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Literature / Ready Player One

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"The OASIS — it's the greatest videogame ever created, and it only costs a quarter."
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 humanity's 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 told in a unique style.

The Film of the Book was released in 2018, with Steven Spielberg directing.

This novel provides examples of:

  • 100% Completion: Wade stumbled upon a Pac-Man arcade, and one of the challenges was to perform a perfect play of the game, even though it actually had nothing to do with the egg hunt. Although it turned out to be very useful anyway by giving him the only extra life in the history of the OASIS.
  • The '80s: A large focus of the plot is almost every single trivial detail about Eighties pop culture. The entire world has found itself in an 80's time warp, as decoding Halliday's obsessions is the key to the contest.
    “Jim always wanted everyone to share his obsessions, to love the same things he loved. I think this contest is his way of giving the entire world an incentive to do just that.”
  • Absurdly High-Stakes Game:
    • The OASIS didn't start out as one, but the in-game credits eventually became more valuable than any currency backed by a government even before the quarter-trillion-dollar prize was announced. And if IOI won the egg hunt, they'd commercialize the OASIS, which is a horror few pre-Net individuals can comprehend.
      The thought of the simulation being privatized and homogenized by IOI horrified us in a way that those born before its introduction found difficult to understand. For us, it was like someone threatening to take away the sun, or charge a fee to look up at the sky.
  • Alliterative Name: Discussed. It's said that Wade's father gave him the name Wade Watts because he thought an alliterative name sounded more like a superhero's name.
  • Allegedly Free Game: OASIS costs only a token 25-cent subscription set-up fee, but doing just about anything costs money, including bullets (decidedly expensive given that OASIS guns have Bottomless Magazines), 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 credits from collecting treasure in the Tomb of Horrors), but without some initial capital to get off the starting world, it's essentially impossible. Wade comments on this, being dirt-poor and unable to leave the school-planet Ludus, thus feeling like he'll never get to actually search for even the first of the three keys in the Hunt. IOI is seen as villainous by ordinary people because they want to, among other things, charge a monthly subscription fee, and make it ad-supported.
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  • All Your Base Are Belong to Us: Sorrento has IOI destroy Wade's stack after they discover the latter's real-life identity.
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: Cline did not come up with the culture and other elements out of nothing, he did research in the closest thing available pre 2011 - Second Life. The pop culture avatars and items, the dance parties, the shops where you also can buy magic items and moves all seem very familiar to anyone who delved deeper into the mmo sandbox and are quite recognizable even in the movie adaption.
  • 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.
  • Anti-Escapism Aesop: This is visited over and over again. The OASIS is an amazing, powerful tool, but humanity isn't using it to its full potential, instead using it to hide from its problems. The ultimate message is that media shouldn't consume your life, but they still do add meaning to it and that shouldn't be ignored either. Ultimately though, it ends up as a Broken Aesop
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Wade to Art3mis, though without the prior subverted attempts. It doesn't work for quite a while.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: When the Sixers barricade the First Gate with a forcefield, the Gunter Clans bombard it with "nukes, magic missiles, and harsh language."
  • Asshole Victim: Deconstructed with Wade's aunt, Alice, and her boyfriend, Rick. No matter how harsh they treat Wade, he admits that they still didn't deserve to die.
  • Author Tract: Frequent in the book. The subjects range from deriding traditional beauty (to glorify Art3mis and her “Rubenesque” figure) to the benefits of masturbation to aid in thinking.
  • Batman Gambit:
    • Wade calling out the head of IOI. He wasn't IN his home using OASIS, so he could bluff his way through any threats. Unfortunately for his aunt, they weren't kidding when they stated they had his house wired to blow.
    • Wade's plan to break into IOI's database from inside the company's firewall to bring down the walls around the Crystal Gate.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: How Wade escapes from IOI's headquarters after putting his plan in motion.
  • Berserk Button: The Great and Powerful Og does not appreciate people interrupting his invite-only party to pick a fight.
  • Big Bad: Nolan Sorrento, the Head of Operations in the Oology Division of IOI, is the main antagonist of the novel. His Establishing Character Moment is to casually blow up part of the stacks where Wade lives to make him into an example.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Just when the High Five are in need of some way to connect to OASIS for a long period of time to carry out their attack on IOI, Ogden "Og" Morrow appears to offer them a haven.
  • Big Good: Ogden "Og" Morrow in the finale.
