Ready Player One

by Ernest Cline

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Ready Player One Summary

Ready Player One is a 2011 science fiction novel by Ernest Cline.

  • The novel is set in the year 2045 and follows protagonist Wade Watts on his quest to find an Easter egg hidden inside the virtual world of the OASIS by its creator, James Halliday.
  • Wade and his friends are targeted by Nolan Sorrento, the head of Innovative Online Industries, who wants to take over the OASIS.
  • Wade ultimately finds the Easter egg and saves the OASIS, over which he is granted total control.


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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1405


Billionaire James Halliday dies, and his last will and testament is revealed in a short video called "Anorak's Invitation." In the video, Halliday explains that he hid an Easter egg (a hidden feature) in the OASIS, the virtual world he created as a game interface. The first person to find it will inherit his entire fortune and gain absolute control over the OASIS. Halliday's contest is informally called “the Hunt,” and contestants are referred to as gunters (egg hunters). Halliday stipulates that three keys (Copper, Jade, and Crystal) that unlock three secret gates must be found before the egg can be discovered. Wade Watts, the novel’s narrator, tells us that he was the first to discover the Copper Key and that this book is the story about everything that happened after his discovery.

Level One (Chapters 1–16)

Wade lives in a poverty-stricken mobile home tower community. His only living relative is his Aunt Alice, with whom he has a strained relationship. Wade spends most of his time in his hideout van, where he accesses the virtual world of the OASIS. In the OASIS, everyone appears as avatars (digital representations of one's self). Wade's school avatar is Wade3, but his game avatar is known as Parzival. Wade3 attends virtual school on planet Ludus.

From his studies of Anorak's Almanac (Halliday's journal entries)Wade concludes that the Copper Key is hidden in a recreated Dungeons and Dragons module called the Tomb of Horrors (on Ludus). Wade travels there and is challenged to a game of Joust (an arcade game) by King Acererak, the lich (an undead creature) who rules the tomb. He beats the lich at the game and is given the Copper Key by Halliday's avatar, Anorak. Before Wade leaves the tomb, he makes the acquaintance of Art3mis, the famous female gunter he has a crush on.

Meanwhile, a clue on the key leads Wade to a recreation of Halliday's childhood home. There, he plays a successful game of Dungeons of Daggorath on Halliday’s TRS-80 computer, and the First Gate opens to him. He enters and is prompted to reenact every scene from WarGames, one of Halliday's favorite movies. After doing so, a mysterious riddle Wade dubs “the Quatrain” appears, telling him that the Jade Key is located in "a dwelling long neglected." Meanwhile, four other avatars find the Copper Key. They are Art3mis, Aech (Wade’s best friend in the OASIS, whom he has never met in real life), Shoto, and Daito. When Nolan Sorrento, Head of Operations at Innovative Online Industries (IOI)—a multinational corporation planning to find the egg, then take control of and monetize the OASIS—discovers Wade's triumph, he tries to bribe Wade into working for IOI. Wade refuses, and Sorrento detonates explosives rigged to Aunt Alice's trailer, killing everyone in Wade's tower. Unbeknownst to Sorrento, Wade is still alive because he was in his hideout van at the time of the explosion.

Level Two (Chapters 17–27)

Wade decides to keep a low profile in the real world. He creates a false identity for himself and rents an apartment under the name of Bryce Lynch. Meanwhile, his online romance with Art3mis flourishes, and he enjoys frequent dates with her in the OASIS. Although Wade knows that he is taking a great risk in exposing his avatar, he refuses to cower. When Sorrento discovers that Wade and Art3mis will attend a birthday party for Ogden Morrow (Halliday’s former business partner and best friend) on planet Neonoir, he sends Sixers (IOI’s professional troops) to assassinate them. The attempt is unsuccessful, however, as Morrow neutralizes the Sixers with red lightning bolts.

