The preface is narrated by Wade and describes the events that followed the death of James Halliday. Halliday created the most successful video game and social platform in history, the OASIS. Wade describes an unpleasant world in 2041, including energy crises, widespread famine, catastrophic climate change and war. Halliday’s death creates a monumental opportunity, as with no heirs, he has left a contest to decide who will receive his fortune, including controlling shares of the OASIS, valued at 240 billion dollars.
Halliday’s will is distributed to all OASIS users in the form of a short video titled Anorak’s Invitation. In the video, Halliday tells the story of Warren Robinett, an actual programmer for Atari in the 1970s, who included his name in the game Adventure as the first video game Easter egg. Halliday appears as his OASIS avatar, Anorak, and states that finding the Easter egg as a child was very influential, and so he has designed a contest where the members of the OASIS can look for three keys and three gates, which ultimately will deliver his fortune to the first person to locate the egg.
Halliday’s personal website changed on the morning of his death. It now includes the Scoreboard, where the world can see who has found the most keys/gates and is closest to winning the contest. The Scoreboard also includes Anorak’s Almanac, “a collection of Halliday’s undated journal entries.” Initially, the entire OASIS becomes obsessed with the contest, but after four years, many have lost interest, as not one key or gate has been found. The few hunters who remain are called “gunters” (short for “egg hunters”). Wade states that on February 11, 2045, his OASIS avatar’s name appeared at the top of the Scoreboard, as the first person to find a key. He is attempting to “set the record straight” about what followed.
The narrator, Wade Watts, tells the story in first person, past tense. He awakens to gunfire outside of his crowded trailer in the stacks: a mobile home park in Oklahoma City where trailers are dangerously stacked on one another. Wade lives with his drug-addicted aunt and her boyfriend, as well as twelve other people in the double wide trailer. Wade’s father was killed when Wade was young, and he was raised by his mother, who eventually died of a drug overdose. Wade decides to do background research for hunting Halliday’s easter egg, by practicing vintage video games and watching an 80s sitcom. He uses an outdated laptop that he found in the trash. Unfortunately, his aunt catches him with the laptop, and her boyfriend takes it from Wade so that they can pawn it.
Wade talks about how he had a revelation as a child, once he discovered that the world was in terrible shape and he was poor, making him cynical and an atheist. His only peace is found in the OASIS, where he can avoid reality, interact, and learn. Wade climbs down the dangerous column of trailers and visits an elderly woman that he has befriended, Mrs. Gilmore. Wade walks to a junkyard outside the stacks and climbs beneath a pile of cars to a half-submerged van. Inside the rear of the van is Wade’s hideout, where he keeps his most valuable possessions: his haptic gloves, visor, and OASIS console. Wade has outfitted the van with food, discarded car batteries, and an exercise bike to recharge them. He logs into the OASIS and is greeted by the message Ready Player One.
Wade’s OASIS avatar appears in his virtual high school. Even his avatar is poor, as the OASIS uses its own currency, that is described as “one of the world’s most stable currencies.” His avatar’s appearance reflects his poverty. It has the default clothes available to all players. In the OASIS, Wade is known as Parzival, named after Percival, the knight who found the Holy Grail. No one uses their real names on the OASIS, other than at school where it is required, thus everyone is guaranteed anonymity. Wade is not looking forward to graduating, as he cannot afford college. He has instead decided to dedicate his life to winning Halliday’s contest.
Wade reflects on his time in public school in the real world and how he was bullied for being overweight and awkward. He jumped at the chance to attend online school after sixth grade, which transferred his avatar to the online planet of Ludus, where all public schools were located, and violence between players was restricted. Wade also describes the unified villains of the OASIS, the Sixers. The Sixers are agents of a large communications company, IOI, that employs a significant number of people whose sole job is to search for Halliday’s Easter egg. Wade also describes regularly reading Arty’s Missives, a blog run by fellow gunter, Art3mis (pronounced “Artemis”). He has a cyber crush on her but has never met her. Before class begins, Wade is hailed by his only friend, Aech, via an online chat connection.