  • 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!" moment 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 get past his incredible and nigh-unbeatable power-up and take out a competitor for the egg.
  • Big Red Button: Invoked and Lampshaded. It gives Anorak and his successor Parzival the ability to shut down the OASIS if necessary.
  • 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.
  • Brick Joke: Art3mis, in an attempt to ward Wade off, tells him she is a fat black woman. She is not, but it turns out that Aech is.
  • Bring It: Sorrento begins the final battle with a shout of "Come on!".
  • Broken Aesop:
    • The book pushes an Anti-Escapism Aesop at several points, frequently taking a moment every to discuss whether or not the OASIS has caused human beings to scorn reality for a Lotus-Eater Machine. But the OASIS is also the major thing which makes Wade's and countless other lower class people's miserable lives bearable, as well as a major source of quality public education.
    • Don't judge people by their online avatar is brought up a number of times but Art3mis looks almost identical to her real-life self. Zigzagged as Wade's best friend is actually a African American girl.
    • AI Halliday advises Wade not to waste his life in the OASIS just after Wade has become incredibly rich and powerful precisely as a result of wasting his life in the OASIS, and it was Halliday himself who set it up that way.
  • Calling Your Attacks: Justified. Wade's mech is designed as it was in the show it was based on. Commands must be shouted into the wristband for the robot to respond to them.
  • Celebrity Paradox: The audiobook is read by Wil Wheaton, who, in the novel, is mentioned as being the Vice President of the OASIS User Council.
  • 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, with the handgun and flak jacket Wade purchased after escaping from IOI. It's a reasonable safety measure, but he goes the rest of the book without encountering any threats in the real world.
  • Cloud Cuckooland: A literal place in OASIS though it's only mentioned in the side story Lacero, it's apparently a place where all conspiracy theories are true.
  • Coca-Pepsi, Inc.: All the old MMORPG worlds were merged into OASIS. Likewise, IOI seems to have absorbed every other Internet Service Provider.
  • Comeback Mechanic: The final gate cannot be opened unless there are three participants with the crystal key present, preventing a single player from winning without competition. This prevents IOI from winning, despite having uncontested access to the crystal gate for weeks.
  • Continuing Is Painful: When an OASIS avatar dies, all of the equipment it is carrying drops so the killer can claim it, the avatar's level drops to one (this turnover prevents power from consolidating among long-time users), and lastly, any data attached to that avatar is lost.
  • Cool School: While the story is more focused on the OASIS in general, the protagonist, Wade Watts, starts out living in the stacks, a combination urban ghetto, third-world slum and trailer park, but attending school on the virtual planet Ludus. The planet has many carbon-copy school buildings and is as mundane as a school in virtual reality can get, though Ludus' schools do have a class dedicated to completing what is essentially the entire plot of the book. The schools on Ludus also have a reputation for being the best there are, mostly because the software automatically prevents students from being disruptive in class so the teachers can fully focus on teaching instead of having to maintain order.
  • Coolest Club Ever: The Distracted Globe, a zero-gravity dance club on the planet Neonoir. Notably, it's located in a PvP zone, meaning bouncers — and brawlers — can eject avatars by killing them. The Sixers make a mass attack on Parzival and Art3mis there, hoping to stymie their hunt for the Egg by eliminating their high-level avatars. Og The Great And Powerful shuts them down hard — it was his party.
  • Cool Old Lady: Mrs. Gillmore, Wade's next door neighbor. While very religious 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.
  • Cool vs. Awesome: Given the material of the OASIS, this was inevitable. It's especially prominent in the finale, with multiple Humongous Mecha on both sides, ending with a showdown between Mechagodzilla and Ultraman.
  • Corporate Conspiracy: On the surface, IOI is just like any other competitor for Halliday's Egg, and ownership of the OASIS, albeit with manpower and resources that give them a huge edge in the game. This was apparently not enough for them, though, as they also engaged in stealing user data, attacking Wade Watt's real world home in an attempt to kill him, actually killing another teenaged player by having mercenaries throw him off the balcony of his apartment, buying up people's debts in order to put them in indentured servitude, and grand scale cheating by closing down any area of the OASIS that might contain a clue to Halliday's game. This all ultimately comes to light when the game ends with Wade in control, and its hinted that the company's lawyers will be scrambling to prevent IOI from losing all access to the OASIS and thus the internet.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Nolan Sorrento, the head of the egg-hunting division of IOI. He's willing to let his bosses oust him from his very cushy job if it means IOI gets closer to finding the egg. He's also not above cold-blooded murder of competitors in real life AND innocent people around them to make it easier for his company to find the egg and take over the OASIS.
