Ready Player One Themes by Ernest Cline

Discipline: Classic English Literature

Type of Paper: Creative writing

Academic Level: High school

Paper Format: APA

Pages: 3 Words: 900


Reality vs. Escapism

  • The novel is set in the future, when Earth is experiencing severe problems, such as energy scarcity, overpopulation, and global warming. The novel explores whether escapism into a digital world is a valid response to the grim reality of such a difficult world.
    • Wade Watts, the main protagonist, is an orphan mired in poverty and struggling through life when he starts playing the OASIS game.
      • He lives with his aunt, who treats him at best as an inconvenience, and so he prefers to spend his time interacting in an elaborate online simulation.
      • Even though his economic status is the same in the game, the freedom the game provides from reality is enough to make Wade keep playing.
      • He is not alone—almost everyone else in the world of the novel plays OASIS.
  • There are other venues available for people to escape their unbearable lives—including religion—but the novel presents the immersiveness of the OASIS as more compelling, as a more “real” escape.
    • Mrs. Gilmore, Wade’s neighbor, is religious, but Wade is scornful of her method of coping with the harsh realities of life.
    • Ironically, Wade sees religion as a fantasy, a word that perfectly describes the artificial world of the OASIS.
      • Even so, despite its being a simulation, the OASIS does appear to provide a more immersive escape than religion can, because it seemingly transports its players to another world.
      • To Wade, there is little benefit to spending time in the real world, and he chooses instead to inhabit his more tangible illusion, the OASIS.
  • The game's influence calls into question the difference between reality and illusion.
    • Wade inhabits the OASIS so often and so completely that the line between reality and illusion becomes blurred for him.
      • He works and goes to school in the OASIS.
      • The OASIS is where he meets Aech, who becomes his best friend.
      • Wade also meets his first crush, Art3mis, there.
    • Even though the OASIS is a large-scale illusion, actions in the game also carry real-world consequences.
      • When Wade angers the bosses at the tech company IOI, they try to kill him and end up murdering his family along with many innocent bystanders.
      • In the Easter egg hunt launched by OASIS’s maker, Halliday, the prize is worth billions, and the winner will be given control of the OASIS.
  • Even so, on the question of the value of reality and illusion, the novel ultimately comes down firmly on the side of reality.
    • After Wade wins the Easter Egg contest, an avatar of Halliday who looks like the man himself appears and reveals his shame at withdrawing from the real world.
      • He emphasizes that it is only in real life that people experience true joy.
    • The novel closes with Wade proclaiming his love for Samantha (Art3mis) in the real world.
      • She accepts him, ending the novel on a positive note and injecting optimism into an otherwise wretched reality.

Underdogs and Their Obsessions

  • The protagonists (Wade, Aech, Art3mis, Daito, Shoto, and even Halliday) are all shy and unpopular, driven to the OASIS game by their depressing and hopeless reality.
    • They share their social awkwardness with the game’s creator, Halliday.
  • This unlikely band of heroes is unconventional in that they are not traditionally attractive, strong, or charismatic.
    • However, they use their unique skill sets in virtual gaming and Halliday trivia to ultimately win the Easter egg hunt.
  • Wade and Halliday are both outcasts in the novel.
    • They are both introverted people who suffer abuse and humiliation but become famous celebrities who wield incredible amounts of power.
      • Both suffered rough childhoods—Halliday because of his alcoholic, abusive father and Wade because of the death of his parents and the abuse from his aunt and her boyfriends.
    • They are both obsessive people and use their fixations extensively in the OASIS.
      • Halliday’s obsessions likely stem from autism. However, despite the negative perceptions of the condition that might limit him, he uses his intelligence and unique creativity to build himself a world where he can feel comfortable.
      • Conversely, the conditions of Wade’s upbringing likely form his awkward personality.
      • He must overcome extreme poverty and inequality, and he uses his obsessions to gain notoriety in the world Halliday created.
    • All of the main protagonists, throughout the novel, share underdog status, particularly in comparison to the powerful company IOI.
      • Ultimately, through their unique obsessions—the very things that make them awkward in the real world— they gain the skills and knowledge they need to overcome their circumstances.
      • The underdogs gain enough acclaim, prestige, and resources in the OASIS to change their own circumstances in reality.
  • The novel also demonstrates potential moral differences between powerful people and outcasts.
    • Through the characters’ actions, the novel suggests that those who have led difficult lives may have stronger moral values.
    • Wade originally wanted to win the competition so that he could buy a spaceship and leave Earth.
      • But by the end of the novel, Wade instead uses the money to help the most destitute (having been inspired by Halliday and Art3mis).

