Ready Player One Summary
10 min read ⌚
You know your book is good when Steven Spielberg decides to adapt it into a movie.
And you know you’re a good writer when Spielberg picks you to co-write the script.
And when that movie is described as “pure magic,” earns half a billion dollars and becomes one of the highest-grossing films of 2018… well, we’re obliged to write a summary of the book.
Who Should Read “Ready Player One”? And Why?
“The guests don’t return for the obvious things we do, the garish things,” says Dr. Robert Ford (played by the ever-phenomenal Anthony Hopkins) in HBO’s Westworld. “They come back because of the subtleties, the details. They come back because they discover something they imagine no one had ever noticed before… something they’ve fallen in love with.”
Well, Ready Player One is a book based on this premise. It’s an adventure driven by the pursuit for an Easter Egg planted in a worldwide VR game!
And if you like Westworld – as different as they are – you’ll like this one too: just add some laughs; a lot of laughs. You’ll like Ready Player One if you like Stranger Things as well.
Because just like that TV show, Ernest Cline’s novel is full of references to the nerdy things from the 80s. (You’ll see why in a minute).
So, something like The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Only without that much politics. And with much more video games.
In summation, to quote Nicolette Stewart: “if you are geeky or grew up in the 80s or love sci-fi and fantasy or video games, oh man, go read the whole thing right away!”
And you can start with the first two chapters here!
Ernest Cline Biography
Ernest Cline is an American slam poet, novelist, and screenwriter.
He initially rose to fame as a performer at Austin Poetry Slam venues, becoming a champion in both 1998 and 2001 (hear him performing his most famous poem here).
Interestingly, he went on to become a screenwriter before becoming a novelist: after generating much local interest, his screenplay Fanboys was bought by the Weinstein Company and turned into a movie in 2009.
Two years later, he published Ready Player One which is already considered an SF-classic, winning both the Alex and the Prometheus Award in 2012.
In 2015, Cline published Armada, another New York Times bestseller. In March this year, the Steven Spielberg-directed adaptation Ready Player One premiered to wide popular and critical acclaim.
Cline is currently working on an Untitled Ready Player One sequel (and with Steven Spielberg’s input).
Find out more on his magnificently designed website: http://www.ernestcline.com//
As we hinted above quoting Westworld’s Dr. Robert Ford, Ready Player One is basically a 400-page long search for an Easter Egg inside a VR game.
We know already from the first chapter – that is the prologue: chapter 0000 – how that search escalated.
Namely, on the evening of February 11, 2045, the main protagonist of our book, a poor Oklahoma teenager named Wade Watts, managed to find the Copper Key – the first of the three hidden keys – and the whole world stood flabbergasted at the news.
“Dozens of books, cartoons, movies, and miniseries have attempted to tell the story of everything that happened next,” writes Wade, “but every single one of them got it wrong. So, I want to set the record straight, once and for all.”
Ready Player One is that record-setting account.
And the story begins five years earlier, on a January evening 2040, with the death of James Halliday. We learn on the very first page that James Halliday was the designer of OASIS, a massively multiplayer online game “that had gradually evolved into the globally networked virtual reality most of humanity now used on a daily basis.”
On a daily basis, you shriek in disgust!
Well, don’t humans have smarter things to do in 2040?
Well, apparently not, for the very simple reason that it’s not exactly a bright future the one Wade Watts is living in.
Due to an energy crisis caused by the depletion of fossil fuels and the consequences of global warming and overpopulation, the world is a sorry sight to behold and living in it is not exactly something you can enjoy.
Well, James Halliday seems to have felt the same way when he jotted down in his collection of undated journal entries called Anorak’s Almanac (Chapter 91, Verses 1-2) thus: “Being human totally sucks most of the time. Videogames are the only thing that make life bearable.”
Now, if everybody in the world is playing your game, then it’s quite obvious that you are a filthily rich person. However, James Halliday dies a 67-year-old bachelor with no heirs. And the only thing he leaves behind him: a video message labeled Anorak’s Invitation.
In it, he explains that he has planted an Easter Egg inside the OASIS and makes a promise that the first person to find it – will inherit his entire fortune.