  • Cosy Catastrophe: The setting wavers between this and a Crapsack World. While poverty is rampant and the society is dependent on OASIS, commerce is still booming, the world itself seems relatively safe despite talks of the bombs having been dropped, and if you're decently well-off (something which Wade becomes fairly quickly in the book) it's quite nice, really. After all, a post-apocalyptic setting where people can get a real-life pizza delivered to you within minutes by going to a pizza parlor in a video game can't be that bad.
  • Crapsack World: The real world, once the oil ran out. Things putter along only because of the OASIS — see Terminally Dependent Society.
  • Crazy-Prepared: The Sixers have all the bases covered for the final battle: first they learn from earlier mistakes and keep the location of the Crystal Gate a secret for as long as they can. As soon as its location is discovered, they erect an impenetrable shield around it. Inside the shield is nearly all of the Sixer army, including nearly a dozen Humongous Mecha led by the nigh-indestructible Mechagodzilla. Then, on the off chance someone actually gets past all that and reaches the Gate they detonate the Cataclyst, wiping out all the gunters and leaving the gate wide open for a fleet of Sixers hiding outside the sector to charge in and claim it. Unfortunately for them, they underestimate both Wade's resourcefulness and sheer luck.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: the Sixers amass around the third gate their entire army, which is considered the highest military power in the OASIS and basically unstoppable. Unfortunately for them, it turns out that compared to all of the gunters combined plus a sizable amount of the OASIS' normal citizenship who've decided the situation important enough to grab a gun and take potshots, even IOI's military might is only in an extremely distant second place. When the shield finally drops, the Sixers - including all their massive mecha except for one - are annihilated in minutes.
  • 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.
  • Deadly Euphemism: Avatars don't "die" in OASIS; they "zero out."
  • Deus ex Machina: The Great and Powerful Og shows up at the end to help The High Five. (His avatar is a literal "God from the machine," being a Physical God in the machine of OASIS.
  • Dewey Defeats Truman: The book was written and released during the Great Recession, and takes place in a world where the Recession was still going strong in the 2040s. In real life, the Recession would end within a few years of the book's publication.
  • 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.
  • Digital Avatar: They do about 99% of the interaction.
  • Disco Dan: Many worlds in OASIS are created by people like this.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Wade, well, doggedly pursued Art3mis after she cut off their (cyber) relationship, to the point of stalking her online. 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 teleport off-world to level-up his avatar.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending
  • Easter Egg:
    • Halliday describes his prize as this, even though it's technically a treasure hunt. The Trope Maker (Adventure) is the location of Halliday's Easter Egg.
    • There is a real one, 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.
    • Even before that, Sixers were already considered the ultimate enemy by Gunters, to the point that rivalling Gunter clans would gladly put their differences aside for a moment to gang up on the Sixers first.
  • 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.
  • Faceless Goons: Well, the IOI operatives technically do have faces, but since they all have to use the same face and identical avatars, the effect is the same.
  • 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. At one point, Wade mentions that despite living in the overcrowded and dangerous stacks with an abusive guardian who spends his welfare money on drugs instead of food, his situation is better than average, and it's implied that many other countries have it worse.
  • Fan of the Past: Gunters have to become fans of The '80s (and the end of The '70s) by necessity. This was apparently part of Halliday's plan.
  • Fantasy Kitchen Sink: The nature of the OASIS encourages this.
  • Faux Symbolism: In-Universe example. The final gate bears the inscription, "Charity. Hope. Faith." Sorrento believes it to be a reference to the Beatitudes, but the password turns out to be the chorus of "Three Is A Magic Number."
  • First-Person Perspective: How Wade narrates the story. Also how the avatars work.
  • First-Person Smartass: Wade, being a teenager, is rather sarcastic at times.
  • 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.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • At one point, Wade mentions that if IOI tries to barricade a gate, it'll cause an all-out war the likes of which has never been seen before on the OASIS. This is exactly what happens when they try it with the third gate.
    • Wade says several times that not everyone in the OASIS resembles their real world counterparts. This is how Wade's best friend, Aech, keeps her identity a secret.
