In many ways, Ready Player One is a parable about the dangerous effects of late-stage capitalism, and how a few become very rich while the majority suffer in poverty. Halliday himself seemed to exemplify the "American Dream" as a self-made billionaire, but although he made a fortune off of the videogame he developed, Halliday refused to charge a user's fee for OASIS. He attempted to ensure that the OASIS be open to anyone who could afford the console and privacy necessary to access it. The Contest itself can be understood as an allegory for labor in our society, where the dwindling middle class stays complicit with the system because it has been convinced that its struggles are only a temporary embarrassment. But even though the contest could be accessed by anyone, it is only a select number of people who end up truly competing for the egg, and it is only through being supported by an evil corporation that so many Sixers are able to place on the Scoreboard. Although Halliday primarily wished to protect open-source technology, halting the capitalization of his product was a secondary priority to him.
The novel opens with a strong emphasis on Wade’s friendship with Aech. Since Wade's only family is an aunt who sells his possessions, this sense of friendship is important to him. It offers an outlet and is perhaps the only opportunity when Wade is allowed to act as a normal young man. His friendship with Aech begins to suffer when Art3mis enters the scene, yet there is a constant sense that they will reconcile. Perhaps the strangest part of this friendship is very easily overlooked: they only know each other’s avatars and have never met. It can be seen as a pivotal point in the novel when Wade meets Aech in reality and discovers he is not a white boy but an African-American girl. While there is much to say about this scene, Wade seems to gloss over its importance. He acknowledges that despite the difference in gender, Aech is still his friend. Therefore, while a sense of companionship is prevalent throughout the entire novel, its integral importance only becomes apparent at the end of the novel. All three Crystal Keys are needed to unlock the last gate, so Wade would have never prevailed in the contest without the explicit and implicit help of his friends.
From the opening page, it is undeniable that this particular era will be a continuing motif throughout the book. While it starts as Halliday’s interest, and then obsession, it becomes almost a career option for Wade and the gunter community. Popular entertainment-movies, comics, and song lyrics of the eighties act as the cipher to cracking Halliday’s code. Therefore, a gunter can only consider himself one if he knows the entire backlog of eighties trivia, from Dungeons & Dragons to Pacman. And this is re-enforced further when each gate is an immersive challenge, either as a character in an eighties film or a video game. Furthermore, Cline explains in great detail the origin and format of each medium that Wade encounters. This only accentuates the importance of this information. The eighties are not only a cultural era, but the key to understanding Halliday, and therefore his Easter egg.
In the novel, Wade (and thus the reader) spends very little time outside the OASIS. And with the grim, dystopian description that opens the novel, Cline especially encourages a simultaneous desire in the reader to return to the luxury of the OASIS. Even in later scenes outside the OASIS, Wade's focus is on making sure he is fit enough to enter back in again as soon as possible. It is only in later scenes, where Wade becomes a fugitive in real life, that we encounter experiences outside the OASIS. One thing that particularly impacts one's life as an avatar in an electronic world is forming a relationship. Wade finds himself falling in love with Art3mis, but she doubts his judgment, deeming a relationship in the OASIS insincere. It is only at this point that Wade begins to question the sustainability of the OASIS. All his life, he has welcomed the escape from reality. Now, it seems possible that there is a future without this system, a concept made possible by the revelation of Halliday’s kill switch in the last chapter. At the end of the novel, Wade learns how to appreciate reality for its sweet parts that cannot be replicated into a videogame, such as the sunlight and kissing.
A dystopian world
As a novel set in 2045 while the world contends with fossil fuel and global warming crises, Ready Player One is undeniably a dystopian novel. And as in any dystopian world, there are those who suffer and those who do not. Wade is included in the former group and spends the first part of the novel in a "stack," where renters pay extraordinary amounts to inhabit tiny spaces. Furthermore, after creating an environmentally degraded planet, the human race does not attempt to save the planet. Instead, they escape from it through the OASIS. In fact, there is very little commentary on the fate of their planet; the quest is to save the OASIS, not Earth. Furthermore, this sense of dystopia is perhaps more inflicted by the IOI Corporation, who seek to gain power by solving Halliday’s riddles and finding the Easter egg. Seemingly, the only character that airs concerns about the world outside the OASIS is Art3mis. She claims that if she inherits Halliday’s fortune, she would use it to save the planet from all the damage done so far.
That the vast resources coded into the OASIS remain free to the public is an important part of the intentions of the game's originators. While on Ludus, Wade describes how the limitless information that one can find in the OASIS through the Internet had educated him and prepared him for survival. He describes how the OASIS software raised him and taught him fundamental lessons in his youth. Halliday believed that these resources should stay open so that anyone might access them whenever they wished. This is a dialogue that can be easily connected to current issues. As cable companies attempt to gain a monopoly over the Internet comparable to that of IOI, they threaten to make the Internet prohibitively expensive for all but the uber-rich. As educational and research institutions publish their work only onto resources that can be accessed through an expensive subscription fee, they prohibit the entire population from knowing what they know.
An important lesson that Wade and his friends must learn is that people can make connections beyond appearances. At first, these characters choose avatars that are more attractive than themselves, or, in Aech's case, more privileged than themselves. These avatars protect them from what they see as the disadvantages of their appearances from birth. Later, when they meet each other in real life for the first time and solidify their relationship, Wade realizes that attaching his friends to human bodies has done nothing to diminish the affection he feels towards them.
Ready Player One Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Ready Player One is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
I don't like it. This is clearly a dystopian world. As a novel set in 2044 with the fossil fuel and global warming crises, Cline undeniably inhabits the dystopian genre. And as any dystopian society, there are those who suffered and those that did...