Wade enters a virtual, carpeted basement that is the chat hangout hosted by his friend, Aech. The Basement is decorated with 1980s memorabilia, a television, and vintage gaming consoles and is frequented by other gunters that Aech has invited. Aech is represented by a large, male, Caucasian avatar. Aech is also a senior in high school but attends one of the schools on the other side of Ludus. He is one of the most successful competitive gamers on the OASIS, and thus is wealthy. He and Wade are friends due to their mutual obsession with Halliday’s contest. Aech’s wealth allows him to travel between worlds on the OASIS, something that Wade rarely can afford to do, to search for the Copper Key.
Wade and Aech debate 80s movies. Each of them insults the other’s favorites while they debate whether the movies are required knowledge for gunters. Another avatar, named I-r0k, descends the stairs and immediately starts insulting Wade. While Wade’s avatar is low level and has few possessions, Wade knows a great deal about Halliday and 80s trivia. While I-r0k belittles Wade’s inability to travel and level up his avatar, Wade repeatedly points out I-r0k’s lack of knowledge. I-r0k eventually leaves the basement, defeated, and Wade gets a notice that his class is about to start. He makes plans to watch 80s movies with Aech after school.
Wade sits through his History lesson in school and remarks how advanced the digital school is. Teacher’s can take virtual field trips. He talks about the methods that other avatars use to travel within the OASIS. Many own their own spaceships, modeled after different sci-fi shows and games. Initially, the OASIS was programmed with several hundred worlds, but after its success, other intellectual properties were added, including Star Wars, Star Trek, and Firefly sectors. There were also fantasy-based worlds, including Middle Earth, Magrathea, and Discworld. Each was populated by NPCs (non-player characters), “computer controlled humans, animals, monsters, aliens and androids with which OASIS users could interact.”
Wade points out that Ludus, where the schools are located, does not offer any adventure or monsters, and so he has great difficulty gaining experience points to advance his avatar to higher levels. Wade knows that he will have to venture to dangerous worlds as a gunter. He has traveled a few times, getting his avatar to level three, but worries that if he misses any more school while questing elsewhere, he will be expelled, have to return his OASIS equipment, and return to public school in the real world. With the world entering the third decade of the Great Recession and unemployment at an all-time high, Wade does not know what he will do to acquire the funds necessary to pursue his goals as a gunter.
Wade gives a condensed history of James Halliday’s life. Halliday started off rather poor with parents that were not very attentive. He was “a bright boy, but socially inept.” He was almost entirely friendless until he was approached at school by Ogden Morrow, who invited him to play Dungeons & Dragons at his house. For the first time, Halliday had a circle of friends and Morrow eventually became his business partner. Halliday and Morrow formed their own video game company, Gregarious Games. The company was successful and both men became millionaires. In interviews and even at work, Halliday was difficult to deal with. After years of quiet development, the company released the OASIS under Gregarious Simulation Systems (GSS).
Wade describes the limitations of other online games and how the OASIS revolutionized the experience, not only with the visor and haptic gloves, but also with efficient programming that let billions of users log in simultaneously. An OASIS account only cost a quarter, allowing everyone to partake. The company made billions of dollars from leasing digital space to other companies and selling virtual goods inside the game. As Wade puts it, “The lines of distinction between a person’s real identity and that of their avatar began to blur. It was the dawn of a new era, one where most of the human race now spent all of their free time inside a video game.”
Wade describes his obsession with Anorak’s Almanac and his efforts to read every book from Halliday’s favorite authors, watch every one of his favorite movies, listen to every song from his favorite bands, and play every video game mentioned. Wade has accomplished these things, and in doing so, has found a secret code within the Almanac. The code is a limerick that references The Tomb of Horrors, a 1978 adventure supplement to Dungeons & Dragons. Over the years, others have discovered “the Limerick” and it is eventually publicized, much to the dismay of serious gunters. Wade believes that the actual tomb has been recreated somewhere in the OASIS and that the Copper Key is somewhere inside. It is not on the planet Gygax, which is dedicated to Dungeons & Dragons, nor has it been mentioned by any other gunters on the message boards that Wade frequents. For years, no one has been able to locate it. While sitting in his digital Latin class, Wade is struck with inspiration.