    • IOI's ability to find Wade's real life identity foreshadows their finding about Daito's first, then Shoto's and Art3mis', killing the former and prompting the latter two to run away from their houses after Wade warns them.
  • The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: In-universe example, Daito is immersed in a massive PVP melee in the OASIS when IOI agents break into his apartment and murder him in the real world. Wade only avoids dying this way by chance, since he had no idea IOI could figure out where he lives, but his normal behavior happened to trick IOI into believing he was logged into OASIS from home.
  • Fun with Acronyms:
    • Wade Owen Watts notes with pride that his name spells out WOW. 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. This also might be a sideways reference to World of Warcraft, a popular real-world MMO (which also exists in OASIS, though the book never goes there).
    • 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.
  • Genre Savvy: Virtually every character. Particularly Wade, who, upon finding a 1974 Gibson Les Paul in a stone — the exact guitar used by Alex Lifeson during the 2112 tour — plays the first measure of "Discovery", which triggers a message on how to open the Third Gate. To the Sixers, it was just a Plot Coupon; to Wade — and Halliday — it's an awesome guitar that must be played.
  • Global Currency: The OASIS credit is the de facto economy of the entire planet.
    The OASIS credit was the coin of the realm, and in these dark times, it was also one of the world’s most stable currencies, valued higher than the dollar, pound, euro, or yen.
  • God Mode: Superusers like Anorak (James Halliday) and Og (Ogden Morrow) are game avatars that possess god-like power within the OASIS. They are able to destroy any avatar in an instant, resurrect fallen avatars, enter chat rooms uninvited, are nigh invincible and possess many other impossible-to-achieve abilities. After Wade Watts/Parzival successfully clears the third gate, he gains both Halliday's vast fortune as well as Anorak's superuser status, his avatar gaining Anorak's cloak and access to a button that could permanently shut down the OASIS if he so chooses.
  • Gondor Calls for Aid: In order to provide enough of a distraction to get them in to pass the Crystal Gate, Wade sends out a message to every single user on the OASIS, including gunter "solos" who are known to just go on their own. He expects a big showing, but for most of them to just stay back and watch. But every single one of them charges in to help.
  • The Good Kingdom: Halliday's company, Gregarious Simulation Systems (GSS), not only maintains the OASIS for free, it maintains solar-powered wi-fi connection points throughout all cities. The entire plot is basically the gunters defending the free systems from IOI's takeover plans.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Sorrento's bosses in IOI.
  • 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. The government supposedly looks after indents, though it's not clear what good it does.
  • Heroic Blue Screen of Death: Wade has a panic attack when the Sixers get the final key while he is still looking for the second key.
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • Daito at the Jade Gate (and unintentionally in real life).
    • Shoto at the battle at the Crystal Gate, against Sorrento's Mechagodzilla.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight:
    • Wade finds the first key on the planet of the school he attends. It was an hour's walk from Aech's school for years, but nobody ever bothered exploring this planet because it was supposedly nothing but multitudes of schools separated by vast tracts of pleasant (but boring) scenery with no animals big enough to kill for loot or experience.
    • Wade spends most of the second section of the book fairly close to IOI headquarters and part of the third section inside the IOI building, only a few floors under their egg hunting division.
  • Hikikomori:
    • 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, and was hoping this act of kindness would pay off down the line. It ultimately did, helping to win Shoto over to his side. Also, the "fair" thing to do would have been to auction off the Beta Capsule to the highest bidder and split the proceeds, but Wade figured there was a high probability of this powerful artifact falling into the hands of the Sixers.
  • 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.
  • I Have No Son!: Aech's mother's reaction when Aech came out to her. And this is after claiming that the OASIS is important to black women because it allows them to hide who they are from bigots. Aech has been on her own ever since.
  • I Lied: Heroic example: Og lied when he claimed that he and Halliday hadn't spoken for decades when he died. The two had actually reconciled during Halliday's last weeks and agreed that Og would oversee the contest in secret to ensure fairness.
  • Infinite 1-Ups: Exploited by Parzival (on the advice of Art3mis) when playing Tempest within the final gate. He makes use of a Good Bad Bug to immediately obtain 40 extra credits. While he ends up not needing to do again, this exploit would have been repeatable if he had lost 39 times before beating the game.
  • Infinity -1 Sword: The first thirty or so players that obtain the Crystal Key also get to pick from a selection of Giant Robots as prizes. These would prove crucial in the Battle Royale to come over the Crystal Gate.
