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Gamemaster Anthony, Crossover Fanfic Legend, Reviews Ready Player One

Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/Nintendo

This past weekend saw the release of Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One, a virtual-reality adventure based on the book of the same name by Ernest Cline, that the film’s own marketing refers to as the “holy grail of pop culture.” What makes Ready Player One a “holy” grail is that its core concept is, put simply, “Wouldn’t it be cool to see Geek Thing X meet Geek Thing Y?” In an early sequence, a Back to the Future–style DeLorean with Knight Rider lights races against the motorcycle from Akira through digital New York City toward a finish line guarded by King Kong. It is the crossover to end all crossovers, a fanboy’s dream.

But Ready Player One is not the first such multi-fictional-universe crossover event. Leading up to the film’s release, the concept reminded some web surfers of another epic meet-up: Gamemaster Anthony’s birthday.

You might have to take my word for it, but GamemasterAnthony’s birthday-celebration post is one of the most well-known and widely circulated posts to have ever graced a message board. The post itself is self-explanatory: In 2008, GamemasterAnthony celebrated his 33rd birthday by partying with, well, everyone.

It’s my birthday today, and I’m 33!

That means only one thing…BRING IT IN, GUYS!!!

*every character from every game, comic, cartoon, TV show, movie, and book reality come in with everything for a HUGE party*

In an internet clogged with venom and callousness, this post remains a perfect example of the intimate feeling that small web communities, even those composed of pseudonymous users, can foster. And as Twitter user @jimpjorps has catalogued, Gamemaster Anthony has an imaginative bash like this every year (his 42nd birthday was Hitchhiker’s Guide–themed), and he’s aware of the attention. “Anyways…commence with the usual! *various multiversals come in with cake, presents, booze*” he wrote in this year’s post. His fellow forum dwellers get in on the birthday role-play as well.

Gamemaster Anthony is also the author of a sprawling fanfiction crossover series called Heroes of Arcadia. In it, the main character Anthony Bault (the Gamemaster’s real name) helps dozens of his favorite video game characters defeat the forces of evil. Characters from Super Mario, the Legend of Zelda, Sonic the Hedgehog, Megaman, Pokemon, and so on all meet up to help save the day.

The birthday posts have attained a sort of cult status, mostly for the right reasons. An invocation of Gamemaster Anthony’s name conjures up both a certain type of online friendship and a certain type of devotion to geek culture.

So when Ready Player One’s marketing push ramped up earlier this month, it was inevitable that people would draw connections between the two. A film where all of the most famous geek characters come together in an epic mashup? Sounds like a birthday bash to me.

On Saturday, we sent Gamemaster Anthony to see Ready Player One in theaters and give us his thoughts on the highly anticipated film. Here’s what he had to say.

So what’d you think of the movie?
The virtual world of OASIS does feel like something that would be created if someone looked at or some other fanfiction site and said to himself/herself, “You know … this would make an awesome idea for a VR Chat/MMO-like environment for people to interact with.” The sheer number of references, not just video-game but also movie and television, was incredible. I feel like there were people in the theater watching the movie with me that were trying to see how many references they could make out in any given time frame. Thankfully, the only references that were played out to any extent were those related to the plot.

I will say, the references were also part of the problem. I was seeing a lot of 2.5/4 star reviews for this one with the general consensus being that the visuals were great but the characters and plot were not as strong. And … they were right. We’ve seen the “evil corporation trying to take over with the common man fighting back” plot before, and while a lot of the set pieces were great, it wasn’t really all that different from that formula. I did personally enjoy the bits where the main characters were figuring out the puzzles within OASIS to try and find the Easter egg. This is mostly due to the fact I am a real lover of puzzles and mysteries, which no doubt my latest obsession with escape rooms can attest to.

At any rate, I thought it was a fun little romp. Not a blockbuster to change the face of cinema like the Marvel Cinematic Universe has, but a fun little flick to watch.

Had you read the book?
I had not, but I did hear that the book was actually better than the movie. But that can be said about a lot of books.

What was your favorite scene?
It definitely had to be the final battle. It was pretty epic the way that was all laid out, just every character that you could think of coming in at once. I was actually telling members of my family I’m planning a reboot of the fanfiction series I’m doing and I was looking at kind of how that battle was laid out in the movie, and I was saying, “Yeah, it’s probably going to be something like that.” So that gave me some good ideas.