Wade Watts is thirteen when James Halliday dies. He is an orphan, living with his aunt in the “stacks” of Oklahoma City. As evidenced by the very word, the “stacks” are not exactly a luxurious place: nothing more but a bunch of trailer homes piled on top of each other.
A smart guy with a “cute-geeky-girls-playing-ukuleles fetish,” Wade Watts is (like most of the world) a dedicated “egg hunter,” or gunter – which means that he spends every free moment of his life searching for Halliday’s egg.
And it’s not the easiest job in the world: Halliday didn’t have time to playtest the game, and he warns in his testamentary video that his Easter Egg may be hidden “a little too well.”
The only thing the players have at their disposal are just a few verses about some three keys and a hint that “familiarity with Halliday’s various obsessions would be essential to finding the egg.”
And since Halliday was a teenager and a geek in the 1980s, suddenly the whole world is fascinated with 1980s pop culture!
This explains why Wade – logged to OASIS as his avatar Parzival – spends most of his time researching 1980s video games and movies. (The geeky girls playing ukulele is something on the side).
During the process, he comes across some fascinating insights:
I was watching a collection of vintage ’80s cereal commercials when I paused to wonder why cereal manufacturers no longer included toy prizes inside every box. It was a tragedy, in my opinion. Another sign that civilization was going straight down the tubes.
One day, Wade realizes that the first of the three keys mentioned in Halliday’s awful poem is located on Ludus, one of OASIS’ virtual worlds.
While exploring the place, he meets Art3mis, a famous blogger and female gunter. It probably goes without saying that he has “a massive cyber-crush” on her. In his words: “her face had the distinctive look of a real person’s, as if her true features had been scanned in and mapped onto her avatar. Big hazel eyes, rounded cheekbones, a pointy chin, and a perpetual smirk. I found her unbearably attractive.”
Anyway, Wade advances further in the game when he defeats Acererak at Joust; as a reward, he gets the Copper Key. And, suddenly, the name Parzival appears on “The Scoreboard” – which is basically the only thing featured on Halliday’s website.
And now we are precisely where the prologue already got us. We move on to unchartered territory from here on.
So, Parzival clears the gate, by playing through the Dungeons of Daggorath video game and role-playing the character of Matthew Broderick in the still-enjoyable film of our (at least, my) childhood, WarGames. Art3mis does the same shortly afterward, and Wade’s friend, Aech, follows.
Since Wade is now pretty famous, his fame, naturally, brings him some money; and he earns enough to make a living by being the face of a few virtual products.
However, it also makes him the man of interest to Nolan Sorrento.
Now, Nolan is not just any guy: he is the head of operations at IOI (Innovative Online Industries), a multinational corporation who spends a lot of dough to take control of OASIS and monetize it.
Of course, finding the Easter Egg is a great way to do it; and finding the guy who’s closest to finding it – is the easiest.
However, Wade refuses to join IOI. Sorrento’s response is brutal: IOI blows up the stacks where Wade lives. Fortunately, our character is not there; unfortunately, his aunt is.
Wade has no option but to move Columbus, Ohio, where he assumes the pseudonym Bryce Lynch. He even lives in an anonymous apartment designed explicitly for OASIS users. And not just any type – the hardcore type.
Speaking of hardcore: Wade thinks about forming an alliance with few gunters such as him. In addition to Aech and Art3mis, the alliance should include Daito and Shoto – because, in the meantime, they have also acquired the Copper Key.
However, when you have a huge cyber-crash on somebody, it’s only reasonable to put her before any kind of alliance. Even if you have the IOI on your heels.
That doesn’t go that well, though, since Art3mis seems more interested in the Hunt than in Wade. Which makes her attractive to IOI as well: at the birthday party of OASIS co-founder, Ogden “Og” Morrow, IOI operatives called Sixers tried to assassinate Wade and Art3mis.
They are stopped by Ogden, who both physically and metaphysically looks like “a cross between Albert Einstein and Santa Claus.”
Five months pass and Art3mis becomes the first player to find the Jade Key.
In the meantime, Wade, aka “Parzival,” plays a perfect game of Pac-Man. However, he receives nothing but a quarter as a prize. Aech gives him a hint, and he heads off to the planet Frobozz. There, he solves Zork, the text adventure game.
