61 pages • 2 hours readErnest Cline
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Ready Player One, Ernest Cline’s love-letter to all things 1980s pop culture, was published in 2011. A mix of adventure, dystopian fiction, coming-of-age story, and heroic epic, the novel is packed with references to 80s media and heroic literature, including allusions to the Arthurian legend of the quest for the Holy Grail. In 2018, Ready Player One was adapted into a major motion picture directed by Steven Spielberg.
James Halliday, creator of an immense virtual world called the OASIS, dies and leaves a message explaining a contest called the Hunt. Whoever finds an Easter egg—an hidden feature in a piece of software left by a programmer as a joke or a prize—will inherit Halliday’s massive fortune and control of the OASIS. Wade Watts, a poor teenager from Oklahoma, becomes one of many “gunters” searching for three keys which will lead to the ultimate prize. Throughout the story, Wade provides details about Halliday, his business partner Ogden Morrow, and the creation of the OASIS.
Five years after Halliday’s message, no one has made any progress in the Hunt. Wade (whose OASIS avatar is named Parzifal) realizes that the Copper Key is on the same planet as his school, Ludus. He finds a replica of a Dungeons and Dragons module called Tomb of Horrors and completes a challenge. While there, Wade meets Art3mis, another gunter. He proceeds to the planet Middletown, where he finds a replica of Halliday’s childhood home, completes another challenge, and opens the First Gate. He plays through an immersive version of the movie WarGames, earns the Copper Key, and receives a clue to the Jade Key’s location.
Art3mis clears the First Gate, as does Wade’s best friend in the OASIS, Aech. Two more gunters—Daito and Shoto—also clear the First Gate. An army of the capitalist corporation IOI called the Sixers arrives at Ludus to try to keep out the gunters. Nolan Sorrento, the head of a corporation called IOI that is trying to take over the OASIS, attempts to bribe Wade for help with the Hunt, then threatens him, and finally blows up Wade’s aunt’s trailer in an attempt to kill Wade.
Wade proposes an alliance with the other leaders of the Hunt—Art3mis, Aech, Daito, and Shoto—but they refuse. The Sixers clear the First Gate. Wade moves to Ohio and vows not to leave his room until the Hunt is over. He and Art3mis begin chatting online and grow closer despite Art3mis’s misgivings. Eventually, Wade confesses to Art3mis that he loves her, and she tells him not to contact her anymore. Wade becomes depressed and continues trying to reach Art3mis.
Art3mis finds the Jade Key first. Sixers follow her, and Wade tries to follow them. Wade goes to Archaide, where he plays a perfect game of Pac-Man and wins a strange quarter. Aech gives Wade a hint to the Jade Key’s location which leads him to Frobozz. He plays through the game Zork, and attains the Jade Key himself. Sixers arrive and kill Daito’s avatar. Sorrento clears the Second Gate and gets the Crystal Key, putting the Sixers ahead of everyone else in the contest.
Shoto meets with Wade in the OASIS, revealing that the Sixers have murdered Daito in the real world. He gives Wade Daito’s artifact, allowing him to turn into Ultraman. Wade finds the Second Gate and beats the game Black Tiger, which grants him a giant robot for his inventory and a clue to the Crystal Key’s location. Wade goes to Syrinx, finds a clue about how to open the Third Gate, and obtains the Crystal Key.
The Sixers form a shield around Castle Anorak, the location of the Third Gate. Wade tells Art3mis, Aech, and Shoto how to find the Second Gate and the Crystal Key. In the real world, he infiltrates IOI. While inside, he hacks into their system and downloads data about Halliday and his friends, as well as footage of Daito’s murder and a memo that incriminates Sorrento. Wade escapes and shares this information with his friends and the media.
Wade and his friends send a call-to-arms to all gunters, asking them to help fight the Sixers. Og offers to protect the group, flying them all to his home in Oregon. Wade learns that Aech, whose avatar is a white man, is actually a gay, African-American woman. Wade and his friends engage in a giant robot battle with Sixers as the other gunters engage in battle. Wade takes down the shield around the castle.
Sorrento kills Shoto’s avatar; Wade kills Sorrento’s avatar. Wade, Art3mis, and Aech open the Third Gate, at which point the Sixers use an antimatter bomb to kill everyone in the area, including themselves, and destroy the castle. Wade is revived by the quarter he won from the Pac-Man game. His friends agree to help him win, and he offers to split the prize money with them.
In the Third Gate, Wade plays through the game Tempest and an immersive version of the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Wade wins the contest, kills the remaining Sixer avatars, and revives his friends. In the real world, Sorrento is arrested. Wade logs out of the OASIS and finds Art3mis waiting for him in the real world.
By Ernest Cline