Ready Player One

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"Ready Player One" Book Cover

Ready Player One is a 2011 science fiction novel by American author Ernest Cline. The narrative chronicles the life of 18 year old Wade Watts as he searches a virtual reality universe in an attempt to win the game creator’s fortune. The novel is set in 2045 in a dystopian future where the economic and societal complications from a global energy crisis have caused most of society to escape to a virtual world called the OASIS. The OASIS was created by the late James Halliday, a tech businessman and 1980s pop culture fanatic. Halliday has willed his half-trillion-dollar fortune and ownership of the OASIS to whoever can first find an Easter Egg he hid in his virtual world before passing.

The protagonist, Wade Watts, was inspired by a combination of Cline himself and several of his friends. The character James Halliday, the creator of the OASIS, was based on Willy Wonka in combination with the personalities of Howard Hughes and Richard Garriott. Halliday was given a birthday close to Cline’s real life birthday. This choice was to allow the novel to feature a multitude of references to the 1980s, the time period both Halliday and Cline grew up in. [1] On March 29, 2018, a film adaptation of the novel was released in theaters. It was directed by Steven Spielberg, and written by Cline and Zak Penn. On November 24, 2020, Cline released a sequel to the novel, Ready Player Two. However, the sequel received a far more negative reception. [2]

The novel brings light to various ethical issues associated with the increasing prevalence of virtual reality. It’s themes focus on the over-reliance on virtual reality by users, as well as the lack of regulation of major corporations in virtual reality. In the novel, Innovative Online Industries (IOI), is the internet service provider that offers most users access to the OASIS. The company and it’s unethical business practices are used to represent how companies in the future may take advantage of virtual reality and its users if the technology is not properly regulated.


In the year 2045, the majority of the world lives in poverty after a global energy crisis led to worldwide economic collapse. Wade Watts is an 18 year old high school student who was orphaned as a young child. After losing his parents, he moved in with his aunt and her rotation of abusive boyfriends in an Oklahoma City trailer park. The majority of people escape their depressing reality to an online world called the OASIS. The OASIS is a multiplayer online virtual reality video game that allows users to explore a variety of worlds and simulate real life activities. While it is technically a video game, the OASIS evolved into a virtual society with its own currency, stores, and education system. Following the death of the creator of the OASIS, James Halliday, it was revealed that in his will he left ownership of the OASIS to the first person to find an Easter egg he hid in his virtual world. To win, players must first solve clues to discover three keys and three corresponding gates, which will reveal additional clues that lead to the final Easter egg. The news of this competition led to a worldwide race to find the Easter egg, since the company and therefore the prize for finding it is worth billions of dollars.

Wade lives in poverty with no close connections in his real life, so he spends most of his day in the OASIS. He goes to school in the OASIS, but it is difficult for him to travel due to his economic status. He spends his time with his online friend Aech. They are both “gunters,” a nickname for users who search for Halliday’s Easter egg. Knowing Halliday had an obsession with 1980s popular culture, the pair study video games, movies, television shows, and music from the time period. The first step to the egg hunt is finding the Copper Key, but in the five years since the announcement of the contest, no one has decoded the first clue to its whereabouts. After years of searching, Wade becomes the first user to find the Copper Key and later the First Gate, making him the leader in the hunt. At the site of the first key, Wade meets and befriends a player named Art3mis who has also been searching for the key. After his discovery, Wade becomes famous across the OASIS because his name appears on a leaderboard announcing to the world that he is in the lead. The next players to find the first key and gate are Art3mis, Aech, and two other users named Daito and Shoto. After achieving OASIS fame, Wade is contacted by IOI, Innovative Online Industries. IOI is a major internet service provider, and provides users access to the OASIS. The company also sells goods and services that can be used inside of the OASIS. As one of the largest companies in the world, they were able to create a team of employees, nicknamed the “Sixers”, to search the OASIS for the Easter egg. The leader of the Sixers and the company’s CEO, Nolan Sorrento, tries to recruit Wade to join them. When Wade declines the offer, Sorrento threatens him and reveals he knows his real world identity and location. He eventually acts on these threats by setting off an explosion in Wade’s trailer which kills his aunt and neighbors. Wade luckily survives the attack, but decides to leave Oklahoma City because he is in danger.

