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Ready Player One is a 2011 science fiction novel, and the debut novel of American author Ernest Cline. The story, set in a dystopian 2040s, follows protagonist Wade Watts on his search for an Easter egg in a worldwide virtual reality game, the discovery of which will lead him to inherit the game creator's fortune.
Cline sold the rights to publish the novel in June 2010, in a bidding war to the Crown Publishing Group (a division of Random House). The book was published on August 16, 2011. An audiobook was released the same day; it was narrated by Wil Wheaton, who was mentioned briefly in one of the chapters. In 2012, the book received an Alex Award from the Young Adult Library Services Association division of the American Library Association and won the 2012 Prometheus Award.

A film adaptation, screenwritten by Cline and Zak Penn and directed by Steven Spielberg, was released on March 29, 2018.

Setting

In the 2040s, the world has been gripped by an energy crisis from the depletion of fossil fuels and the consequences of global warming and overpopulation, causing widespread social problems and economic stagnation. To escape the decline their world is facing, people turn to the OASIS, a virtual reality simulator accessible by players using visors and haptic technology such as gloves. It functions both as an MMORPG and as a virtual society, with its currency being the most stable in the real world. It was created by James Halliday who, when he died, had announced in his will to the public that he had left an Easter egg inside OASIS, and the first person to find it would inherit his entire fortune and the corporation. The story follows the adventures of Wade Watts, starting about five years after the announcement, when he discovers one of the three keys pointing to the treasure.

Plot

Teenager Wade Watts lives with his aunt in Oklahoma City in the "stacks", a poverty-stricken district constructed of trailer homes piled on top of each other. He spends his spare time as a "gunter" ("egg hunter"), logging on to the OASIS as an avatar under the moniker Parzival, reading Halliday's journal Anorak's Almanac, and researching details of the 1980s pop culture, mainly classic video games and movies, that Halliday loved. One day, he realizes that the first key is located on the same virtual world as his own online high school, in a re-creation of the Dungeons & Dragons module Tomb of Horrors. He meets Art3mis, a famous female gunter and blogger who has been exploring the place, and advances further than she does when he defeats the AI Acererak at the video game Joust. He is awarded the Copper Key, and Parzival appears on the "Scoreboard", attracting the world's attention.

Parzival completes the gate's puzzles by playing through the Dungeons of Daggorath video game and then role-playing Matthew Broderick's character in the film WarGames. Art3mis clears the gate shortly afterwards, as does Wade's friend Aech. Wade’s fame enables him to make a living by endorsing virtual products. It also brings him to the attention of Nolan Sorrento, head of operations at Innovative Online Industries (IOI), a multinational corporation bent on a well-funded effort to find the Easter Egg in order to take control of the OASIS and monetize it. When Wade refuses to join IOI, Sorrento attempts to kill him by blowing up the stacks where Wade lives, disguising the explosion as a meth lab accident.

Wade escapes and moves to Columbus, Ohio, where he lies low, assuming the pseudonym Bryce Lynch and living in an anonymous apartment designed for hardcore OASIS users. He considers an alliance with Aech, Art3mis, and Daito and Shoto, two Japanese gunters who have also earned the Copper Key. Instead, he and Art3mis begin a wary friendship, but when he asks her out, Art3mis declines. IOI operatives, called Sixers, attempt to assassinate Wade and Art3mis at the birthday party of OASIS co-founder Ogden Morrow. They are stopped by Morrow, who has special privileges and powers within the OASIS. Five months pass. Neither Wade nor anyone else has found the next token, the Jade Key.

When Art3mis finds the Jade Key, Parzival scrambles to planet Archaide, where he plays a perfect game of Pac-Man, receiving only a quarter as a prize. Aech provides a hint leading him to the planet Frobozz where he solves the text adventure game Zork. Sorrento, who had tracked Art3mis and Aech using a premium locator artifact, establishes a base there to farm their company's avatars with keys, and unlocks the second Gate and acquires the Jade Key. Shoto tells Parzival that the Sixers infiltrated Daito's real-life apartment and threw him out of the building, killing him.