Wade realizes that the site of the Tomb of Horrors might be on Ludus, where all the schools are located. Ludus translates not only to “school,” but also to “sport” or “game.” He also realizes that Halliday may have wanted a student to stumble upon it. He uses image recognition software to scan the planet for the specific shape of the tomb: a flat-topped hill with large stones in the shape of a skull. After finding a likely match, he figures out a way to travel to the site for free, by asking his school for a teleportation voucher to a sporting event at a school near to the hill. Aech tries to call Wade while he is traveling, but Wade ignores him and sends him a message that he has too much homework. After reaching the site, Wade is certain that it is the Tomb of Horrors and that he will find the Copper Key inside. He descends the slope and locates the entrance, wary that it will be filled with danger. Using a digital copy of the original game module as his guide, he enters the tomb.
Wade’s avatar, Parzival, weaves his way through the dungeon, using the old Dungeons & Dragons adventure supplement to guide him past all the enemies and traps. Along the way to the throne room, he finds coins and magical items, increasing his wealth greatly. In the throne room, Wade is faced with Acererak, a magical zombie king (known as a demi-lich). He tells Acererak that he seeks the Copper Key. Acererak challenges him to a game of Joust. The throne transforms into a 1982 arcade cabinet and the two play a best-of-three match. Wade loses the first game badly but notices some patterns in Acererak’s programming. He manages to win the next two games by exploiting the demi-lich’s programming weaknesses. Acererak transforms into the wizard, Anorak, James Halliday’s former avatar, and gives him the Copper Key. Wade’s avatar is promoted to tenth level. Printed on the key is a clue that Wade believes points him to the zone programmed to look like 1980s Middletown, OH (Halliday’s hometown), to play an obscure game on a TRS-80 computer in Halliday’s home. Wade is too excited to sleep, and decides to press on, but is met by a mysterious avatar on the way out of the tomb.
On the way out, Wade runs into a stocky, female, level 52 avatar: Art3mis. He has had a crush on her for years. They banter with one another and Wade lies to her, telling her that he did not beat Acererak. Art3mis tells him that she has been trying for weeks. They get along well and exchange contact info, despite being competitors. During the conversation, she becomes suspicious and looks at the Scoreboard, which shows that Parzival has acquired the Copper Key. She is immediately angry, but mostly at herself, as Wade has succeeded on his first try. Eventually, Art3mis calms down and they discuss how fame will now affect Wade’s life and he says that he is not stupid enough to reveal his offline identity, since many people would kill for the billions of dollars at stake. Art3mis tells Wade that she would spend the money helping the world. Wade is cynical but tells her to try playing on the left side of the Joust cabinet, as it helped him win. She thanks him and Wade leaves.
After Wade reaches the surface, he is bombarded with message notifications (which were turned off while he was in the dungeon). All of them are from Aech, who has noticed that Wade’s avatar is on the Scoreboard. Wade ignores the calls but sends Aech a message that he will call soon. Wade heads back to the nearest teleporter and travels instantly to the Middletown, OH, zone. He walks the streets of the 1980s recreation area and is impressed at the level of detail. He is also amazed that only fifty years prior, even low-income families could afford a home for themselves.
Wade notices that Art3mis is also on the Scoreboard with a Copper Key. He reaches Halliday’s house and ponders why Halliday would recreate it if his childhood had been so miserable. Wade moves past the television and Atari console in the living room and goes to Halliday’s room and boots up the TRS-80 with a tape copy of Dungeons of Daggorath. Wade has already mastered all the games that were listed to be in the recreation of Halliday’s home. He spends a few hours completing the game and a gate opens in the wall. After inserting the Copper Key, Wade’s avatar plummets into a field of stars.