Using some unfair methods, Sorrento discovers the Jade Key as well and unlocks the Second Gate. Parzival learns from Shoto that the Sixers have killed off Daito – not his Avatar, but the real guy.
After some time, Parzival unlocks the Jade Gate as well: a Voight-Kampff polygraph-like machine in a Blade Runner universe.
After some time, he completes the arcade game Black Tiger – by the way, Cline’s favorite game – and, as a reward, he receives a virtual mecha.
And then he goes a step further, acquiring the Crystal Key via his knowledge of Rush, the Canadian rock band. After listening to “Discovery,” the third movement from the 20-minute long title track of Rush’s 1976 album 2112, Wade discovers a clue which should help him unlock the final gate.
He messages Art3mis, Aech, and Shoto, but Sorrento places a force field around Castle Anorak, rendering the guys incapable of opening the Crystal Gate.
Ready Player One Epilogue
Wade manipulates his new identity so that he can be arrested and, thus, be able to enter the premises of IOI.
While there, he hacks into the company’s intranet and acquires everything necessary to ruin Sorrento: from the attempts on his life to the murder of Daito.
He then escapes and shares the new-found info with his friends.
An attempt to organize storming of Anorak Castle is interrupted by Ogden, who offers the players some protection at his home in Oregon. There, Wade meets the real-life Ogden, as well as Aech (Art3mis and Shoto are hooked into immersion pods, so he doesn’t meet them).
The day of the battle arrives.
Accompanied by Aech’s Gundam and Art3mis’s Minerva X, Parzival uses his mecha, Leopardon, to fight Sorrento’s Mechagodzilla Kiryu.
Eventually, the merry company manages to open the gate.
But the Sixers use something called the Catalyst to destroy the castle in its entirety, killing all the avatars in its vicinity.
However – Parzival survives.
Because of the quarter, he won after playing the perfect Pac-Man game; remember: that grants an extra life!
Parzival enters the Crystal Gate, promising in advance to share the fortune with his friends. After role-playing quite a few Monty Python and the Holy Grail characters, Parzival eventually manages to retrieve the Easter Egg while playing Adventure.
This gets him a few crucial things from Halliday: full control of the OASIS, killing/resurrecting avatar privileges, and a Big Red Button that can wipe out OASIS altogether. Also, a lesson:
I created the OASIS because I never felt at home in the real world: I didn’t know how to connect with the people there. I was afraid, for all of my life, right up until I knew it was ending. That was when I realized, as terrifying and painful as reality can be, it’s also the only place where you can find true happiness. Because reality is real.
Sorrento is eventually arrested.
And, back in Oregon, Wade and Art3mis finally meet in person.
Her name is Samantha, and she is everything Wade expected and loved all this time.
And, yes – it ends exactly as you would expect:
My heart felt like it was on fire. I took a moment to work up my courage; then I reached out and took her hand. We sat there awhile, holding hands, reveling in the strange new sensation of actually touching one another.
Some time later, she leaned over and kissed me. It felt just like all those songs and poems had promised it would. It felt wonderful. Like being struck by lightning.
It occurred to me then that for the first time in as long as I could remember, I had absolutely no desire to log back into the OASIS.
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“Ready Player One Summary Quotes”No one in the world gets what they want and that is beautiful. Click To Tweet You'd be amazed how much research you can get done when you have no life whatsoever. Click To Tweet One person can keep a secret, but not two. Click To Tweet You were born at a pretty crappy time in history. And it looks like things are only gonna get worse from here on out. Click To Tweet A river of words flowed between us. Click To Tweet
Our Critical Review
An instant New York Times bestseller, Ready Player One is a “ridiculously fun and large-hearted” book with a “deeply felt narrative [which] makes it almost impossible to stop turning the pages.” (NPR)
It is certainly something that everyone who is at least a bit nerdy will enjoy. Because – as Rebecca Serle of HuffPost says – Ready Player One “has it all – nostalgia, trivia, adventure, romance, heart and… some very fascinating social commentary.”
Serle may have given the book its most perfect description: “the grown-up’s Harry Potter.”
That is – if you are still a child.
Maybe a Holden Caulfield-type of child.
Just a regular guy with a knack for writing, and digital marketing.
Emir is the Head of International and SEO at 12Min. In his spare time, he loves to meditate and play soccer.