  • 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.
  • Lightning Bruiser: Ultraman, and with the same weakness from the show: the transformation only lasts a few minutes.
  • Limerick: The clue for where to find the copper key is in the form of a limerick, and thus appropriately called "The Limerick" among gunters.
    The Copper Key awaits explorers. In a tomb filled with horrors. But you have much to learn. If you hope to earn. A place among the high scorers."
  • Locked Door: The gates are not only impenetrable, but invisible to anyone without the appropriate key.
  • Lord British Postulate: Implied, as Og and Anorak and, by the end of the book, Parzival have infinite hit points and mana, as well as unique spells and abilities.
  • Lotus-Eater Machine: Many people spend all of their time in the OASIS rather than deal with the Crapsack World they live in. It is discussed that the world may not have gone to hell so much if the population had any desire to live in it rather than having a digital alternative. A significant portion of the population is homeless but still manages to spend time in the OASIS thanks to free wireless access points and solar recharging stations.
  • Love Is a Weakness: Art3mis breaks up with Wade because their romance is getting in the way of the hunt.
  • Love Makes You Dumb:
    • Wade realizes that pining for Art3mis completely threw him off his groove for the Hunt in a big way, allowing others to take first place from him on the Scoreboard.
    • Art3mis and company are all astonished when Parzival goes public to declare that he plans to share his winnings when he wins Halliday's egg with Shoto, Aech and Art3mis after she still balks at the idea he really loves her.
  • Love Triangle: Halliday, Ogden and Kira. Halliday became jealous of Odgen and Kira together as he didn't manage to date her first, and broke off his friendship because of that.
  • Lucky Translation: "Daito" is the proper pronunciation of the characters emblazoned on the box for Daikatana, known for largely killing John Romero's career. Daito is killed during the story.
  • MacGuffin Delivery Service: Played With. Just as Wade opens the Third Gate, the Sixers detonate The Cataclyst and attempt to enter the Third Gate themselves.
  • Magic Knight: Wade mentions multiclassing as a warrior mage.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: When IOI blows up the stacks where Wade lives because he refuses to join or help them, they plant some drug lab equipment between the rubble to make it look like the explosion was the result of an illegal meth lab blowing up. It works.
  • Mayan Doomsday: The OASIS went online on December 21, 2012.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • The Sixers of IOI are named because the first number of their employee numbers begins with a six and are six digits long. Also a subtle reference to a six switch Atari 2600 console.
    • Wade's handle "Parzival" references the Arthurian knight who quests for the Holy Grail.
    • Art3mis's handle references the Greek goddess of the hunt.
    • Daito and Shoto mean the katana and wakazashi of a samuraii's twin swords respectively. These two are supposed to be used together, hence the two of them work together.
    • The OASIS is a virtual paradise in the middle of the desert of the real. So named because the guy who invented it felt more at home in game worlds than the real one; and it also unfortunately became one such to the people who played it in the post-oil dystopia the world became.
  • The Metaverse: The OASIS, which specifically evolved out of an Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game to encompass all the others. Its source of revenue isn't even a subscription, but transit between them.
  • Mighty Glacier: Nolan Sorrento's Mecha-Godzilla mech is a massive, hulking robot that towers over all of the other robots in the Battle of Castle Anorak and fires a destructive mouth beam. To compensate for its massive size, devastating attack power and being able to take a hit, the thing is very slow.
  • Mind Prison: Variation - IOI employs wage slaves and indentured debtors in OASIS, holding rooms full of prisoners using VR helmets to earn in-game currency and unlock prizes - all of which are kept by the company.
  • Moral Dissonance: Wade is downright incensed at the idea that the Sixers can easily make their way through the first challenge — re-enacting the entirety of WarGames from the perspective of the main character — by feeding each other the necessary lines, holding it up as a prime example of how they are blatantly violating the spirit of the Egg Hunt. But in the final challenge — which turns out to be a similar re-enactment program, this time of Monty Python and the Holy Grail — Wade doesn't see anything wrong at all with allowing his friends to help him out in the exact same way, even though he earlier made a very big deal about how it was one of the lowest kinds of cheating when the Sixers did it.
  • 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.
  • Morton's Fork: One of the main reasons he refuses to help Sorrento after he threatens to blow him up, Parzival figures if he helps Sorrento, Sorrento will blow him up anyway to take care of loose ends.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: Arguably the entire premise of the novel. It's about how being an expert on 80s pop culture trivia makes you the saviour of the world!