Wade notices that he is now standing in a classic video arcade playing Galaga. In the reflection of the game screen, he sees the face of Matthew Broderick. After a moment, Wade realizes that his avatar is now David Lightman and he is in the movie Wargames. It takes him a while to understand the rules of his task. He must act out all the main character’s scenes, including dialogue, in the film. Wade has seen the film many times and is well prepared. He only makes a few mistakes and reaches the end credits. Wade then comments that GSS later patents the idea of playing through movies (called Flicksyncs), after they learn that Halliday had already programmed one. Wade’s success advances his avatar to twentieth level and gains more points on the Scoreboard. He is given a clue for the Jade Key, but it does not immediately make sense to him. He logs out at 6:17 AM in the real world. He is extremely tired and passes out. He has a disturbing dream where he is unable to keep a glass egg safe from an oncoming horde of enemies.
Wade sleeps for over twelve hours and misses school. When he awakes, he checks the news feed on his OASIS console and sees many articles discussing his success. Art3mis has also cleared the First Gate. He watches an interview with Ogden Morrow, James Halliday’s old partner. Morrow warns any gunter from working with the media and insults IOI and the Sixers (and their attempts to exploit the contest). Wade narrates the background of Halliday and Morrow. Wade mentions Kira Underwood, Morrow’s late wife, who joined Halliday and Morrow in their geek activities as a teenager. Morrow eventually left GSS, describing the OASIS as a “self-imposed prison for humanity.” He and Kira made educational games instead until Kira died in a car crash.
Wade finally calls Aech, who congratulates him sincerely. Aech shifts his vidfeed to show that he is outside the Tomb of Horrors, waiting for it to reset, having figured out that it must have been on or close to Ludus, as Wade never had money to travel far. Wade wishes him luck and gives a hint about “jousting skills” but does not give any more assistance. Wade also reads an email from Art3mis that is friendly and playful. After a dozen rewrites, Wade sends her back a friendly response.
Aech clears the first gate the next day, putting him in third place on the Scoreboard. I-r0k threatens to release any details that he knows about Wade and Aech if they don’t help him. They refuse and I-r0k tells the world that they are both students on Ludus. While many gunters have claimed to know them, I-r0k’s message gains traction. Shortly after, two new names appear on the Scoreboard at the same time, Daito and Shoto, who seem to be working together. Wade is thoroughly stumped on the next clue. He sifts through the many emails he has received and agrees to several endorsement contracts under the terms that he only deals with them in the OASIS, to keep his real identity safe. With the money, Wade plans to get an apartment. Wade also receives a message from Sixers, asking him to hear out their offer. The message also states that if he refuses, they will approach his competitors. Wade knows not to trust them but feels that he should hear them out. Wade agrees to a chat with the Sixers leader, Nolan Sorrento, a former video game designer.
Wade’s avatar appears on a fancy space station and is escorted to meet Nolan Sorrento. Sorrento offers him a job at IOI and escorts him to the surface of the digital Sixer home world, IOI-1. Wade pretends to be interested in their first offer, to be head of their research department, but ultimately declines with some sarcastic banter. The second offer that Sorrento makes is to pay Wade five million dollars for information to clear the first gate, without anyone knowing that he helped. Wade again declines.
Sorrento’s third offer is much different. He states Wade’s full real name, age and location. He opens a video feed of the trailer stack that Wade lives in. Sorrento says that if Wade does not take the $5 million and help, Sorrento will have agents kill him. Wade figures out that Sorrento paid his principal, the only person in the OASIS who would have access to his personal information. Wade believes that either they are bluffing, or they would kill him even after he helped them. He logs out. A few moments later, there is an explosion. He leaves his hideout and sees the burning wreckage of his aunt’s trailer. His aunt, her boyfriend, and even Mrs. Gilmore, are dead. Wade scrambles back to his hideout and calls Aech.
Wade logs back into the OASIS. On Ludus, he sees Sixer gunships landing on the planet. He tells Aech what happened at the trailer park stacks. Aech asks if he needs a place to stay or money, but Wade declines. They plan a private chat in Aech’s Basement with Art3mis, Daito and Shoto. Art3mis arrives in the digital basement first and gets along well with Aech, making Wade jealous. Daito and Shoto arrive shortly after and are introduced as brothers. They discuss what has happened to Wade’s family outside of the OASIS and how each should be careful of his/her true identity. They discuss how the Sixers have set up a force field barrier outside of the Tomb of Horrors on Ludus, so that other gunters will have great difficulty getting the Copper Key.