Parzival unlocks the Jade Gate, a Voight-Kampff machine in the Blade Runner universe, and completes the arcade game Black Tiger as a character from the first-person shooter perspective. Using his knowledge of Rush, he acquires the Crystal Key, and after playing "Discovery", the third movement from the title track of their album "2112", finds a clue regarding the conditions to unlock the final gate. As he messages Art3mis, Aech, and Shoto with his solution, Sorrento ends their covert attempts to clear the third gate, Castle Anorak, and places a force field around it.

Wade manipulates his assumed identity in order to be arrested and placed in indentured servitude in IOI's tech support department. While inside IOI, he uses black market passwords and security exploits to hack into IOI's intranet: he acquires a wealth of information, including footage of Daito's murder. The information also includes the attempt on his own life, as well as plans to kill Shoto and Art3mis in real life. After escaping the corporation, he shares his information with his friends and publicizes a gathering of avatars to storm the castle. They are interrupted by Ogden Morrow, who offers them a safe haven at his home in Oregon. Wade meets the real-life Aech and Ogden, but not Art3mis and Shoto, who are already hooked into Ogden's immersion pods.

The day of the battle, Wade uses his planted hack to bring down the barricade, and a massive fight among avatars ensues. After Parzival uses the giant robot Leopardon to fight against Sorrento's Mechagodzilla Kiryu, Parzival and friends unlock the gate, at which point the Sixers use an artifact called the Cataclyst to destroy the castle and all avatars over a large area. Parzival survives because having the Pac-Man quarter granted him an extra life. As he enters the Crystal Gate, he announces that if he wins he will share his fortune with his three friends. With Sorrento and his Sixers on his heels, Parzival plays Tempest, role-plays King Arthur and various characters in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and retrieves the Easter egg in Adventure. His victory grants him control of the OASIS, including wiping out his enemies' avatars, resurrecting his friends, and a Big Red Button that would wipe OASIS. Sorrento is arrested for the murder of Daito and for conspiring to kill Wade and the others. Back in Oregon, Wade and Art3mis meet in person and rekindle their relationship with a kiss.

