[Serious spoilers, salty language]
Let me start out by setting something straight. For the record: I really love Ready Player One. This in spite of the fact that I typically go for the same navel-gazing fare that makes bookish bastards like Nog swoon. I don't play videogames. I grew up in the 80s, but fuck if I know much about retro gaming culture. Yet there's something irresistible about Cline's exuberant, dungeon-masterly hero quest, and I loved it til the bitter end.
But Ernest Cline: what the fuck? In the book's last 50 pages, the four characters who've known each other virtually in the OASIS finally meet each other IRL. We learn that Art3mis is beautiful although insecure (we'll discuss that over beers at the Tap). Shoto is the token Asian non-character whose token Asian buddy gets rubbed out halfway through. Or is that Daito? Nevermind, doesn't matter.
And then there's Aech. Let's revisit the scene:
"A heavy set African American girl sat in the RV's driver seat, clutching the wheel tightly and staring straight ahead. She was about my age, with short, kinky hair and chocolate colored skin that appeared irridescent in the soft glow of the dashboard indicators. She was wearing a vintage Rush 2112 concert T-shirt, and the numbers were warped around her large bosom."
OK, so she's got big breasts. And she's also a lesbian, by the way. Whatever. Fast forward to Wade's reaction:
"A wave of emotion swept over me. Shock gave way to a sense of betrayal. How could he -- she -- deceive me all these years? I felt my face flush with embarrassment as I remembered all of the adolescent intimacies I'd shared with Aech. A person I'd trusted implicitly. Someone I thought I knew."
So what's the most egregious sin here: that Aech "lied" about being a girl, or that she "lied" about being black? Both clearly cross a line for Wade, who lives within a privileged framework that gender and race are fundamental aspects of personhood, and that to perform a gender or race other than those you were assigned at birth is tantamount to betrayal. How convenient for Wade, who just happened to be assigned "white male" in the being born lottery.
But oh my god, this is the fucking virtual OASIS! With wizards and cat people and shit! Haptic suits!! Let's remember that Shoto and Daito look nothing like their avatars, but no big deal. Meanwhile, Wade's panties are in a monumental twist just because his best friend is missing a certain manly appendage and tweaked her RGB.
Wade defines and inscribes Aech with the attributes "fat" "black" "lesbian" "chick" because he's invested in the privileged heteronormative assumption that it's "regular" to be a skinny white straight dude. Thanks, Robinson Crusoe. Meanwhile, Aech represents all that is opposite or "other" -- the transient dark enigma that's somehow subverted the IOI's panoptic gaze.
But then Wade decides he's cool with it. 'It's OK dudes, I've got African American friends.' Ultimately, Wade has an enlightened epiphany that allows him to understand why Aech would want to perform white maleness in a Virtual. Fucking. Reality:
"In [Aech's mother's] opinion, the OASIS was the best thing that had ever happened to women and people of color. From the very start, she had used a male white avatar to conduct all of her online business, because of the marked difference it made in how she was treated and the opportunities she was given."
Oh, really. Because at the end of the day, we'd all just be so lucky to pass as straight white men. Nevermind black power, second wave feminism, the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.... the practice of radical subjectivity. Nope, Wade's so right: we'd rather just assimilate and pretend we're all bros. #bitch #please.