Wade tells the others about his conversation with Sorrento and what he saw at their virtual headquarters: many researchers, state of the art gear, and the ability for the Sixers to swap users between accounts, based on the tasks required. They briefly debate forming an alliance against the Sixers, but Daito and Shoto are very opposed, and leave the chat room. The remaining three agree that they are all solo gunters, and Art3mis leaves as well. Aech teases Wade about having a crush on Art3mis, telling him that it is obvious.
Not long after the chat session, Wade sees that the Scoreboard’s remaining slots have filled up with Sixer accounts. While the united gunter clans eventually displace the Sixer’s barrier and start trying to acquire the Copper Key for themselves, dozens of Sixer accounts have already finished the First Gate. Once Wade’s first endorsement checks clear, he purchases a bus ticket to Columbus, OH, where the central server for the OASIS is, offering the most secure connection. An armored bus (to protect against wasteland bandits) transports him for several days to Columbus. On the ride, he logs into the OASIS and uses his new resources and gunter fame to change his identity. He creates the name Bryce Lynch, age 22. He starts to accept that he is a fugitive, now living under an assumed name, with powerful people trying to kill him. As Bryce Lynch, Wade uses his online wealth to rent an apartment in Columbus that has heavy security measures and a fiber optic connection to the OASIS. Once inside his new, sparse apartment, he vows not to leave its safety until he has won the contest.
Wade as Parzival has a dialogue with Art3mis. Initially, Art3mis tells Wade that they shouldn’t talk or spend time together, since they are competitors. Wade wins her over and tells her that he has always had a crush on her and that he hopes that she isn’t a 53-year-old man who lives in a basement. Art3mis assures Wade that she is a girl in real life. Wade talks about using some of his free time to get his avatar to level ninety-nine, the maximum level allowed in the OASIS.
The chapter continues with Wade spending more and more time in the OASIS with Art3mis, neglecting the newest clue for Halliday’s egg, and growing apart from Aech. Wade does figure out part of the clue, which refers to the toy whistle that was available in Cap’n Crunch cereal that was used to hack phone systems, but he is no closer to figuring out how to apply it. While Art3mis refuses to give Wade further details about her personal life, they continue to go on virtual dates in the OASIS, including an evening watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show, where they kiss. The chapter ends with, “then one night, like a complete idiot, I told her how I felt.”
Wade receives an email invitation to Ogden Morrow’s 73rd birthday party, an exclusive, invitation-only dance party. Wade says he cannot pass up the invitation, although he admits that the location of the party is in an unrestricted player-vs-player zone, so his avatar could be attacked and killed, forcing him to start over. He knows Art3mis will attend, so he dresses his avatar in a gray suit from Buckaroo Banzai and arrives in a flying DeLorean. He meets Art3mis inside the club, which is a giant, zero-gravity sphere. Ogden Morrow’s avatar, The Great and Powerful Og, is the DJ, playing dance remixes of 80s hits.
Wade and Art3mis dance together and Wade professes his love. Art3mis reminds him that he doesn’t actually know her, and they argue about it. Art3mis tells him they should take a break because they have been spending too much time together instead of working on the contest. Both become emotional. Before they can resolve their dispute, a swarm of heavily-armed Sixers break into the club and attack everyone, specifically Wade and Art3mis, since they are at the top of the Scoreboard. Wade and Art3mis fight back, but eventually Ogden’s avatar destroys the intruding Sixers. Wade looks for Art3mis in the aftermath. She gives him a last glance before leaving.
