Ready Player One is a 2011 novel by Ernest Cline about a teen named Wade Watts, who spends all his time on OASIS, a virtual reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game that has replaced the Internet itself as a primary means of recreation and communication. He plays to escape his boring, harrowing life in the trailer park he calls home. Wade's life is consumed by the quest to find the hidden fortune of the man who created OASIS, James Halliday. The only clues to how to get at it were hidden away in Halliday's personal writings, and the only way to decode them is... 1980s pop culture.What follows is a story about life, adventure, and a love letter to the 1980s wrapped up in a science fiction plot that's a blast to read.
This novel provides examples of:
Acceptable Religious Targets: Averted in-universe. Wade dismisses his neighbor's religious beliefs as just a way to deal with the Crapsack World they live in, but concedes that he became a gunter for the exact same reason.
Allegedly Free Game: OASIS costs only a token 25-cent subscription set-up fee, but doing just about anything costs money, including in-game fuel and teleportation fees. You can earn money in-game from killing monsters and running dungeons (demonstrated by Wade earning about $20,000 in OASIS money from collecting treasure in the Tomb of Horrors), but without some initial capital to get off the starting world, it's essentially impossible. IOI is treated as villainous because they want to, among other things, charge a monthly subscription fee.
Ambiguous Disorder: Halliday's AS is diagnosed after his death and only in speculation, but it's pretty clear that it's probably a correct diagnosis. Wade is probably in the same boat, which helps him because the contest is steeped in thinking like Halliday did. He's a clearer example because he was never given a diagnosis nor does the story itself say he's on the spectrum at all.
An Aesop: Video games, the Internet, and other media shouldn't consume your life, but they still do add meaning to it and that shouldn't be ignored either.
Big Guy Fatality Syndrome: Of a sort. Daito's user, Toshiro Yoshiaki, is murdered both online and real life during his You Shall Not Pass as Ultraman at the Jade Gate. Which is possible foreshadowing: IOI discovers Daito's real identity and has him killed via throwing him out of his skyscraper apartment window in order to eliminate him as a competitor for the Egg.
Bilingual Bonus: Some of the planets have Latin names. Incipio (Latin for 'I begin') is the starting planet. Ludus (Latin for 'school') is the planet where Wade and Aech go to school. The fact that "ludus" also means "game" is an early plot point.
Bring It: Sorrento begins the final battle with a shout of "Come on!".
Cheaters Never Prosper: IOI seeks to win the contest by any means possible, such as cheating, bribing participants, and even going as far as to kill off participants in the real world. In the end, they still manage to lose when Wade outwits them and wins the contest.
Chekhov's Gun: The quarter and the Cataclyst. Averted, however, in the Glock Wade purchased from the vending machine, which is never used.
Cool Old Lady: Mrs. Gillmore, Wade's next door neighbor. While very religous and having a lot of cats, she also knows a lot about the eighties and shares a lot of her knowledge with Wade about the period she grew up in.
Crapsack World: The real world, once the oil ran out. Everyone spends time in the OASIS instead.
Darkest Hour: For Wade, when Art3mis breaks up with him, he loses touch with Aech, and worst of all, the head of IOI clears the second gate and finds the third key before him.
Dogged Nice Guy: Wade, well, doggedly pursued Art3mis after she cut off their (cyber) relationship. He was THIS close to being creepy. His being a genuinely nice guy probably helped him get together with her in real life in the end.
Early Game Hell: It took 5 years for anyone to find the first key. Parzival had it particularly tough as he did not have enough credits to either buy better equipment or travel to level-up his avatar.
Did You Just Flip Off Cthulhu?: IOI contacts Wade's Avatar and tries to convince him to work for them. IOI would keep most of the prize money, of course, but Wade would be set up for life with a cushy job. Wade briefly strings them along before ultimately refusing. Then Sorrento reveals that they know who he is in real life, and they've rigged the stack his family's trailer is in with bombs. Wade calls their bluff, and it turns out they weren't bluffing. He only survives because he was away in the secret hideout he used when he wanted to get away from his aunt and her boyfriend, which was pretty much all the time.
Easter Egg: Halliday describes his prize as this, even though it's technically a Treasure Hunt. There is a real example, though. On the arcade planet, if you go to a certain arcade and play a perfect game of Pac-Man, you win a quarter which gives you an extra life.