The five players leading the hunt, Wade, Aech, Art3mis, Daito, and Shoto, begin to develop a friendship. As Wade attempts to find the Jade Key and Second Gate, he spends more time with Art3mis and reveals he has feelings for her. Unfortunately, the feelings are not mutual, and Art3mis stops spending time with him. Wade’s friend Aech is eventually able to find the key, as well as Art3mis, and the Sixers. Wade discovers it as well after Aech gives him a clue, but he has fallen behind as the Sixers have already discovered the next key and gate. Shoto also finds the key, but the group faces further misfortune as he reveals the Sixers have tracked down Daito in the real world and killed him. Wade’s journey continues as he is able to find the Second Gate and the third key. However, when he discovers the location of the Third Gate, it is revealed that the Sixers have set up a forcefield around its location, blocking any other users from entering. He forms a plan to get past the Sixers to get through the Third Gate. In the real world, he purposely gets himself sent to IOI’s indentured work program as a prisoner while using a false identity. Inside of IOI, he is able to enter the OASIS as a Sixer. He uses this to his advantage to take down the forcefield. While inside IOI, he is also able to hack into their system, which allows him to leave the facility. However, before leaving, he uncovers evidence of many of the company's crimes, and gives this information to every news outlet he can access upon escaping.

While inside, he also discovered that the Sixers are planning to kidnap his group of friends and himself. Fearing for their safety, the group seeks refuge with Ogden Morrow, the co-creator of the OASIS and former business partner of James Halliday, after he contacts them offering to help. Back in the OASIS, Wade sends out a message to all users trying to find the Easter Egg, asking them to help his group take down IOI and the Sixers. An army of other users arrives to join Wade in battling the Sixers. A huge battle breaks out, and IOI activates a doomsday device, killing every player in the area. However, Wade survives because he had earlier discovered a token that acts as an extra life in his search for the keys. Wade is then able to enter and solve the Third Gate and reach the Easter egg. He wins the Halliday’s egg hunt, and therefore control over the OASIS. He decides to share his earnings with Aech, Art3mis, and Shoto. In the real world, Sorrento is arrested, and Wade and Art3mis reveal their feelings for each other. [3]

Themes & Ethical Issues

Human Reliance On Virtual Reality

Promotional image from the film

Virtual Reality allows users to physically interact with a computer generated simulation of a three-dimensional environment.[4] To produce a realistic experience, basic human senses are simulated using high definition VR goggles, noise canceling headphones, touch feedback technologies, and multisensory masks. [5]

This technology can be applied to various different fields, such as entertainment and education. In the world of video games, technology such as the Oculus Rift is pushing boundaries to create a more immersive and realistic virtual reality experience for users. This innovation in the field has applications in the gaming industry and other serious fields. These innovations have both benefits and drawbacks, and Ready Player One explores the consequences of the increasing popularity of virtual reality.[4]

In the novel, Wade attends school in the OASIS. This allows him to receive a high quality education with access to countless resources, despite his difficult financial situation. This access to resources allows the OASIS schools to better standardize their education system and allow all students opportunities to succeed. Similar to the novel, there are many real world examples of virtual reality being used to advance the education system in a variety of fields.

In the field of medicine, virtual reality can be used to simulate medical situations. This innovation allows students to face a variety of different situations and learn from any mistakes they may make. This would allow students to make more mistakes without real world consequences.[6] The technology can also be used to visualize and recreate the anatomy of the human body, and allow professionals to easily view areas that are difficult to see in the real world. This not only allows for students and professionals to learn more about the human body, but also allows for practice of more specific surgeries. The procedures are filmed in high definition in real life and then combined with models of the body, allowing students to simulate operations. These simulations can also allow users to practice applying sutures in a safe and realistic environment. [6] The American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) has praised virtual reality training methods due to their effectiveness in standardizing instruction in students and for the benefits of using VR training before treating real life patients. [6]

Innovations in virtual reality are being used to enhance safety precautions in pilot training, with the VR based Flight Simulation Training Device. The European Union Aviation Safety Agency approved the first device of its kind in 2021, which will allow training pilots to virtually practice dangerous maneuvers. About 20% of accidents occur during training flights, so this training is focused on a high risk area. [7]

Ready Player One also explores the subject of over-reliance on virtual reality through the characters of Wade Watts and Ogden Morrow. In the novel, the majority of activities that people used to do in the real world, such as work, school, and socializing, are now done on the OASIS. The creation of this virtual world has enabled people to dismiss all of the problems in the real world. Instead of trying to save reality, humans have abandoned it. The character, Ogden Morrow, distanced himself from the OASIS, after witnessing how it completely took over Halliday’s life and sanity. He feared the program would cause damage to both users and society as a whole, and moved his efforts toward trying to fix real world problems. It becomes clear that his fears were more than justified, with a prime example being the protagonist of the story, Wade, and his reliance on the program.

Wade is dissatisfied with his reality and uses the OASIS as an escape. However, his interest in the OASIS quickly evolves beyond just a hobby and eventually consumes every moment of his day. By trying to escape reality, he developed a physical addiction to being in virtual reality which caused him to completely isolate himself from society. In the depths of his addiction, he had no meaningful human connections and deteriorated both his mental and physical health. [8]

"In real life, I was nothing but an antisocial hermit. A recluse. A pale-skinned pop culture–obsessed geek. An agoraphobic shut-in, with no real friends, family, or genuine human contact. I was just another sad, lost, lonely soul, wasting his life on a glorified video game." - Ernest Cline, Ready Player One [3]

Wade eventually loses his sense of reality, and begins to treat the OASIS as the real world and the real world as a game. This has disastrous consequences as he refuses to give up the location of the Copper Key to IOI when threatened. Wade makes the choice that not disclosing the location of the key is worth the risk. IOI then blows up his family’s trailer resulting in the death of his Aunt and many of his neighbors. Wade views his life as a video game, and fails to see that his in-game actions have real life consequences until it is too late.