Individualism vs. Cooperation

  • The characters in Ready Player One often struggle between going alone or cooperating as a team.
    • All the protagonists struggle with creating and maintaining interpersonal connections in the real world.
      • The characters default to being alone, because that is what they are accustomed to in real life
      • The simulation is the only place where they can be confident enough to pursue friendships and romantic relationships.
  • The competition to obtain the Easter egg can have only one winner, and some characters feel that personal relationships distract them while they are trying to play the game.
    • At first, Daito, Shoto, and Ar3mis reject the idea of joining Wade and Aech to find the keys that are needed to locate the Easter egg.
    • The tension between Wade and Art3mis proves to be highly distracting when Wade professes his love and Art3mis rejects him.
      • Although this situation is temporary, the separation provides advantages to both in the hunt for the Easter Egg.
      • Even though the novel emphasizes the value of relationships, it does not entirely discount the idea of individualism.
  • The novel also emphasizes how toxic collectivism can be.
    • While in IOI’s prison, the corporation robs Wade of any vestiges of individuality or self-expression.
      • He wears the same uniform as everyone else and works a thankless, pointless job.
    • This episode in the novel warns against the dangers of excessive collectivism, or authoritarian power, which can curtail individual freedom.
  • In the end, the novel suggests that although difficult, maintaining a balance between individuality and working as a group is critical to success and happiness.
    • Wade was never truly alone during the competition.
      • For most of the tasks, he had help from others.
      • In fact, he would have never made it inside the castle to complete the final task and win the hunt without his friends fighting alongside him.
    • Striving and achieving on one's own are meaningless without being able to share the experiences with others.
      • Wade acknowledges this truth by sharing the prize money with his allies and using his share to benefit society.

Elitism and Corporate Power

  • In the dystopian world of the novel, people have been plunged into poverty by corporate greed, elitism, and unfairness.
  • The central villain in Ready Player One is a money-hungry media and communications company called IOI.
    • IOI is the biggest internet service provider, and it is trying to take over the massively popular game, the OASIS.
    • IOI is planning on exploiting the popularity of the OASIS in every way that it can.
      • The virtual reality game is an enormously popular means of escape, and IOI will use that popularity for profit.
      • Most of the world would no longer be able to enjoy the game after an IOI takeover, being able to afford only minimal access.
      • This type of economic disparity is exactly what most players in the OASIS are trying to escape in the real world.
  • The odds against Wade seem insurmountable, as he competes not only against other expert players but also against the collective might of IOI.
    • When IOI approaches Wade to recruit him to hunt for the Easter egg for the corporation, Wade's refusal leads to the death of his aunt and her boyfriend.
      • The offer tempts Wade, but his militant stance against IOI and what it stands for makes him decline.
      • The stakes of his choice become even clearer when Daito is killed.
      • Wade has to face the fact that the odds of him beating such a massive corporation are slim.
  • Despite the desperate circumstances, the novel contends that even a corporation with seemingly endless resources can be overcome.
    • It is only by risking his own life, and those of his friends, that Wade is able to win the Easter egg hunt.
      • Wade clings to his individualism when he refuses IOI’s offer to work for them in the OASIS. His refusal is the first step to the corporation’s downfall.
      • Wade's superior knowledge about Halliday leads him to beat out the countless Sixers already working for the company.
      • However, it is Wade’s commitment to his friends, against the backdrop of IOI’s selfish greed, and their cooperation that lead to his triumph and the downfall of such a powerful organization.
  • The novel ends on a hopeful note with the suggestion of a much more generous and egalitarian society forming both online and in the real world after the destruction of IOI.

Utopia and Dystopia

  • In the novel, the Earth is in an exaggerated state of collapse; it has reached a dystopian state with famine, oppression, and little hope for the future.
    • In the beginning, the OASIS game stands in stark contrast as a place where players' dreams can come true; it is a utopian escape for the masses.
      • The OASIS is aptly named after a lush spring in the middle of a desert.
  • However, as the novel progresses, it becomes clear that the distinctions between the real and virtual worlds are not so clear.
    • Both the OASIS and the real world contain elements of dystopias and utopias.
      • This raises the question of whether a true, pure utopia or dystopia can exist.
  • The OASIS may seem a paradise on the surface, but there are negative aspects that come with it.
    • Wade's school provides an example.
      • On the one hand, his virtual school enjoys unlimited resources and makes it possible for teachers to bring students anywhere in the virtual world. Further, the school can control student’s avatars, and thereby stop bullying or other bad behaviors.
      • However, this bounty and control comes at the cost of student freedom.
  • The real world in Ready Play One is in dire straits, with all of the hallmarks of dystopia, such as hunger, poverty, and economic devastation.
    • However, the OASIS is built on Halliday’s favorite decade, the 1980s.
      • The OASIS becomes a sentimental symbol of a much more pleasant time, injecting utopian hints into life on Earth.
  • Echoing Halliday’s conclusion that it is only in reality where true happiness is found, the OASIS cannot be a utopia because it is not real.
    • Conversely, the real world cannot be a true dystopia, because even though it is difficult, people can find happiness there.
  • Utopia carries a second, perhaps less known meaning in Greek: "no place."
    • It is a particularly apt word to describe the OASIS, because although it was created to be a place where everyone can be happy, it is also a virtual place: it doesn’t exist.
      • All the players who flock to the OASIS to escape the real world to find happiness will ultimately fail.
      • There is no perfect place where everyone can be happy; such a place doesn’t exist.
      • Despite all the faults of the real world, the novel suggests, it is the only place that can provide true happiness.