Enemy Mine: Wade is able to convince all of the other Gunters to come help him get through the last gate. Even though this will mean that those Gunters will lose their own chance at winning, Wade correctly reasons that they'll help because, given the choice, they'd rather see him win than Sorrento.
The Eighties: A large focus of the plot is almost every single trivial detail about Eighties pop culture.
Evil Inc.: Innovative Online Industries (IOI). They're looking for Halliday's egg as well, and if they find it they will introduce monthly fees for the currently free to play OASIS, plaster ads on every visible surface, and basically ruin the only thing that still makes life bearable.
Fallen States of America: The real world action mostly takes place in the United States, and because of the fuel crisis it's shown to have become a collection of overpopulated and polluted cities, surrounded by stacks of trailers, essentially slums. The areas in between are relatively lawless, evidenced by the bus that Wade takes from Oklahoma City to Columbus being armored and escorted. The rest of the world is assumed to be not much better.
Flaw Exploitation: Wade beats the Lich by exploiting what he identifies as the Fatal Flaw of all artificial intelligence programs: the fact that they are unable to improvise, like humans do. When confronted with such an improvisation, an AI must respond by following one of a set of pre-programmed behavior patterns.
Wade Owen Watts spells out W.O.W. In the days of arcade games, having initials that spell out a cool word was considered particularly desirable due to the three-letter high score boards. It's also a commonly used acronym for World of Warcraft, a real-world popular MMO.
OASIS stands for Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation.
Game Within a Game: OASIS has recreations of all the old video games. Some parts of the hunt could be considered a game within a game within a game.
Geeky Turn-On: During the course of his research into the pop-culture of the 80s, Wade watches numerous online videos of geeky girls playing covers of 80s music on ukuleles.
Wade: This wasn't strictly part of my research, I just have a fetish for geeky girls playing 80s songs on ukuleles that I can neither explain nor defend.
Happiness in Slavery: IOI practices a form of legally-sanctioned indentured servitude, which they can invoke on their debtors. Because of the low salaries and constantly accruing interest and fees on their debts, the "indents" are almost guaranteed to be corporate slaves for life. However, the economy is so bad that many people deliberately get into debt with IOI, as indentured servitude means that they will have guaranteed food and shelter.
It has completely increased in big numbers, especially in Japan, thanks to the OASIS being popular. Shoto and Daito are two examples from there.
Wade is certainly one himself, especially during his time in Columbus.
Honor Before Reason: Wade giving Daito the Beta Capsule, from the recipient's perspective, who says Wade has honor. That said, it's both reason and honor, since Wade, at that point, had no friends left.
Idiot Ball: Sorrento blocks Wade from recording during their first meeting. Much later, when Wade hacks into IOI's intranet, he finds that Sorrento saved a recording of his own, including the death threats. Even worse, there's also a video of IOI employees throwing the real-life Daito to his death. Wade promptly releases these videos to the press.
Wade's Narration:The bastards even filmed him plummeting to his death. Probably at Sorrento's request.
I Don't Know Mortal Kombat: Inverted. Wade has mastered the arcade game Black Tiger, but while the levels are the same, his skills at playing with a controller don't help him when he must play through the game as a first person VR simulation.
Info Dump: The incredible glut of '80s culture referenced and experienced in this story is laid in great detail. YMMV on whether it adds or subtracts from the story itself.
In-Game TV: Wade, Art3mis and many other avatars run their own TV channels.
In-Series Nickname: "Sixers" or Suxorz for IOI employees, and "Z" for Wade's avatar, Parzival. Also the "High Five". "Gunter" is the term used for anyone hunting Halliday's Easter Egg, derived from "egg hunter", and it officially means people who hunt for the Egg without outside help, though there are "gunter clans" who team up to search for it as a group.
Kick the Dog: Sorrento and IOI, in the beginning, come off as a greedy, but well-organized, professional egg-hunter company. Then they try to kill Wade in the real world... and it only gets worse.
Moon Logic Puzzle: Solving the puzzles requires not only knowing every detail about 1980s pop culture, but also being able to follow Halliday's train of thought. This is why it took five years for the first key to be found.
Nintendo Hard: Art3mis, a very skilled gamer, took over a month to beat Acererak at Joust. She was less than pleased that Wade did it on his first try.
