MetaWars vs Ready Player One, and The Matrix

I recently bought a book from a carboot: MetaWars… by Jeff Norton (2012). The synopsis on the back reads like Ready Player One, and with ‘Meta’ in the title you can’t help but think of Facebook, which if you’ve watched RPO you’ll see the links already. I flicked through it and saw such names as Hiram, so considering I’ve just finished reading a book about Freemasonry and such Bible figures, that too seemed quite fitting.

*While the book was first published in 2021, Norton first ‘put pen to paper’ in the Spring of 2010, so it pre-dates RPO, published in 2011 and released as the film in 2018.

(I watched Ready Player One back in October 2020).

It wasn’t until after I’d bought the MW book that I realised it’s the first in a series… which made me sigh because I felt some obligation to go on to read the others too. Also, when I looked it up on Amazon (although it’s quite clear from the style) it’s aimed at 6-11 year olds (although I would have thought 12+ would be more realistic).

While RPO has a race in the virtual world (featuring the Back to the Future Delorian), MW begins with a race (on roller-blades) in the real world – this involves gambling money away, which, while Jonah loses the race and a substantial portion of savings, which seems wrong for a book that is sold to young children; the message about gambling surely gets lost among the Fast and the Furious-style street race (or Star Wars-esq pod racing) – but who am I to say who should read what? While this is race is going on a warehouse/facility is being broken in and explosives being set to destroy mainframe computers that form part of the metaverse; the race is being used to distract the police.

Immediately this part of the story appears naive and misinformed about how such a facility would really exist (let alone the somewhat outdated term ‘mainframes’ rather than ‘servers’) since it would have it’s own security service and taking it down would only have a financial cost based on the equipment, rather than causing a loss of valuable data due to that being mirrored elsewhere – a child and her dad could not simply break in with a crowbar and plant a bomb to take down what is seemingly a significant portion of the internet. The story is set at some point in the future when the global population has surpassed 10 bn (yet kids are racing around on rollerblades like it’s 1999), which a quick search engine search informs me could happen by 2050… (RPO is set in 2045).

Then we go back to Jonah’s home, not a container like RPO, but the upper deck of a London bus of which one can’t help but imagine the same vibe.

The morning after the race Jonah plugs into the metaverse so that he can attend school there. He does so in a similar fashion to how Neo plugs into the Matrix, but through the lower portion of his spine rather than the back of his head. The learning process, however, is still presented as analogue, rather than him getting Jujutsu downloaded into him for a PE lesson. In ‘home-schooling’ in this manner, I can’t help but consider all the students who had home-schooling inflicted on them during Lockdown. In MW school is more like what you would find in Second Life; Jonah arrives late, flying in just as the gates are closing, but once in he has to walk through the corridors as it’s against school policy to fly. The gates have locked behind him; the school is essentially a prison for the day, but that’s also to keep badies out (of course, things like this are done “for your safety”.)

Here we learn of another similarity between Neo in The Matrix, and MW; that Jonah, like Neo, appears in a form expressed by his subconscious, which in his case is similar to his human self. We are informed this is rare, since his school mates are all manner of things from exotic animals and creatures, to geometric shapes. Jonah’s human appearance means he is not someone with things to hide.

Appearing in these weird and wonderful ways reminds me of a film whose name evades me, which has children accompanied by spirit animals. It seems odd to me that while flying in school is a big no-no, appearing as weird creatures is okay and wouldn’t be amusing and highly distracting at all… but these kids are used to it; this is normal for them. Although, at what point in the lives of these children have their subconscious’s so clearly defined their outward appearance I wonder? Are these appearances now, at the age of Jonah, fixed? What if he wants to be a cube? (I can’t help but relate this to the debate over gender).

With the lesson in school we learn more about the war between the two ‘factions’, the Millennials and the freedom fighting Guardians. Somewhat weirdly the students are all heavily divided and don’t appear to be bullied like perhaps ‘anti-vaxxers’ might be, should they dare to ascribe themselves as such in the peer-pressuring environment that is school; Indeed, I consider how in our society most kids appear to have been swept along in the Covid Pandemic to wear masks and stand in line with all manner of rules, and basically lured to that side of things where, again, author Jeff Norton seems to have got things wrong, this time in his assumption about how school would be (a place for learning the truth of things, open and considerate debate, rather than a place of brainwashing, and stigma.) Imagine western schools following 9/11 where half the students were in agreement with Osama bin Laden and his [supposed] actions…

One reviewer (Darren on Goodreads*) of the book however considers this:

I think it would make a really good class reader for English lessons as there are so many elements that make great points for discussion. Both the Millennials and the Guardians feel that they are morally right, and every action they make is justified, whatever the collateral damage, and readers will find themselves challenged just as much as Jonah does. Although it is science fiction, many of the concepts are only a few jumps on from web and gaming technology that so many people, young and old, enjoy today and this makes the story all that more credible as a possible future world that may be experienced by today’s teens.

Indeed, perhaps the book (just like The Matrix did somewhat for me), if used in classrooms, could help students consider such things in relation to their own lives; the freedoms they are allowed or denied, not to mention the consideration of a real world outside of the virtual that many of them appear to experience less and less of.

Chapter five ends with Jonah escaping from school, using a computer virus that once deleted the staffroom door – I laughed out loud at that part, as I imagine teachers locked in or locked out.

It turns out that Darren, at least at the time of writing, is both a head teacher and a self-appointed school librarian (link to blog post on a now retired blog). While he mentions encouraging students to read, especially reluctant ones, I suspect from what he wrote about MW, that his positions don’t afford him the power to choose which books are read in his classrooms (or are necessarily available in his school library). Which books are chosen are surely the strict decision of some authoritarian governing body – a board of pre-selected people that themselves meet required criteria – and thus we see a glimpse of how students, and indeed the whole population are moulded into the same thought-thinking caste. Of course the other end of the argument is that certain books should not be read by youngsters (or even burned, or composted…); these books might include the likes of Harry Potter, another title for sale at the carboot but was priced at a price I decided to procrastinate about, but ultimately sold a little while later to a youngster who will no doubt go on to believe in magic (if she doesn’t already), concoct magic potions in her bedroom… but not fly the Nimbus 2000, as that was sold earlier (seriously).

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