For this month's Heroine Fix, I've decided to focus on two characters from one of my new favourite films: Ready Player One, Helen/Aech and Samantha/Art3mis. The idea of an entirely virtual world where a person can customize their avatar to anything they want and which allows a person to use their natural body movements to interact with the gaming environment is an appealing option. (Disclaimer: I have no talent for video games. I'm fascinated by the stories but using the controls and navigating the game isn't intuitive for me.) If I were going to venture into the Oasis, I would probably be using it as a place for social interaction, which is why the idea of being able to appear as whatever I would want is appealing.
Samantha, a high level gunter (egg hunter, one of those searching for secret objects within the Oasis), created the avatar Art3mis.
Samantha is self-conscious about the birthmark over her right eye and doesn't include it in her avatar. She's also made herself thinner, with larger eyes and pointed ears, creating an elfin anime type look. It is not directly connected to any particular fandom which marks her as an independent, something Samantha prizes as she refuses to join any of the "clans" working together within the Oasis. She wears a leather jacket and has a spiky, short hair style, which creates a "back off" message. She wants to be attractive, but isn't inviting flirtation. She wants to be taken seriously and is quick to jump on any inference that she is less than competent.
In the real world, Samantha is dedicated to fighting the "Sixers" and the corporation, IOI. She is a crusader, wanting to keep the Oasis out of the hands of those who would seek to monetize it. She's angry and passionate about protecting those who are being exploited. She's furious when she realizes that Parzival doesn't have any ambitions beyond solving the quest and earning fame and fortune. To her, solving the quest and gaining control of the Oasis is a way to make the worlds (both real and virtual) a better place.
Her avatar reflects this passion. There's no attempt to make it fun or playful. It's a serious creation for a serious business. She is attractive, because attractiveness can be useful, but not so attractive that she will be distracted by attempts at personal connections. She's not attempting to disguise herself, but she is still hiding her vulnerabilities, revealing a wariness and a lack of trust in the rest of the world.
It's an interesting contrast with Helen/Aech, who has chosen a massive biotechnical orc for her avatar.
Aech is a widely recognized avatar in the gaming worlds. He has a highly successful business building custom artifacts and vehicles for people (including an awesome Iron Giant). He is respected. It's not mentioned in the movie, but in the books, Aech is considered one of the top gunters and to be invited to join him is a mark of prestige. He is the best friend of the main character, Parzival and serves as a mentor and guide.
We don't know much about Helen's real world life in Ready Player One. It appears that she lives in her van and spends most of her time in the virtual Oasis world rather than the real one. She never explains why she chose an avatar that differs so much from her appearance but there are a couple of theories.
Female gamers often experience harassment online. While most gamers are happy to play against or with anyone who loves the game, there is a minority who will attack those who use female avatars and attempt to drive them away. Aech is very involved in Oasis gaming as well as in the gunter subculture. In the first scene, he appears to be involved in a first person shooter game. So perhaps Helen chose Aech so that she could play the games that she loved without harassment, something that many female gamers do in real life.
Or perhaps she chose Aech to counteract any subtle prejudice against her race and gender while building her business. She is obviously a brilliant virtual engineer and appearing as a male may have garnered her more customers while she was trying to establish her reputation. Or Aech may have been created so that she would have a more intimidating presence, preventing others from attacking her and enabling her to demand more respect.
The most intriguing theory is that Aech represents who Helen wishes she truly was. That she sees herself as inherently male. The real world of Ready Player One is one where most people are in desperate poverty. People are squatting in abandoned buildings, living in trailers stacked atop one another or in vehicles. Garbage and debris is piled in graffiti covered streets. Real world transgender surgery would probably be expensive and beyond the reach of most people but they could be whomever they wished in the Oasis, allowing them to have the identity they crave without surgery or hormone treatment.
I'm not sure if this is the case as the real world Helen doesn't show any signs of being uncomfortable within her physical body but given the limited character development, it would be hard to say one way or another. But it's also interesting that Aech is the one character who reminds the others that the avatars don't necessarily represent who a person is in real life.
Either way, Aech is still a wish-fulfillment for Helen. He's bigger, scarier, and more powerful than she is. I would honestly love to see more of Helen/Aech's story, as I wonder if being Aech undermines Helen's confidence because she wonders if her Oasis friends would still like her if they knew her in real life, or does being Aech free Helen, letting her step aside from cultural and gender restrictions to be who she has always wanted to be?
Both Helen/Aech and Samantha/Art3mis have made me think more about the way my own characters present themselves versus who they really are inside. Those multiple layers are what create truly grounded and realistic characters that live inside the minds of readers long after the covers are closed.
(Keep on reading for more information on next month's Heroine Fix and a special offer on my own books.)
I'd love to hear your thoughts on the characters of Ready Player One. Leave a comment or share your thoughts with me on Facebook or Twitter (#HeroineFix @jclewisupdate).
And if you'd like to give my paranormal romantic suspense series about a secret society of superheroes a try, I'm running a sale on book one. You can pick up the ebook for less than the price of a cup of coffee.
Or you can check out last month's Heroine Fix where I took a look at Hela from Thor: Ragnarok and how the line between a villain and a heroine can be razor thin.
Or take a peek at last week's post where I shared my steps for Reclaiming Our Inner Goddesses because I think there are too many messages that encourage women to be less and we should all be celebrated as the Goddesses we truly are.
And you can always just check out my blog homepage to see my updates on my life and how my writing is going as well as my thoughts on all kinds of subjects.
Next month, I'll be looking at the lovely and lethal Dutch from Killjoys. Join me on September 13th for your next Heroine Fix.