Wade wakes up in his apartment and narrates his daily routine. After having a hard time coping with Art3mis leaving him, he has installed a digital assistant to keep him motivated. His digital assistant is a recreation of Max Headroom. Wade reflects on having let his hormones dictate some of his decisions, feeling guilt over having owned a realistic, robotic sex doll for a week, before discarding it, as it turned out to be a major distraction. The first part of Wade’s day is an exercise routine that is monitored by his computer. His diet is also regulated by his computer. To gain access to the OASIS, he has software that locks him out until he has done the requisite amount of exercise. Wade has also purchased the best OASIS gear available, including a full haptic suit, and installed a two-layer metal security door. Over a few months, Wade loses weight and is in the best physical health he has ever been. At the end of the chapter, the reader finds that his login phrase for the OASIS has changed. It was formerly a line from The Last Starfighter. It is now the opening lyric of a They Might Be Giants song, “No one in the world ever gets what they want and that is beautiful.”
Wade describes his stronghold in the OASIS. He used his credits to purchase a virtual asteroid and has built an armored dome on it with a full command center. With complete access over who can visit, it is the only place in the OASIS where his avatar is truly safe. Wade describes a new OASIS feature that has been added, personal OASIS vidfeed, where users can create their own television channel. His channel runs 80s shows, music videos and movies, along with commercials from his sponsors.
Wade mentions that Art3mis has cut him off completely, despite his best efforts to contact her. He talks about trying to reconnect with Aech, but the two no longer trust one another, and they often argue. In the meantime, he has befriended Daito and Shoto. He found a quest that revolved around the Japanese Ultraman TV show and invited them. The reward was the Beta Capsule from the show, which would transform the user’s avatar into Ultraman once a day, for three minutes. Instead of selling it and splitting the money, Wade insists that Daito and Shoto keep it. Wade also describes how he has a job working at an OASIS call center, using the credentials of his fake identity. After his boring work shift, he returns to the OASIS to discover that Art3mis has found the Jade Key.
Wade is immediately concerned about Art3mis reaching the Jade Key, not just because she is now ahead of him, but also due to the Sixers’ reaction. Wade details the purchase of unique artifacts in the OASIS, the two most expensive of which were the Catalyst and Fyndoro’s Tablet of Finding. The Catalyst was a one-time use bomb that would kill every avatar in a given sector, including the user. It was believed that the Sixers owned it. Fyndoro’s Tablet of Finding, which the Sixers had purchased recently, allowed the user to know the approximate location of one avatar in the OASIS each day. The farther the person, the broader the description from the tablet. The Sixers used it immediately after Art3mis acquired the Key and posted on the Scoreboard and moved a large fleet to Sector Seven.
Wade is still confused about half of the clue for Jade Key but grabs his adventuring gear and boards his personal spaceship, the Vonnegut, to head to Sector Seven. He has what he admits is a weak guess about trophies that Halliday had earned that are one display in Sector Seven. Luckily, the Sixers have only narrowed the search down to the sector, which contains hundreds of worlds.
Wade arrives in Sector Seven in search of the Jade Key. His first stop is the planet Archaide, which is the largest video game museum in the OASIS. It houses recreations of many vintage video arcades, bowling alleys and pizza establishments. Wade wanders through the museum, housed under the surface of the vector-drawn planet, until he comes to the recreations of the Game Designer of the Year trophies that Halliday had won. They do not move and he cannot interact with them.
Wade notices a Pac-Man machine with an “out of order” sign, which strikes him as odd. He wonders how a machine that isn’t real could be out of order. Wade plugs in the machine and notices that the high score in the game is 10 points shy of a perfect Pac-Man game, which Wade notes has been done less than twenty times in the history of the game and requires at least four consecutive hours of perfect play. Wade spends at least six hours, eventually accomplishing the task. Instead of a part of the contest, he receives a single 1981 quarter that he is unable to remove from his inventory. He receives a message from Aech, who has just acquired the Jade Key, that shows an image of a vintage game and a message that says that the Wade and Aech are even. Wade knows where he must go: to a nearby planet called Frobozz, from the game Zork.
