Playing with the past: structures of nostalgia in Ready Player One

Authors: Van Raalte, C.

Conference: Genre/Nostalgia

Dates: 6-7 January 2021

Place of Publication:


There is an extended sequence within Ready Player One that takes place inside a simulation of the 1980 film The Shining; in the original novel this episode takes place within a recreation of Blade Runner (1982). The substitution is significant. The world of Ready Player One is dominated by signs that are so disconnected from their original meanings that they are completely interchangeable. What is important to Ready Player One is not the inherent value of the signs, but the imagined exchange rate between then. The Shining is used in place of Blade Runner not due to any thematic or narrative similarities, but because, as iconic 1980s texts, they have similar cultural capital.

Ready Player One exemplifies a strain of nostalgia that is increasingly a feature of modern science fiction, whereby the signs and forms of yesterday's culture are recreated not in tribute or as a critique but as what Fredric Jameson would call a ‘blank parody’ devoid of meaningful content. The failure of such texts to fully engage with the past reflects a failure to fully imagine a future - a feature Mark Fisher ascribes to the products of ‘capitalist realism’.

This paper will explore the particular structures of nostalgia articulated in Ready Player One, a film that at one and the same time appears to trivialise cultural icons, rendering them as pure spectacle in Guy Debord’s sense of the term, and to directly address the fundamental trap of nostalgia with the injunction to “escape your past”.

Source: Manual