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: The Sixers killing Daito turns Shoto vengeful, which eventually leads to him teaming up with Parzival, Aech and Art3mis plus every gunter in the OASIS
  • 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 by exploiting a glitch that favors one set of controls.
  • No Body Left Behind: Whenever avatars get zeroed out, they simply vanish and leave their loot behind for others to collect.
  • No Endor Holocaust: OASIS credits are shown to be used as a real-life currency; at the end, half the population of the OASIS, along with their credit accounts and items they paid real money for, was wiped out, yet there's no discussion or consideration of the economic effects of the sudden disappearance of such a huge amount of lucre or whether Parzival did anything to compensate.
  • 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!:
    • Wade when he finds out that not only does IOI knows about Art3mis' and Shoto's real life identities, but that Sorrento has suggested kidnapping them and force them to solve the last gate before murdering them.
    • Art3mis and Aech have this reaction upon seeing the Sixers' mechs in the final battle.
  • One-Letter Name: A variation - "Aech" is pronounced like the letter "H" (probably because the OASIS wouldn't allow an actual One-Letter Name). Aech also calls Parzival "Z".
  • Only Smart People May Pass: The Easter Egg requires encyclopedic knowledge of 1980s pop culture.
  • People Fall Off Chairs: Wade looked up the definition of "Ludus", then fell out of his chair. The software tracked his movement, and tried to have the avatar do the same, but the area told him to remain seated during class.
  • Person as Verb: In universe, "pulling a Pendergast" means revealing a clue or piece of Halliday trivia in public (after the guy that revealed the first clue, hidden in Anorak's Calendar).
  • Physical God: Anorak (Halliday's avatar) and the Great and 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 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.
  • Portmanteau: The Cataclyst, an absurdly powerful bomb, is a combination of "Cataclysm" and "Catalyst".
  • Post Cyber Punk: The setting. If IOI wins, it will quickly become classic Cyber Punk.
  • Poster-Gallery Bedroom: James Halliday's recreated childhood bedroom is stuffed with Eighties pop culture references. Most plot-relevant is the WarGames poster.
  • Posthumous Character: James Halliday and Kira are both dead by the time the story begins.
  • 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.
  • Read the Freaking Manual: Many of the OASIS users calling in to IOI tech support could easily solve their problems themselves, if only they bothered to try or even read an item description. One annoying guy complains about being unable to use a sword he just bought at an auction, only to be pointed out that it says right in the description that it can only be used by a level 10 avatar or above (the guy is level 7). He is then calmly informed to make sure he can use an item before buying it in the future. So... not so different from Real Life.
  • Reference Overdosed: 80's edition, from a varied range of topics, of video games to tv shows passing by music, cinema and old cereal ads.
  • Revenge: Shoto's goal following Daito's murder.
  • Rule of Three:
    • 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, or get $5 million in exchange for his information on the first gate. When Wade turns them both down, he's offered the second deal again, with the added condition that if he still refuses, they'll blow up his apartment 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 points don't really matter except for bragging rights, because the egg hunt is a race, so the first person to complete every task wins everything.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Pretty much IOI's strategy.
  • Serious Business:
    • 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, essentially allowing conference calls in virtual reality.
    • Halliday's Easter Egg hunt is Serious Business, because it comes with a cash prize of a quarter of a trillion dollars, and enough stock in the company that runs the OASIS that they can do whatever they want with it. IOI has made it clear that they want to put advertisements in the game and establish subscription fees, so every single user will be directly affected by the outcome of the game.
    • 1980s nostalgia is serious business because Halliday has ingrained it so thoroughly into OASIS culture and the multi-billion dollar Easter Egg hunt.
  • Shout-Out: Half the point of the book. It has gotten so big, it deserves its own separate page
  • Spanner in the Works: IOI's back-up plan for potential successful attacks at Anorak's castle (use the Cataclyst as soon as someone solves the Gate, then rush in with sixers that have the third key) fails thanks to the quarter Parzival won with the perfect Pac-Man game.
  • Spiritual Successor: Could be considered one to Conor Kostick's 2004 novel Epic, as both follow a very similar plot and themes: in a post-apocalyptic Crapsack World where the entire world plays a virtual reality MMO and your station in life is most likely dependent upon your in-game prowess, a poor boy and his friends pursue the game's ultimate quest, become rich and famous along the way by noticing things others don't, and end up as enemies of a powerful Corrupt Corporate Executive who will stop at nothing to get what he wants.