Wade is concerned that the Sixers will beat him to Frobozz, so he sets his ship to autopilot and uses valuable resources to teleport directly to the planet. On the planet, there are 512 identical locations that are the setting of Zork. Wade is mad at himself for not connecting the clues to the game. He runs inside a white house and finds a box of Cap’n Crunch in the cabinet. He recovers the whistle and begins solving the elements of the game within the house. After twenty-two minutes, Wade completes the game and blows the whistle, which transforms into the Jade Key.
Wade glances at the next clue, “Continue your quest by taking the test,” and runs to his ship. The Sixers converge on him and he barely escapes the zone. A war breaks out on Frobozz between the Sixers and the unified gunter clans. While getting his ship repaired, he emails Aech and both thanks him for his help and apologizes for being a jerk. As he expected, he sees Sorrento’s name join the Scoreboard soon after. To his surprise, he sees Shoto’s name appear, instead of a long list of Sixer accounts. While waiting for Daito’s name to appear, he is shocked to see that Daito’s name actually disappears from the Scoreboard, as Daito’s avatar has been killed.
The Sixers initially try to blockade the planet, but are spread too thin and have to resort to setting up a bunker around ten of the identical locations on the south pole of Frobozz. Wade continues to ponder the clue but is interrupted when Sorrento moves to first place on the Scoreboard, having found and completed the Second Gate. Wade becomes desperate and tries to contact Aech, Art3mis, and Shoto, but no one answers.
Two days later, Sorrento has found the Crystal Key. Wade knows that the Sixers are now several steps closer to winning the contest than anyone else. Eventually the Scoreboard Top Ten are all Sixer accounts, as their avatars complete the Second Gate and acquire the Crystal Key. Wade thinks about how he might jump off the roof of his building if the Sixers win the contest. Shoto contacts Wade and says that he needs to visit Wade’s avatar in his stronghold. He says that he has something that Daito left him in his will. Wade is confused, as Shoto could hold all of Daito’s belongings until he created a new avatar, but Shoto says that Daito will not be creating a new avatar, and that he can only explain when they meet.
Shoto arrives at Wade’s stronghold and is visibly upset. Wade welcomes him inside and Shoto tells him the story of he and Daito were on Frobozz, trying to obtain the Jade Key. While Shoto completed the Zork game, Daito was outside fighting the Sixers, even using the Ultraman Beta Capsule to transform into a giant alien to smash their ships. When Shoto finished, the two tried to reach their ship, but Daito became frantic and told Shoto that he thought someone was breaking into his apartment. Shoto tells Wade that the Sixers pulled Daito from his haptic rig in the real world and threw him over his balcony from the forty-third floor. Shoto plays a Japanese newsclip for Wade that shows an apparent suicide. Shoto explains how he had never met Daito in real life, but the two had become friends online in a support group for isolated teens. Shoto says that he is no longer as interested in winning the contest as he is in revenge. He gives Wade the Beta Capsule and tells him that Daito would have wanted him to have it. They both agree to keep trying and part as friends.
Wade spends more time trying to figure out the next clue, and after some inspiration, he realizes that the “test” referred to in the clue is the Voight-Kampff test from the film Blade Runner. He travels to the nearest recreation of the Tyrell Building from the film (which there are many copies of throughout the OASIS, due to the film’s popularity) and fights his way through the armed security inside. Once he reaches the conference room, his Jade Key opens the Second Gate and he is again immersed in a field of stars. Instead of entering another film, as with the First Gate, he is instead transported to a bowling alley where he must enter the 1987 arcade game Black Tiger. Wade is prepared, having known that it was one of Halliday’s favorites. Once he completes it, he is rewarded with his choice from an array of giant robots. He sees that some of the robots have already been taken by the eleven Sixer accounts who are ahead of him on the scoreboard. He immediately selects the Leopardon robot from the 1970s Japanese show, Supaidaman. He also immediately recognizes the next clue (for the Crystal Key): a five-pointed red star.