Nostalgia Filter: The reverence surrounding the '80s is elevated above and beyond any other period, largely because 1) the oldest population had their youth in this period and 2) a VERY lucrative contest was designed by an '80s culture fanatic and can only be won by someone just as fanatical.
Oh, Crap: Art3mis and Aech have this reaction upon seeing the Sixers' mechs in the final battle.
One-Letter Name: A variation - "Aech" is pronounced "H" (probably because OASIS wouldn't allow an actual One-Letter Name). Aech also calls Parzival "Z".
Person as Verb: In universe, "pulling a Pendergast" means revealing a clue or piece of Halliday trivia in public.
Physical God: Anorak (Halliday's avatar) and the Greatand Powerful Og (Ogden's avatar) can basically do whatever they want, including causing a One-Hit Kill on as many avatars as desired, limitless teleportation, resurrection of avatars, and other abilities. Anorak gives his abilities to Parzival after obtaining the Egg, along with giving the kill switch for the entire OASIS, before disappearing forever.
Player Versus Player: Usually Gunters vs. Sixers en masse in story. Direct attacks are only possible in certain zones, but the two still attack each others' equipment.
Post Peak Oil: Gasoline is in such short supply, fuel costs caused most of the middle and lower classes to outright abandon their vehicles where they ran out. This has driven most of the population into densely packed cities as opposed to in spread out towns and suburbs as the freeway infrastructure can no longer provide the same transit opportunities as they used to. Unfortunately, this mass urban immigration and demand for density has fueled the creation of massive slums quickly created by stacking trailer homes and cargo crates onto freestanding girders.
Product Placement: In-Universe, Wade and the other top gunters (the "High Five") do endorsements for loads of OASIS money after they get on the scoreboard, which can be exchanged for real life currency.
There are three keys and three gates, with the last gate requiring 3 keys from three different users, and consisting of three parts, because three is a magic number.
IOI progressively offers Wade three deals: become the head hunter and get a $50 million bonus upon finding the egg, $5 million in exchange for his information on the first gate, or take the second offer and not die in real life.
The book is divided into three sections, referred to as levels.
Scoring Points: The scoreboard tracks everyone making progress in the hunt.
The OASIS video game is serious business, since it's ensnared almost the entire world's population and is apparently the world's most valuable resource. The OASIS can literally be Serious Business as it's not just used for entertainment, but also corporate meetings.
Halliday's Easter Egg hunt is Serious Business, because it comes with a cash prize of a quarter of a trillion dollars.
1980s nostalgia is serious business because Halliday has ingrained it so thoroughly into OASIS culture and the multi-billion dollar Easter Egg hunt.
At one point, the elections in OASIS are held and Cory Doctorow and Wil Wheaton are re-elected as President and Vice-President. This becomes doubly funny when you realize that the audio book is narrated by Wil Wheaton himself.
Sorrento's employee number, 655321, is Alex's prison number from the film version of A Clockwork Orange.
Wade's alias Bryce Lynch is a young hacker character from Max Headroom. While living under this alias, he uses Max Headroom as a virtual servant.
Wade's IOI employee aliases are Sam Lowery and Harry Tuttle, from Brazil, who also fight a massive bureaucracy.
Title Drop: It's the first thing that comes up when someone turns on the OASIS consoles, like an old video game.
Total Party Kill: The Cataclyst wipes out every player in the entire sector of space when active. This includes the entire party of heroes (including every gunter) and the entire army of Sixers. The only ones not knocked back to square one are the Sixers who hid a backup contingent just outside the sector, and Wade who had the extra life he unknowingly obtained for his perfect game of Pac-Man.
Underdogs Never Lose: Wade is virtually penniless. He has to scrounge in a junk heap to find the right equipment to run his console and has no money to actually go anywhere or do anything in the OASIS until he finds the first key. He's up against a ruthless, billion-dollar corporation.
Up to Eleven: At one point, Wade plays a perfect game of Pac-Man, a feat only ever done by six people in the real world. (In the book, that number is up to twenty.)
In-universe, the OASIS is virtual reality meets the MMO.
Your Magic's No Good Here: Some worlds have magic, other worlds do not. If you try to fly to a world using magical means, and that world doesn't support it, you'll be stranded in space until you can hitch a ride on a someone else's technology-powered spacecraft.