Characters

  • Wade Owen Watts/Parzival — the viewpoint character, an orphan from the "stacks" surrounding metropolitan Oklahoma City. Wade names his OASIS character Parzival after the Arthurian knight involved in the quest for the holy grail, and dedicates his life to finding James Halliday's Easter egg. He is 18 years old when he finds the Copper Key in the prologue of the book. His username at the virtual high school he attends is Wade3. Wade's character was based on a mix of Cline as well as his geek friends.
  • James Donovan Halliday/Anorak — creator of OASIS. A big fan of 1980s culture, he announces in his will his plans to leave his entire fortune to whoever can find his Easter egg that he had hidden in OASIS. His character was initially inspired by Willy Wonka who Cline described as a "rich eccentric holding a fantastic contest". Cline used the personalities of Howard Hughes and Richard Garriott, and placed Halliday's birth year around the same as his own so that his pop culture interests would coincide with Cline's "and the other middle-aged uber geeks I know".
  • Helen Harris/Aech — Wade's best friend, fellow gunter, and rival in the quest to find the egg. Aech's specialty is in PvP and first-person shooter games, and is one of the top combatants on OASIS. Although Aech's avatar is an athletic Caucasian heterosexual male, Aech is played by an African-American lesbian named Helen Harris, who grew up in Atlanta, Georgia and is about the same age as Wade. Aech is based partly on Cline's friend Harry Knowles as well as himself and other geeks, both men and women.
  • Samantha Evelyn Cook/Art3mis — a famous female gunter and blogger. Wade has a huge cyber-crush on her, which is complicated by their competition in search of the egg. She chose her avatar's name from the Greek goddess of the hunt. Like other characters, Cline based Art3mis on himself and other geeks, both men and women. Her real name is Samantha Evelyn Cook from Vancouver, British Columbia and she has a port-wine stain on her face.
  • Ogden Morrow/Great and Powerful Og — Co-creator of the OASIS and best friend of James Halliday. They founded the video game company Gregarious Games, where he would handle the business operations, and which would later become Gregarious Simulation Systems (GSS), the company that launched OASIS. His appearance and personality are described as being "a cross between Albert Einstein and Santa Claus." Concerned that people were using it to escape reality, he quits GSS and works on educational software with his wife Kira until her death. His relationship with Halliday deteriorated, and the two men remained estranged until before Halliday's death, when he is entrusted with ensuring that the hunt goes smoothly and without cheating. Ogden lives in Oregon and owns a set of advanced OASIS consoles and immersion rigs, and is able to monitor everyone in the OASIS, even in private chat rooms. He rarely appears in public, and only shows up on the OASIS once a year on his birthday, where he assumes the avatar of the Great and Powerful Og. Ogden's character and relationship with Halliday was inspired by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, with Morrow being more like Jobs as a "charismatic tech leader".
  • Toshiro Yoshiaki/Daito — one of the two Japanese gunters who rise to the top of the scoreboard early on in the hunt, working in a team with "brother", Shoto. The pair have a generally tense, but not unfriendly relationship with Aech, and Art3mis, They are closer to Parzival, and work together on quests unrelated to the hunt. They are based on otaku: Japanese geeks who enjoy movies and anime, as well as hikikomori: people who live as recluses inside their family's homes. Daito's real name is revealed to be Toshiro Yoshiaki after he is killed by the IOI.
  • Akihide Karatsu/Shoto — the second and younger of the two Japanese gunters working as a team in their quest for the egg. Shoto's real name is Akihide Karatsu. Following the death of his partner, Shoto collaborates with Art3mis, Aech and Wade to finish the hunt.
  • Nolan Sorrento/IOI-655321 — the head of operations at Innovative Online Industries (IOI), the multinational corporation that serves as an Internet service provider for most of the world, and that plans to take over and monetize the OASIS. Sorrento is head of IOI's Oology division, which is dedicated to searching for Halliday's Easter egg. His avatar name is IOI-655321, after his employee number. IOI employees in the division are nicknamed Sixers, after their six-digit employee numbers that also begin with the number 6. Cline said that he named Sorrento after Nolan Bushnell, founder of the video game company Atari, and said, "Not that I think Nolan is a bad guy, or anything. It’s meant as a subtle tribute!"

Reception

Ready Player One was a New York Times bestseller. Among those praising the book were Entertainment Weekly, The Boston Globe, The A.V. Club, CNN.com, io9, and Boing Boing. USA Today wrote that the novel "undoubtedly qualifies Cline as the hottest geek on the planet right now." NPR said that the book was "ridiculously fun and large-hearted". Cline "takes a far-out premise and engages the reader instantly" with a "deeply felt narrative [that] makes it almost impossible to stop turning the pages." Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote that "The book gets off to a witty start" but noted that it lacks at least one dimension, stating that gaming had overwhelmed everything else about this book. Rebecca Serle of HuffPost described the book as "the grown-up's Harry Potter" and that it "has it all – nostalgia, trivia, adventure, romance, heart and, dare I say it, some very fascinating social commentary."

The book has been translated into over 20 languages.

In an interview with Fortune, Cline said that his book had inspired designers at companies such as Oculus VR which recommended the book for their new employees. Oculus has also invited Cline several times to sign books and demo hardware.

Spin-offs and sequels

Short story

Lacero, a fan-fiction story by Andy Weir, was published in the 2016 edition of Ready Player One. It follows the story of Nolan Sorrento and functions as a precursor to the main novel, and is considered canonical to the Ready Player One fictional universe.

Sequel novel

In 2015, in an interview with Den of Geek, screenwriter Zak Penn reported that Cline was working on a sequel to the novel. In December 2017, Cline himself confirmed he is writing a sequel.

