Oasis, there is a videogame called “Anorak’s Quest” programmed by the late James Halliday (played by Mark Rylance). This game appeals to everyone in town because winning it would make you a trillionaire. Upon Mr. Halliday's passing, a contest is initiated: Whoever wins the Anorak’s Quest wins total control of the Oasis and Halliday’s half trillion-dollar fortune. The challenge is to be the first person to find three keys, and pass through three gates, where your skills are tested. The winner must unlock the door to a digital Easter egg which is hidden somewhere in the game. 

Understandably, everyone is trying to play the game, including “Innovative Online Industries” (or IOI), a video game manufacturer of virtual reality equipment. The IOI company wants to control the virtual reality world, and enlists an army of professional gamers to play Anorak’s Quest to seek the prize.

In order to unravel the mystery of the game, Wade Watts and his fellow egg hunters must use deductive reasoning and critical thinking skills. To prepare for the first challenge, Wade studies every detail of Halliday’s life, looking for clues that will help him in his quest to locate the first key. Online, Wade becomes his avatar, “Parzival,” a name inspired by the knight who found the Holy Grail.

Meanwhile, Wade/Parzial meets an attractive girl named “Art3mis” (Olivia Cooke) who has a different reason for playing the game. Art3mis knows from personal experience that terrible things will happen if IOI takes control of Oasis, so she wants to win for the greater good. Art3mis mentions her father, who was forced to work under slavery conditions at IOI in order to pay off a debt. The IOI Company is involved in various deceptive practices, and wants to add micro transactions and ads to videogames. They want to use many ads as possible without  giving someone a seizure. And things could get even worse if they win the game, and gain control of Oasis.

With the stakes high, Wade sets up his own team of "High Five" gunters: Art3mis, Aech  (Lena Waithe), Daito (Win Morisaki), and Sho (Philip Zhao). They strategize about the best way to play the game, but things becomes very intense when Wade / Pazival starts winning. Wade becomes an overnight celebrity, and a target for foul play. The story continues as the head of IOI, Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn,) sees Wade as a threat and tries to kill him.

Appropriateness for Children

Ready Player One is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action violence, bloody images, suggestive material, partial nudity and foul language. A lot of children in elementary and middle school will want to see this movie because they’ve read the book. I watched Ready Player One with my two teenage sons and husband. My sons are 16 and 19 years old, and very much enjoyed the movie. They are intense gamers, and the movie was vicarious for them — like they were experiencing a suspenseful thrill ride. Ready Player One is very much like being on a roller coaster. 

Teenagers shouldn’t have any problems with this movie. Children under age 13, however, may be frightened by the intense violence, assassination attempts, ax attacks, shoot-outs, car chases, explosions, giant monsters, and re-creations of horror films (including Chuckie, The Shining, Freddy Krueger, zombies, Godzilla, Gandalf, Iron Giant, and more). The movie strongly emphasizes life-or-death situations. The main character of the film, Wade Watts, is stalked by a man who has every imaginable resource to end his life. The villain is wealthy, powerful, crafty and deceitful. He tries to kill Wade by detonating a bomb under his aunt's trailer, killing everyone in that vicinity, including an elderly woman who was one of Wade's only friends. Understandably, this aspect of the story will be very disturbing for younger children.

Sometimes children like to imitate stuff from TV and movies. It’s funny when a child starts dancing along with music on TV, but you wouldn’t want them to be aggressive or violent like the characters in Ready Player One. Children don’t always understand that their behavior has consequences. In real life, car accidents can be fatal. In real life, we don’t get a quarter that gives us a second chance to continue playing the game after we’ve died. In real life, we’re not invincible and we can't perform the same stunts the superheroes in movies do.

As film critic, I often see parents bringing their 5-year-old children to PG and rated R movies, because they couldn’t find a babysitter. Don’t make that mistake.

Final Take

For the most part, Ready Player One is about how it’s fun to play video games with your friends. It’s about thinking fast on your feet, using strategy and deductive reasoning, so that you’re ready for anything that comes your way. It is an excellent movie for teenagers and adults.

Without giving to much away, the message of the movie is that connecting with real people, in the real world, is more important than anything you might do in an online fantasy world. That’s a good message for everyone. Playing video games can quickly become an all-consuming obsession and addiction. Virtual reality can be fun, but play wisely.