Not long after the attempt on their lives, Art3mis leaves Wade. Depressed, Wade spends most of his time logged into the OASIS. He loses his momentum and is unable to decipher the location of the Jade Key. To continue paying his bills, Wade works as an OASIS help-desk professional. After his shift one day, he discovers that Art3mis has found the Jade Key. Desperate to regain his self-respect and to win Art3mis back, Wade decides to redouble his efforts to find the Jade Key. His research takes him to the planet Archaide, where he plays a perfect game of Pac-Man. His win earns him a mysterious coin artifact, an item whose usefulness eludes him.

On his way back to Falco (his OASIS stronghold), Wade gets an email from Aech hinting that the Jade Key is on planet Frobozz. Wade travels there and successfully retrieves the key, only to discover that Daito's avatar has been killed by Sixers. Later, Shoto visits Wade and reveals that Daito was also killed in real life when IOI operatives invaded his apartment. Shoto bequeaths Daito's Beta Capsule to Wade before he leaves.

Meanwhile, Wade deduces that the Second Gate is located in a recreation of the Tyrell Building (from the movie Blade Runner). At the building, he inserts the Jade Key into a Voight-Kampff machine, and the Second Gate materializes. Upon Wade's entry into the gate, he discovers that he must play a 3-D simulation of the 1985 arcade game Black Tiger. He plays and wins a Leopardon robot. Before he exits the game, Wade sees a five-pointed star enclosed in a red circle on the arcade screen. The symbol is similar to one on the cover of the album 2112 by the band Rush.

As the song references “the temples of Syrinx,” Wade deduces that the Crystal Key is located on planet Syrinx. He travels there, retrieves an electric guitar from a stone, plays part of a song from 2112, and places the guitar on the altar of the Temple of Syrinx. The guitar immediately transforms into the Crystal Key, and a message appears to tell him that the Third Gate cannot be opened alone. Meanwhile, the emblematic “A” on the key indicates that the Third Gate is located at Anorak's Castle in Chthonia. Wade travels there, only to discover that IOI has deployed a shield over the castle.

Level Three (Chapters 28–39)

Wade crafts a plan to take down IOI's shield. He alters his alter-ego Bryce Lynch's financial records to show himself owing $20,000 to IOI. This leads to his arrest by IOI credit officers and his indenturement to IOI. At IOI Headquarters, Wade uses illegally purchased passwords to hack into the Sixers' private database. Then, he downloads incriminating evidence about IOI onto a ten-zettabyte flash drive and performs a series of hacking procedures to take down the shield over Anorak’s Castle. Masquerading as a tech worker, Wade exits the IOI building and uploads the data from the flash drive to his OASIS account. He then emails everything to the news networks. Wade also erases his Bryce Lynch identity and warns his friends that IOI means to kill them.

Meanwhile, Ogden Morrow steps in to offer refuge to Wade, Art3mis, Aech, and Shoto. He flies them to his mansion in Oregon, where he puts his state-of-the-art haptic technology at the group's disposal. Aech, Shoto, Art3mis, and Wade log back into the OASIS, and their avatars fly to Anorak's Castle in giant robots. They are joined by the gunters of the world. At exactly the time Wade plans, the shield over Anorak's Castle comes down.

Wade and his friends battle Sorrento, who is ensconced in his giant Mechagodzilla robot. Wade eventually defeats Sorrento's robot by using Daito’s Beta Capsule to transform into Ultraman. Just as Aech, Wade, and Art3mis are about to open the Third Gate, IOI detonates the Cataclyst (a powerful bomb) over Chthonia. The bomb kills every avatar in this sector of the OASIS. However, the coin artifact Wade won on Archaide resurrects his avatar, allowing him to continue his quest. As Wade enters the Third Gate, he promises to share Halliday's fortune with Aech, Shoto, and Art3mis if they help him find the egg. The three agree, and Wade continues his mission.

Upon his successful discovery of the egg, Halliday's avatar bequeaths Wade total control over the OASIS. Wade's avatar also gains immortality and invincibility. Before he leaves, Halliday's avatar tells Wade to cherish life in the real world and to use his power responsibly. Meanwhile, the news networks report that Sorrento has been arrested by federal officials. Wade eventually meets with Art3mis in real life, and they share their first kiss, leaving Wade little motivation to log back into the OASIS.

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Chapter Summaries