As surprising as it is, I liked the book Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. It has a good amount of humor and readability between referenced content and dialogue. It didn’t take a large amount of time or effort to get through, and it paid a respectable homage to the sci-fi genre as a whole. That being said I also read the entirety of the Twilight Series without puking (take that as you will).
I read it and I didn’t hate it. Although the reasons I didn’t hate it aren’t because it had a great plot or protagonist (in fact I think I’d be hard-pressed to find someone that didn’t agree that Parzival in many ways is an anti-hero, and Art3mis is his female trophy prize), but mostly because the book genuinely makes great jokes and has awesome geeky references. I found myself laughing a lot and diving into this world head-first, but I’ll be the first to admit this – I love dark and disturbing things, and I think that’s why I liked this book. It’s a terrifying dystopia. Oh, you disagree? Well, I’m not the only one who thinks so (LINK LINK), in fact most people who analyze the society within the book would agree that both inside and outside the OASIS it’s a complete and utter dystopian society with a sugar-coating of nostalgia to help the medicine go down.
Now to my point about the Alternate Hyper-Masculine Reality: I’m right. We already can tell in this book that it is an alternate reality, it gives us that much within the first chapter. Now, the main point in time that this alternate reality seems to stem off of this reality is the 1980s. But I’m here to tell you right now that James Halliday, creator of OASIS, did not exist in the 80s we know and fantasize over in this book. No, he existed in an alternate hyper-masculine reality, or at least that’s what he wants us to think. I have many reasons I would like to explain why, but here’s a synopsis: female history was erased, or in fact never existed, in Halliday’s perception of the 80s.
Now, wait a second, there were tons of girls in this book, you say. What about Aech and Art3mis? They were main characters AND GIRLS, you shout. In which I would agree, you’re right. There were a lot of females using the OASIS platform, aaand a total of maybe three majorly referenced in the book – there are mentions of Halliday referencing Ladyhawk, Princess Bride, even Marie Curie (which btw, there are way more amazing female scientists than just her – please use Google kind sir). But besides those two damsels in distress, and a woman that had died about 50 years beforehand, very seldom do we see historical or literary references to women in this book.
But wait, I ask you, let’s take a walk through memory lane. Because it’s not what the main character talked about, it’s what Halliday HIMSELF talked about – or rather, what he DIDN’T talk about in 80’s geek culture. Because you’ll be surprised to find out there is a lot of geek culture in the 1980’s that centered around females, and it’s not that hard to find.
There are, in fact, a lot of female side-characters in many video games. Most have a secondary or tertiary role in the plot, however there were three very popular video games during the 1980s with females as the main character that the book failed to mention.
Ms. Pac-Man (1981) – Ms. Pac Man
You might ask why I bother to mention Ms. Pac-Man when her counterpart, Pac-Man, was an integral part of Parzival winning the egg hunt. I’ll give some historical context. Ms. Pac-Man not only introduced a female protagonist to a beloved game, but the game itself incorporated new maze designs and several other improved gameplay changes over the original Pac-Man. It wasn’t just an advancement or sequel of Pac-Man – Ms. Pac-Man became the most successful American-produced arcade game. According to Wikipedia, it sold over 115,000 arcade cabinets around the country. This was important to video game culture of the time, because the game appealed to both girls and boys and therefore more opportunity for capital. Honestly, a rural pizza parlor in Ohio was more likely to have a Ms. Pac-Man game, mostly just because kids of all ages enjoy pizza and 1981 was a big age for arcade products.
Metroid (1986) – Samus Aran
Phantasy Star is recognized as featuring one of the first (human) female lead characters, Alis Landale. It was also one of the first RPGs to feature animated monster encounters, and to allow inter-planetary travel between three planets.
Movies & Television
Here’s where it gets REAL WEIRD. I can’t be the only one that thinks it’s very abnormal these titles were left out – especially because some of them happen to be the most iconic films in their genre let alone this time frame. You could make a case for video game sparsity of femme leads, but NOT for film. There are so many other iconic 80s TV Shows and Movies I didn’t mention because they weren’t geeky enough, but let’s get to the list shall we?
Aliens was an amazing sci-fi film of the 1980s, a sequel to the 1979 Alien, it had a large cult following and received universal acclaim for it’s plot and direction. It was accepted worldwide as one of the best sci-fi movies of it’s time, raking in over 130 million at the box office. This is compounded by the fact that the film was one of the first in the genre to portray the difficulties of women in a masculinist society that either try to force her to submit to their desires or silence her – it was a revolutionary movie of the time.
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
Acclaimed as one of the greatest animes of all time, Nausicaä rocked the anime age of the 80s. It was surprisingly made before the formation of Studio Ghibli, but is still considered one of their most famous works. This film takes place in a post-apocolyptic world where Nausicaä, a princess warrior, becomes embroiled in a struggle with Tolmekia, a kingdom that tries to use an ancient weapon to eradicate a jungle of mutant giant insects.
Castle in the Sky (1986)
As Studio Ghibli’s feature film debut, Castle in the Sky was another widely accepted anime of the time, co-starring both a lead male and female role. It played on what are now considered classic Miyazaki themes: nature and technology, anti-government and personal security, along with friendship and compassion. The film itself won the Animage Anime Grand Prix in 1986.
