In the prologue of Ready Player One, our main character Wade recalled where he was when he heard about the contest. Upon the occasion of James Halliday’s death, a contest to find Easter eggs hidden in the OASIS was announced. The OASIS was of Halliday’s creation; it was a multiplayer online virtual reality game that “most of humanity now used on a daily basis” (1). On the day of his death, Halliday sent out a video message to every OASIS user. The contents of the message were a short film titled Anorak’s Invitation, a tribute to the 1980s. In the film, a younger version of Halliday read his will, which declared that the individual that met the condition of his will would win 240 billion dollars, the entirety of his fortune. To win it, all one had to do was find an Easter egg hidden in the OASIS. He then provided the first clue, which pointed to three keys, “made of copper, jade, and clear crystal” (6).
On his personal website, Halliday posted a scoreboard in order to track the scores of the top ten players in the competition. This came to be known as “the Scoreboard” (7). The contest itself came to be known as “the Hunt” (7). Underneath the Scoreboard, Halliday posted Anorak’s Almanac, a collection of undated journal entries in which Halliday provided stream-of-consciousness observations on different aspects of life. Halliday’s contest quickly became a global phenomenon, where millions of people devoted every possible moment to hunt for the Easter egg. They came to be known as “gunters” (7).
As years passed, the global obsession with the task died down, and Halliday’s Easter egg was “moved into the realm of urban legend” (8). The years passed with an empty Scoreboard, until our protagonist, Wade Watts, became its first name after finding the Copper Key.
In Chapter One, Wade, an 18-year-old gunter sleeping in a sleeping bag in his aunt’s laundry room, woke due to a gunshot in his neighborhood. When it was cold out, Wade slept there, at his aunt’s, a trailer shared by 18 people. He couldn’t go back to sleep, so he pulled out his computer in order to watch an old episode of Family Ties. On his computer, Wade had every piece of media referenced by Halliday in his film. Family Ties appealed to Wade, who was raised by a single mother until her death when he was eleven. Because of his unfortunate living conditions, Wade had turned to OASIS as an escape from his life. He had become attached to the game, which had taught him everything he needed to know for survival.
Wade’s aunt’s trailer was part of a collection of over five hundred trailers stacked on top of each other to make the Portland Avenue Stacks. This community, and many like it, was created after the Global Energy Crisis when people flooded into urban centers in search of work and encountered a lack of housing options. Wade left his aunt’s house and went to his hideout—the back of an abandoned van that was part of a pile of abandoned automobiles on the edge of his community. It was a place that no one else had access to, and it was where Wade accessed OASIS. Through OASIS, Wade went to school, did his homework, watched movies, played games, and participated in the Hunt.
In his locker at school, Wade kept his game inventory, which included a few, non-magical possessions. They were “non-magical and low quality,” but they were the best that Wade could afford, since OASIS credit had as much value as other currencies, including the dollar. Wade was feeling regretful that he was participating in his last semester of high school, as college was too expensive to be an option for him after graduation.
Because he was early to school that day, Wade logged onto the gunter message boards as he waited for his class to begin. He read the blog of fellow gunter, Art3mis, who Wade had a “cyber-crush” on. It was a popular blog that received millions of hits a day. Wade received a message from his only friend, Aech, who invited him into his chat room before school started. It was a large and well-outfitted chatroom designed to look like a 1980s-era rec room in a basement. Aech could afford this luxury because he made money after school and on weekends as a combatant, and competed in PvP (player vs player) arena games for monetary prizes. His success in combatant games had given him even more fame than Art3mis’s. The Basement was a hang-out for elite gunters, and Wade was proud of his invitation to join their ranks.
In the Basement, Wade played video games with Aech and argued about 1980s pop culture. When I-r0k, an obnoxious gunter with a high level but less practical egg-finding skills, arrived, he started an argument with Wade, (who he knew as Parzival, the name of Wade's avatar) about Wade's level in the game. They got into an argument about a clue that I-r0k had happened upon, but Wade and Aech’s superior knowledge stumped his efforts.
Ready Player One is a dystopian novel. This means that it depicts a frightening possibility for society. In Ernest Cline's vision, the humans of 2045 faced apocalyptic conditions: an “ongoing energy crisis,” “catastrophic climate change,” and “wide-spread famine, poverty and disease” (1). In this world, the majority of the population turned to OASIS as an escape. This world is contrasted with life in the 1980s through Halliday’s film Anorak’s Invitation. In his film, Halliday depicted himself as he was in high school. In the film, Halliday was happy and carefree as he danced, and scornful of his older, dying body.