In other media

Easter Egg Hunt

Ten months after the first edition release, Cline revealed on his blog that Ready Player One itself contained an elaborately hidden Easter egg. This clue would form the first part of a series of staged video gaming tests, similar to the plot of the novel. Cline also revealed that the competition's grand prize would be a DeLorean.
The game Ultimate Collector: Garage Sale by Austin-based developer Portalarium was featured in one part of the contest. The final stage of the contest was announced on August 1, 2012, and was to set a world record on one of several classic arcade or Atari 2600 games. This was completed on August 9, 2012 by Craig Queen, who set a new world record in Joust. He was awarded the DeLorean on the TV show X-Play.

Film adaptation

Main article: Ready Player One (film)

The film rights were purchased by Warner Bros. on the same day Cline finalized his publishing deal with Random House, one year prior to the novel's publication. Dan Farah brought the project into the studio and is producing it with Donald De Line. Cline adapted his novel into a screenplay. Over the years, Eric Eason and Zak Penn assisted Cline with rewrites.

Steven Spielberg signed on to direct in March 2015. Spielberg and Kristie Macosko Krieger of Amblin Partners also joined Deline and Farah as producers. Warner Bros. initially announced a release date of December 15, 2017. On February 9, 2016, the release date was pushed back to March 30, 2018, to avoid competition with Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The movie began production in the spring of 2016 and was filmed in both the United States and the United Kingdom.

On June 9, 2016, Variety stated that Spielberg's regular collaborator John Williams was planning on composing the film's score. However, scheduling conflicts with another Spielberg film, The Post, led to Spielberg signing Alan Silvestri for the score.

The film stars Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Waithe, Simon Pegg, Hannah John-Kamen and Mark Rylance. It premiered at South by Southwest on March 11, 2018, and was theatrically released by Warner Bros. in the United States on March 29, 2018. It received generally positive reviews from critics, who praised its visuals and brisk pacing, and noted it an improvement over the book. This film received criticism for its lack of character development and its "achingly regressive" view of pop culture fans.

Pop Culture References In The Novel

Games referenced in the book

  • Adventure including Warren Robinett's Easter egg.
  • Akalabeth
  • Action comics 
  • Mad Better or Verse
  • Asteroids
  • Astrosmash
  • Battlezone
  • Bedlam
  • Berzerk
  • BurgerTime
  • Centipede
  • Combat
  • Contra
  • Defender
  • Dig Dug
  • Donkey Kong
  • The Empire Strikes Back
  • E.T.
  • Golden Axe
  • Heavy Barrel
  • Ikari Warriors
  • Joust
  • Kaboom!
  • Knack 2
  • Madness and the Minotaur
  • Ms. Pac-Man
  • Pac-Man
  • Pitfall
  • Pyramid
  • Q*bert
  • Quake
  • Raaka-tu
  • Smash TV
  • Super Smash Brothers
  • Space Invaders
  • Starmaster
  • Star Raiders
  • Star Wars
  • Street Fighter
  • Swordquest, including the prizes for Earthworld, Fireworld, Waterworld, and Airworld
  • Robotron: 2084
  • Time Pilot
  • Tron: Deadly Discs
  • World of Warcraft
  • Yars' Revenge
  • Zaxxon
  • Zork I II III

Games played in the simulation

Computers and video game consoles referenced in the simulation

  • Apple I and II
  • Atari 2600
  • Atari 400 and 800
  • ColecoVision
  • Commodore 64
  • IMSAI 8080
  • Intellivision
  • TI-84 Calculator
  • Sinclair ZX80
  • TRS 80
  • TI-99/4
  • All Xbox and PlayStation consoles

References on the book cover

  • The yellow key is an element of Adventure
  • The "c" is similar to Pac-Man

Movies referenced in the simulation

Music referenced in the simulation

Anime and tokusatsu referenced in the simulation

TV Show references in the novel

Literature references in the simulation

External links

Trivia

  • Ernest Cline was inspired by the video game Adventure (the first game with an Easter Egg) and the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (an eccentric chocolate maker holds a competition to decide who would inherit his chocolate factory) in concepting the initial story of Ready Player One.