  • Stupid Evil: IOI and Nolan Sorrento films not only his chat with Wade where he threatens to kill him, but also Daito's murder for no other reason than apparently they like to watch it.
  • Super Mode: The Beta Capsule gives the user the ability to turn into Ultraman for three minutes once a day. It should be noted that this Super Mode doesn't wear off automatically. The user has to deliberately deactivate it before time runs out, or their avatar will die, as in the actual shows.
  • Take Our Word for It: The book at times foregoes any specific description of scenery and action and instead just engages in this. One particularly egregious example is from the description of Anorak's Invitation, where the reader is informed that Halliday is at a high-school dance "surrounded by teenagers whose clothing, hairstyles, and dance moves all indicate that the time period is the late 1980's." We are then informed that Halliday "flawlessly cycl[es] through several signature 80's dance moves." And that's about all the details that are told.
  • Take That!: Lacero could be considered one on Andy Weir's part; the title character (who turns out to be Big Bad Nolan Sorrento) declared that everyone spending all their time in the OASIS is why the Mega Corps have taken over and alternative energy sources haven't been developed.
  • Technology Porn: After settling in to his new location, Wade spends a few pages describing his computer setup and security system. He also describes things that he felt were a mistake (e.g. health lockout, and sexual components for his rig).
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: By design, people hunting for the egg would want to keep everything to themselves and not give out hints in case it allows others to surpass them - only to encounter a gate that requires three of them to cooperate to pass, before switching back to a winner-takes-all scenario. The events of the book changed this for the final gate, where gunters would do anything to make sure IOI wouldn't win (even if it lets someone else take the prize.)
  • Teleporters and Transporters: Teleportation is both the fastest and most expensive method of interworld transportation. The price is based on distance traveled. When the story begins, Wade can't even afford to teleport to the other side of his own planet.
  • Terminally Dependent Society: The OASIS is the world's most important economic resource; not just as an escape from the Crapsack World, but as a substitute for cheap transit. Instead of buildings and factories, everyone uses "surreal estate" as much as possible; kids go to school in virtual classrooms, office workers work in virtual offices, factory workers are remote operators, surgeons use telesurgery, etc. If the OASIS ever crashed, the world would end pretty much instantly.
  • Theme Music Powerup: The battle at the Crystal Gate starts out with AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" pumping through the radio.
  • The Three Trials: The three keys and three gates. The final gate is itself a set of three trials.
  • 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.
  • Trapped in TV Land: Not totally fitting, but at one point, Wade has to go through all of WarGames as Matthew Broderick's character, saying all the lines. Later, the same thing happens with Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It's later mentioned that the OASIS creators expand this to other movies and TV shows.
  • Trojan Prisoner: Wade infiltrates IOI this way, on charges he trumped up himself under a false identity.
  • Truth in Television: Despite living in a Post-Peak Oil era with repeated references to food shortages and receiving government issued food vouchers(and having to repair and pawn electronics to pay for his own food and clothes because his aunt steals the vouchers), Wade is overweight. This is actually a serious problem in The New '10s; one can avoid starvation on inexpensive microwaved and fast food — if one is willing to accept the ridiculous amounts of sugar and starch food manufactures use as bulk protein. The balanced diet and exercise routine Wade begins after finding the first Key is only possible due to the windfall.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: Opens in 2044. A lot of the conditions in the world are said to be a result of either the Great Recession or a worldwide fuel shortage.
  • Twofer Token Minority: Aech turns out to be a black lesbian. In a short but heavy-handed segment, Wade comments on how little it ends up mattering.
  • Two-Keyed Lock: The third gate requires three people to open it at once. This slows down IOI when they get to the gate first, because it appears to only be one keyhole; the trick to having the other two show up is to have three people sing the Schoolhouse Rock! song "Three is a Magic Number".
  • Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny: The Battle of Castle Anorak has at its core a matchup between, one on side Leopardon, Minerva X, RX-78, and Raideen; and on the other, Mechagodzilla, Voltron, and a few Evangelions and Battletechs.
