The 1981 Quarter was acquired by Parzival after completing a perfect game of Pac-Man on Archaide. The quarter was visible on the Pac-Man machine prior to completing the game, but it could not be moved, picked up, or inspected. After Parzival completes the perfect game, the quarter unglues itself from the game cabinet, tumbles forward, and becomes an overworld item that can be picked up. However, it was not possible to remove the item from an avatar's inventory, nor would it be possible to cast any divination spells on it.
The artifact is a one-time item that grants its wielder an "extra life", in which they are revived immediately after a fatal attack. Their avatar will still die, but instead of being presented with "GAME OVER", an avatar will see "Congratulations, [AVATAR NAME]! You have an extra life!" The avatar will then be regenerated in the exact place that they died in, retaining their statistics and ability scores but losing all items with the exception of the quarter. After the quarter is used, it becomes a normal quarter and loses any magical properties.
The quarter's history in the movie is different. In the movie, while visiting the Halliday's Journals archives, Parzival bets The Curator all of his coins that Karen Underwood is only mentioned in a single scene that he and Art3mis are currently viewing while The Curator insists that this is impossible. After discovering that Parzival is right, The Curator tosses him the quarter as the prize for winning the bet. Unaware of its significance, thinking it to be a simple quarter, Parzival tosses it back only to have Art3mis take it and return it to Parzival after asking him out on a date.
During the final battle, Nolan Sorrento activates the Cataclyst, zeroing out every avatar on Planet Doom. Parzival is unexpectedly restored, albeit without any of his coins, items or weapons and he discovers the quarter in his pocket which reads Extra Life on the back. In effect, the quarter respawned his avatar automatically after being zeroed out and in the same place rather than Parzival having to respawn and make his way back to Castle Anorak. Realizing what happened and thanking The Curator, Parzival tosses it into the air where the quarter explodes into a golden shower.
After Wade wins Halliday's Easter Egg Hunt, Ogden Morrow tosses Wade a quarter and reveals himself to be The Curator. Ogden notes that as he did not know the details of Halliday's hunt, losing a bet to a smart kid and giving him the quarter was not against the rules.
- 1981, the year the quarter was minted, is (according to the book) the same year Pac-Man was released. This however is incorrect; Pac-Man was actually released in 1980.