Did you have any favorite Easter eggs?
I liked how they incorporated the very first Easter egg in a video game for that last bit [in Adventure for the Atari 2600]. I was trying to see if I could see anything that I recognized right off the bat that might’ve fallen off the radar of anyone else and I really didn’t see a whole heck of a lot that stood out. They tried to touch upon everything. I actually heard how they had eliminated references to Spielberg’s stuff because he had said that he didn’t want to put too much of him in there; he wanted this to be about everyone’s nostalgia. Which I thought was kind of weird. Spielberg, you’re a part of pop culture no matter what.

How does Heroes of Arcadia differ from Ready Player One?
Heroes of Arcadia is really based around the idea of different video games actually being alternate realities to our own. They are real worlds in and of themselves, fully fleshed out with histories, timelines, that kind of thing, instead of a virtual world. I think one of the ideas that they do have that’s similar is the idea of bringing these worlds together. That’s sort of the reason that a lot of crossover fanfiction exists in the first place; it’s people that have more than one thing they’re a fan of so they wonder, what would happen if these series came together. In the later years, we’ve been seeing the video-game companies themselves delve into that. We’ve seen Marvel vs. Capcom, Super Smash Bros., a lot of the fighting games have characters from other series come in.

If they were to make a sequel to Ready Player One, what’s the No. 1 thing you’d want to see in it?
Personally, what I would love to see is more character and plot development. Make it less about the set pieces — everyone’s going to be expecting that. Maybe work on something unique within the plot itself. Maybe the story could be about … maybe borrow an idea from God Hack for example and see if there’s something hidden within the code of the game that may end up destroying OASIS if it’s not dealt with. Or maybe even figure out a way to create a rival to OASIS. Something along the lines where the story takes more of a center stage than the set pieces.

When I initially emailed you, I know that you were skeptical about why I wanted to talk to you. I think by now you’re aware that your birthday posts have gone pretty far and wide?
Yes, it has. Like I said, I was actually surprised I was actually still relevant. I’m still relatively active on certain message boards and such, but I really haven’t written anything new in regards to my fanfiction series. I’m really kind of surprised that these guys would actually do this birthday post. It’s like “Who are you guys? And why are you doing this for my 40th birthday?” Seriously!

One of the themes in the movie is online relationships versus IRL relationships. It’s interesting to celebrate personal milestones like your birthday online with people you know from a message board but might not know in real life. What’s that like?
It’s pretty exciting. One thing I was surprised by in terms of my fanfiction is how many people I’ve actually influenced. About a month ago, I got an email from someone who was writing his own fanfiction. He wanted to get in touch with me and say “How are you doing?” and such. I think it’s really great to see people want to celebrate your milestones like that. I think it shows a respect to people that have contributed. “Here’s a guy that wrote these great stories. He deserves some recognition for that, some respect for that.” I feel rather humbled by the fact that there are people who want to do that with me. Those birthday posts that you saw, they’re from people I don’t even know. They wanted to do this for me and that’s awesome.

When you spend time online where do you tend to go? Message boards? Twitter? Facebook?
I don’t do a lot of social networking, because it’s lot of “Here’s the last thing I ate!” I usually stick around message boards. When it comes to things like that I mainly contribute if I have something to contribute, you know? Something relevant. Usually when I’m online, I go to YouTube to watch videos or to Twitch to watch and to interact with other people who are watching those stream.

When did you get into video games?
Pretty much at birth. My family had an Atari 2600 when we were really young, so I kind of started playing video games when I was 5, and just didn’t stop. I think the popular phrase is “I geeked at birth.” But I also have a brother who was into games at the time, when he was really young. He played Dungeons & Dragons with his friends, and then I eventually got into a group of my own in high school. I basically just like games in general, whether it’s board games, video games, roleplaying games, that kind of thing.

What’s your favorite game?
My favorite video game so far has been the Pokémon series. I’ve really been into role-playing games for quite a while, and having a game series like Pokémon that’s so customizable in so many different ways really kind of gets into the essence of building your own character. Or in this case building your own team.

Which type do you usually start with?
That really depends on the game itself. Usually I look ahead to see what gyms are available and then I usually pick a type that can be used on more than one of them. I think for the Gen 1 games I chose Squirtle, and then for the Gen 2 games I chose Cyndaquil.

I’ve got to ask: what’s next. You said you were working on more fanfic?
Once I can find the time and hopefully a decent word processing software, I want to get back to doing a reboot of the entire series. I’ve been messing around with message-board RP sessions, which is round-robin storytelling. Those have given me some really great ideas.

Gamemaster Anthony Reviews Ready Player One