In the novel’s prologue, the narrator set the stage for his story. He provided exposition for the story, establishing both the setting and the plot. The sprawling, all-encompassing nature of Halliday’s game, as well as the global nature of the competition, are then contrasted at the end of the chapter, when Wade exposed that the first clue in the Hunt was found by him, an “eighteen-year-old kid living in a trailer park on the outskirts of Oklahoma City” (8). Wade then foreshadowed the journey he was about to embark upon by remarking upon those that have attempted to retell it.
In Chapter One, Wade established that he was resentful of the society he was born into. Although he was taught from a young age to believe in a creator, Wade quickly learned about his own humanity through the libraries in OASIS. He learned that he was a product of years of evolution. More importantly, Wade learned that modern civilization had come at a large cost, and all of the energy in the world, in the form of fuel, had been used up before Wade was born. This was the Global Energy Crisis. Furthermore, climate change was killing the planet. This meant that life in Wade’s time was a life ov struggle—according to Wade, he found himself living during the decline of human civilization. Wade’s life in 2045 was defined by “chaos, pain, and poverty” (18).
For Wade, OASIS was an escape from this life. The Hunt, in particular, saved him from the bleakness of his future and gave him something to strive toward. It became “a dream worth chasing” (19). In this section, the reader is introduced to the game and the mechanism of participating in it. Although OASIS was a universal commodity, it was also a highly desirable one. Rich people had access to better quality consoles that provided heightened graphics, which made it “almost impossible to tell the OASIS from reality” (27). For this reason, Wade kept his OASIS console hidden in his hideout. It was the most valuable thing he owned. The console was accompanied by some haptic gloves and a visor. The console was “a flat black rectangle about the size of a paper-back book” (25). It got signal from an antenna that Wade had snaked through the roof of the van to the top of the car pile. The visor fits snugly around his eyes and blocked out the light, and it was equipped with earbuds. It was also equipped with two microphones.
Another interesting aspect of the OASIS universe was the usage of avatars. Every participant created an avatar that represented them inside of the game. These avatars do not have to look like them, and they didn't even necessarily have to be humanoid creatures. Wade mentioned that through his school he was required to be a human of his same age and gender, but that he was also able to alter his appearance. He also mentioned the possibility of there existing a “giant two-headed hermaphrodite demon unicorn avatar” outside of the school’s jurisdiction (28). Wade’s avatar was similar to himself, although he had altered his appearance to have a smaller nose, be taller, thinner, more muscular and with less acne. He called these changes “minor.” Wade noted the importance of anonymity to the operation of the game, and “much of the OASIS’s popularity and culture were built around” this feature (28). At school, Wade couldn't use his avatar name, so he went by Wade3 instead. Later, in the basement, Wade noted that the different gunters “varied wildly in appearance…there were humans, cyborgs, demons, dark elves, Vulcans, and vampires” (37).
Wade’s school also offered an interesting insight into the nature of the universe within OASIS. It was a regulated place that was operated in many of the same ways as a regular school. It was unique in that the true identities of the students were known by no one except for the principal. The school dress code impacted the avatars that the students used. The program itself regulated behavior by preventing fighting between students. The school was a “no-PvP zone, meaning that no player-versus-player combat was permitted” (30). All of the schools in OASIS were located on the planet Ludus.
An important feature of the OASIS was that it was an open-source program that Halliday refused to monetize. Because of this, a large conglomerate called Innovative Online Industries, IOI, which provided OASIS with its internet and sold goods within the game, became interested in finding the Easter eggs itself. If IOI found the eggs, that would mean that they would begin to monetize every part of the game and destroy it by charging a monthly fee, clogging it with advertisements and banishing user anonymity and free speech. “Sixers” were gunters hired by IOI to search for the Easter egg. Wade compared joining the Sixers to joining the military. In return for forfeiting the prize should they win it, the players were given housing, food, and a paycheck. Their avatars were also outfitted with expensive gear and allowed to teleport to wherever they want to go. All sixers also chose the same avatar, a “hulking male avatar… with close-cropped dark hair and facial features left at the system default settings” (33). There was a lot of hostility towards the Sixer community among the gunters in OASIS.