This weekend, the world of Ready Player One has taken over and transformed Brazos Hall into a combination of the real world of today, the nostalgic world of our near past, and the virtual reality of the near future.
The upcoming film from director Steven Spielberg and writers Zak Penn and Ernie Cline tells the story of a near future where people live two parallel lives. The overwhelming majority of society, like protagonist Wade Watts, build out a rich, complex virtual life inside a VR world called The Oasis, where they are known by user-created avatars and digital identities. There are no traditional boundaries in this combination of a game world, a dream, and social media where people go to escape a dreary, desolate “real” world where people are packed like sardines into tin-can homes in places like The Stacks, where Wade lives in the book and movie.
Staff on-hand at Thursday’s press preview describe the Ready Player One presence at Brazos Hall as very intentionally a less formalized “Experience” than one finds at an event like San Diego Comic-Con. They explained that, since SXSW is a place people come to kick back and enjoy hanging out alongside seeing movies and music and doing the conference, the Ready Player One presence is designed as a place where people can come to explore a little bit of the world of the movie and have some fun with the VR experience upstairs if they want, but mostly about hanging out and recharging.
Not a gun: The Iron Giant, one of the plethora of familiar faces in the Ready Player One activation at SXSW (Photo by Moisés Chiullán)
After going through security and being issued an RFID-tracking bracelet, you pass the familiar setting of Wade Watts’ home in The Stacks and walk through a mirrored, “synapse”-lit hallway into a spacious central room that comprises the majority of the Experience. Stop off at a station to create an avatar as one does in The Oasis, visit a Hot Topic pop-up stand selling exclusive tie-in merchandise, grab a drink at the full bar, or play some vintage arcade games. An enormous Iron Giant (from its own Warner Bros. film as well as Ready Player One) looms large over the entire room, and you can safely expect to see friends’ Instagram and other social media feeds full of ridiculous poses with the big guy all weekend.
Ready Player One author Ernie Cline’s DeLorean (flux capacitor not included) (Photo by Moisés Chiullán)
Those interested in competing to win prizes can earn points playing a few Ready Player One-themed trivia games on the main floor. Scanning your RFID bracelet connects your scores to a leaderboard, in the spirit of the movie. If you look closely, you might even be able to find a key to scan your RFID bracelet against that will boost your score even higher. The second floor of Brazos Hall has been taken over by a series of six VR mini games that directly correlate to settings found in the movie, one in particular taking place in Wade’s garage.
Visitors throughout the weekend can expect to suddenly find themselves rubbing elbows with members of the cast as well as Austin’s own Ernie Cline, whose bestselling book is the basis of the movie. A Warner Bros. representative confirmed that Cline may be the most-envied person in Austin this weekend, since they’ve reserved a space right out front for him to pull into with his DeLorean whenever he pleases. Rumblings around town indicate that there might very well be yet more exciting Ready Player One surprises to be unlocked as the weekend unfold, so don’t miss Saturday night’s official SXSW Film Festival party, which takes place at the event space.