“I’d come to see my rig for what it was: an elaborate contraption for deceiving my senses, to allow me to live in a world that didn’t exist. Each component of my rig was a bar in the cell where I had willingly imprisoned myself.” - Ernest Cline, Ready Player One [3]

Corporate Regulations

Promotional image from the film

The goal of the OASIS was to create a perfect world, and the goal of the Easter egg hunt was to create an equitable competition to determine who controls it. However, this world and competition were both corrupted by corporate greed. Motivated by monetary gain, IOI, led by Nolan Sorento, is able to use its power as a major corporation to advance in the search for the hidden Easter egg. Many of IOI’s methods to get ahead in the competition parallel ethical issues seen in major corporations today.

IOI’s main concern is profit. If the well being of other players is at stake, they do not care. IOI’s goal is to take control of the OASIS so they can charge players to use it and profit from filling the platform with advertisements. They were willing to kill Wade’s family, his neighbors, and Daito, to get closer to this goal. The lack of regulations in the OASIS allows for the society to become a complete surveillance state. User privacy is not ensured, as IOI has the ability to track anyone's location in the game and in real life. This is how they were able to track down both Wade and Daito.

Their business practices are completely unregulated. When a citizen goes into debt with them, they hold them as indentured servants. Without having regulation on what they have to pay their “employees”, those in debt have minimal chances ever paying their debts off. They use their power as a major company to avoid government interference. If Wade was not able to hack into their system, they would have faced zero legal repercussions for their crimes.

Real World Parallels

Meta, a major technology corporation led by Mark Zuckerberg, has recently come forward with plans to create “The Metaverse,” a 3D space that will allow users to, “socialize, learn, collaborate and play in ways that go beyond what we can imagine.” [9] Meta has created a social virtual reality platform, similar to the OASIS, called Horizon Worlds. [10] Similar to IOI, they hope to maintain complete control over the virtual space by limiting the way users are able to interact with the technology. As the only company who sells tools that can be used with the technology, they can ensure dominance over the market for their company. They also have demonstrated how they will give companies the ability to advertise in their virtual world. They also have plans to allow businesses to sell both digital and physical copies of their products, with Meta taking a percentage of the earnings. [11]

Outside of virtual reality, Meta has been accused of enabling crime [12] and the spread of misinformation [13] on their social media platforms. With the company's reputation tarnished by these allegations there is fear that these issues could continue as the company expands into the virtual reality space.


  1. Sims, Tony. “A Few Minutes with Fanboys Writer Ernest Cline on Ready Player One.” Wired, Conde Nast, 22 June 2011,
  2. Couch, Aaron. “'Ready Player One' Book Sequel Sets November Publishing Date.” The Hollywood Reporter, The Hollywood Reporter, 8 July 2020,
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Cline, Ernest. Ready Player One. Crown Publishers, 2011
  4. 4.0 4.1 Goode, Lauren. “Get Ready to Hear a Lot More about 'XR'.” Wired, Conde Nast, 5 Jan. 2019,
  5. Brinkley, Rene. “I Ate a Meal in Virtual Reality. Here's What It Tasted Like.” CNBC, CNBC, 22 Mar. 2020,
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Thomas, Dr. Liji. “Applications of Virtual Reality in Medicine​.” News, 11 Jan. 2021,
  7. “EASA Approves the First Virtual Reality (VR) Based Flight Simulation Training Device.” EASA, 26 Apr. 2021,
  8. Johansson, Anna. “Your Social Media Apps Are as Addictive as Slot Machines - Should They Be Similarly Regulated?” TNW | Contributors, 23 Mar. 2018,
  9. “Welcome to Meta: Meta.” Welcome to Meta | Meta,
  10. Heath, Alex. “Meta Opens up Access to Its VR Social Platform Horizon Worlds.” The Verge, The Verge, 9 Dec. 2021,
  11. Hector, Hamish. “Meta's Metaverse Plans Show Us the Bad Ending of Ready Player One.” TechRadar, TechRadar, 31 Oct. 2021,
  12. Kelly, Cara. “Facebook Papers Reveal Company Knew It Profited from Sex Trafficking but Took Limited Action to Stop It.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 28 Oct. 2021,
  13. Vynck, Gerrit De, et al. “Facebook Told the White House to Focus on the 'Facts' about Vaccine Misinformation. Internal Documents Show It Wasn't Sharing Key Data.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 28 Oct. 2021,