  • Underdogs Never Lose: Wade starts off 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. Somewhat justified, as the contest was deliberately designed to make this outcome possible. The first key was hidden on a world containing virtual high schools, so even a broke student could afford to visit it once they realize where it is. Also, the dungeon containing the key was set up in such a way that even a low-level player could make it to the throne room if they're careful enough, and there's enough treasure lying around for them to level up dramatically and afford interplanetary travel for the next step of the hunt. Wade is also savvy enough to capitalize on being the first person on the Scoreboard by making a series of sponsorship deals, so he's pretty much set economically after the first step of the contest.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: The reader is not privy to Wade's plan to bring down the impenetrable shield IOI put around Castle Anorak until it's already in play.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: I-r0k, a guy Aech invited into his group and, after Wade and Aech find The Copper Key, makes what he knows about them public. This leads IOI to finding out the real identities of both Wade and Aech; they both spend significant time on Ludus, meaning they're school-aged — and given that they got their accounts when Halliday was still alive, they failed to take certain precautions — such as not giving their names and addresses to the school. IOI is thus able to track down Wade and bomb his stack.
  • Up to Eleven: At one point, Wade plays a perfect game of Pac-Man, a feat only ever done by six people in the reality at the time of book's publication in 2011. The book realistically projects that the number of perfect games has increased by the year 2044, but still claims fewer than twenty people have achieved them. It takes Wade about six hours, and he notes that Halliday holds the world record fastest time at just under 4 hours.
    • This is now Dated History—as of 2018, more than 20 people have already achieved this particular feat in reality (passing the book's estimate two and a half decades early), and the world record is about 3.5 hours.
  • Vanity License Plate: Wade's vehicle within the OASIS is a mashup of the Back to the Future Delorean, KITT, and Ecto 1 as acknowledged on its license plate - ECTO 88. For bonus points, the author's real life Delorean has the same vanity plate.
  • Vindicated by History: It is implied that the Star Wars Prequels are an in-universe example of this, as they are one of Halliday's recommended trilogies. Fridge Brilliance kicks in when you realize his approval probably led to this in the first place.
  • Violation of Common Sense: Lampshaded in the game "Black Tiger".
    Wade's Narration: These "wise men" apparently thought setting up a small shop in a monster-infested dungeon was a fine idea.
  • Wakeup Call Boss: The Copper Gate. You'd better have the entirety of the movie War Games memorized, or you will die.
  • Warmup Boss: The Copper Key and Acererak. Simply finding the Tomb of Horrors is harder than exploring it, since any gunter can use the original module as a perfect strategy guide. Even if you can't beat Acererak in Joust, you can fight him or run away and try again later.
  • The War Sequence: The battle at the Crystal Gate, including the Sixers and every OASIS user.
  • We Will Spend Credits in the Future: OASIS credits have become the Global Currency, surpassing even the U.S. dollar, British pound, European euro, or Japanese yen.
  • Will They or Won't They?: Parzival and Art3mis are flirtatious throughout the novel, to the point that it becomes a distraction to both of them. Art3mis explicitly refers to them as not being together at one point and completely breaks off contact with him. They Do.
  • World of Snark: It comes with many of the protagonists being geeks and teenagers. Self-Deprecation is also high.
  • World-Wrecking Wave: The highest end of the nukes, The Cataclyst, destroys all players in a given sector, which is then followed by a shockwave that blasts all objects (unless they are artifacts) as well.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: Aech was kicked out by her mom on her 18th birthday, spent some time homeless, then spent "many years" living in an RV. How old is she if it's been many years since her 18th birthday? 19.
  • X Meets Y: In-universe, the OASIS is virtual reality meets the MMO.
  • You Are Number 6: The Sixers willingly submit to this trope. In exchange for access to IOI's suite of top-of-the-line equipment and experts, they forfeit their stake in the Egg and have to leave their avatar's appearance on the default settings. They are also obligated to use their six digit IOI employee number as their username. It's also implied but not strictly stated that Sorrento can take control of any given Sixer avatar.
  • Your Magic's No Good Here: Some worlds have magic, other worlds do not. If you try to travel to a world using magical means, and that world doesn't support it, you'll be stranded until you can hitch a ride on someone else's technology-powered spacecraft. Likewise, there are some fantasy worlds allow magic but not technology, so if you fly your space ship into a no-tech zone, you will be stranded until someone can extract you with magical means. The book also mentions null zones where neither tech nor magic work, but they are not encountered in the story. Many areas are "chaos" zones, where both magic and tech work.

Alternative Title(s): Ready Player One 2018


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