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,

(The entire section is 1422 words.)