My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
A wonderful family film, Studio Ghibli created a film that showed young girls there was adventure waiting right in their own backyard. It created a beautiful setting and used the latest animated technology of the time to give beautiful color and variety within the motion picture. The film won the Animage Anime Grand Prix prize and the Mainichi Film Award and Kinema Junpo Award for Best Film in 1988. It pulled on the heartstrings of every one who saw it.
Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)
Am I going to go through every Studio Ghibli film made during the 80s? YES. YES I AM. Not just because they play an important role in the development of well-rounded female characters, but also because these films inspired people of all genders, all ages, and all languages. To this day Miyazaki films help people all over the world believe in the fantasy of new worlds along with that of love and compassion. Kiki’s Delivery Service was no different. Yes it was cutesy. Yes it had an adorable kitcat. But leaving these out of geek culture of the time is a disservice to the large cult following that it had and has to this day.
Jem and the Holograms (1985)
Now if they didn’t include Aliens or ANY of the Studio Ghibli movies of the time, I had no hope for any minor femme tv series. Regardless, Jem and the Holograms was SO RAD. I’m not kidding, imagine a futuristic sci-fi combination of Josie and The Pussycats, Batman, Polly Pocket, and Scooby Doo. Imagine it. That wonderment you are imagining is what embodies Jem and the Holograms. The series ran for 3 seasons with over 65 episodes. It’s BEAUTIFUL.
Bubblegum Crisis (1987)
A very very minor blip in the world of anime during the 80s, but another incredibly rad all-female animated cartoon that took a slightly different turn than Jem and The Holograms. While Jem was incredibly poppy, Priss was an all-out grunge queen. Her and her possy were an all-female group of mercenaries that fought robots in their bitchin’ power suits and motocycles (yea that’s right, I said the word “bitchin”). It only ran for 8 episodes because of company rights, but apparently it was pretty popular in the anime scene.
The Breakfast Club (1985)
I’m not saying this is part of geek culture. I’m just saying if Halliday was even remotely pubescent in the 80s he watched the Breakfast Club. The fact that it wasn’t referenced wasn’t surprising, but disappointing none the less. This movie effectively did what the book could not: show the realistic 3 dimensional characters of males and females in literature. These were teenage kids all struggling to understand themselves and their place in life. It’s a real and emotional film about the hardships of high school and dealing with people at a deeper level than face value. It effectively took high-level stereotypes and decided to flip them on their head. The basket-case is actually a compulsive liar who just wants attention. The athlete can’t easily think for himself. The criminal comes from an abusive household. The brain was planning suicide due to the inability to cope with a bad grade. The princess is a virgin who feels constant pressure from her friends to be a certain way. Take notes.
Video Game Creators
Okay, in the author’s defense I didn’t know these female creators existed until now – but I was also born in 1994 and am not a published writer. It also took me like 5 minutes to figure out that there were a lot of female contributions to the gaming industry during the 80s and none of them were mentioned in the book. I’m not saying that he had to include them, but like Marie Curie’s genre is Radioactivity and she had died 30 years before the 80s had begun so like maybe include women who applied to the book’s theme and time setting?
The First Woman to Design an Arcade Game. In 1981 she she co-created and designed, along with Ed Logg, the classic arcade hit, Centipede. She worked and programmed for Atari in the 1980s and later left to work for Videa (renamed Sente Technologies).
Has been a fixture in the games industry since the 1980s. She created Dungeons and Dragons games for Strategic Simulations, and in 1991 became the first ever project manager of an Electronic Arts development team.
Co-Creator of Graphical Adventure Games, Co-Founder of Sierra (then-called On-line Systems (The couple formed the company On-Line Systems (later called Sierra), and became the dominating force in computer games. Williams is known for creating the King’s Quest series, one of the first adventure games, as well as Mixed-Up Mother Goose.)
Now these are special mentions because I definitely think they should’ve been touched on in the book, I just didn’t really have a category to put them in. But on a real note, very little was mentioned about comics in the book and this generation was one of the biggest booms in female superhero representation.
First Female and the World’s Oldest Competitive Gamer. At the age of 58 Doris was one of the first female competitive gamers when she entered the 1983 Video Game Masters Tournament and broke the world high score record for Q*Bert with 1,112,300 points – beat later in 1987 she lost the title of world record holder, however she held the guiness world record book for oldest video game champion until 2007.
Much credit for the “turnaround” of portrayals of female super-heroes that happened in the 1970s and their rise in popularity during the 1980s could be given to X-Men writer Chris Claremont. His portrayals of Storm, Jean Grey, Kitty Pryde, Rogue and Psylocke in The Uncanny X-Men (as well as his work on Ms. Marvel, Spider-Woman, Misty Knight and Coleen Wing) became known in the industry and amongst fandom as “Claremont Women”: smart, powerful, capable, multi-faceted women super heroes. In the 1980s specifically, Claremont helped with the creation and release of Kitty Pride, Rogue, and Emma Frost.
One of the most influential and powerful superheros of her time. Otherwise known as CAPTAIN MARVEL and LEADER OF THE AVENGERS. DEBUT IN 1982. A beautiful and powerful black woman, and one of the few examples of female minority in 80s geek culture. NO EXCUSES. None.