Wade returns to his ship and starts going through his notes on Rush, James Halliday’s favorite band. On the jacket sleeve for the Rush album 2112, Wade finds the exact same red star. With his notes and a bit more research, he heads to the planet Syrinx, which is dedicated to that album. There are many copies of the same region on the surface, much like the recreated Middletown, OH or the Zork house. He finds a digital recreation of Rush bandmember Alex Lifeson’s guitar in a cave. Before leaving the cave, Wade plays part of a song from the album 2112, admitting to the reader that he has never played a guitar outside the OASIS. He is rewarded with a hint that the Third Gate “cannot be unlocked alone.” He is sure that the Sixers did not receive this clue.
After trading the guitar for the Crystal Key, Wade’s final clue leads him to Castle Anorak, the stronghold that James Halliday built for himself. Unfortunately, when he arrives, the castle is surrounded by Sixers. The Sixers have employed a new barrier that is invulnerable, so long as the account that owns the artifact remains logged in and has it activated. Wade sends a message to Art3mis, Aech, and Shoto with instructions to find the Second Gate and Crystal Key. Wade tells the reader that he is formulating a dangerous plan.
Wade describes being taken from his apartment by the IOI Indentured Servant Retrieval Transport. He tells the reader that he knew this day was coming. The IOI security force tells him, through the intercom outside his apartment, that Bryce Lynch has missed payments on his IOI credit card and owes over 20,000 dollars. His property will be sold and he will be put into a mandatory work program until the balance is paid. While the security team uses plasma torches to cut through his metal door, Wade checks the Scoreboard to make sure the Sixers have not made any more progress. He sees that Aech, Art3mis and Shoto have all cleared the Second Gate and acquired the Crystal Key. He has ignored their messages since he emailed them their instructions. He states that they cannot help him and would have probably just tried to talk him out of his plan. He starts a sequence that erases all the data on his computer. After breaching the metal door, the IOI agents strip him of his haptic suit and give him a gray jumpsuit. They gag and handcuff him and take him to a transport with other “indents” to transport him to his new work assignment.
Wade watches out the window the transport and sees rampant poverty and refugee camps. When he reaches the IOI headquarters in Columbus, he is transferred to the Indentured Employee Induction Center and is given a battery of tests to gauge his aptitude. He makes sure to perform well on OASIS software, hardware and networking, but makes sure to perform poorly on any tests related to Halliday and the contest. Wade does not want to be put in the division run by Sorrento. He is fitted with a metal anklet that can deliver shocks or tranquilizers, and with an ear tag that has a camera.
Wade’s new life is like a prison, with poor-quality cafeteria food, a monitored bathroom break, and a “hab unit” cell shaped like a large coffin. Wade comments that no one ever escapes indentured life with IOI. He reiterates that he has a plan, and that all of this was part of it. In his hab unit, there is a screen and visor, but he only has access to IOI-N, a single channel with IOI news and propaganda. Knowing that he is being monitored, he watches training videos until he falls asleep. He starts to feel doubt and wonders why he would take such an idiotic risk.
Wade describes working for IOI customer service in a small, empty cubicle, where his sarcastic responses to customers are filtered out. He regularly falls asleep while working, because he stays up all night in his hab unit, working on his plan. Before ever being arrested, Wade secured IOI intranet passwords and administrator account information from the same online black market that helped him change his identity. Using the entertainment panel in his hab unit, he is able to subvert the cameras and give himself administrator access.
Wade obtains a storage drive and installs it into his hab unit’s maintenance port, so that he can download any information that he finds while searching through Sorrento’s files. He sees that the Third Gate is inside Castle Anorak, but the Sixers haven’t figured out how it works. He discovers footage of Daito’s murder as well as a plan to kidnap Shoto and Art3mis and force them to solve the Third Gate. He sees a picture of Art3mis, who looks like her avatar, except a birthmark covering half her face. He finds her beautiful. His original escape plan was a delayed funds transfer that would clear his debt, but it is still several days away. In an effort to save Shoto and Art3mis, he decides to escape sooner than he originally planned.
Wade uses his administrator access to unlock his anklet and ear tag. He recovers a requisitioned, IOI maintenance tech uniform and recodes his anklet to act as a security bracelet so that he may pass through the building. He leaves the IOI building with little resistance and throws away the anklet. He travels to a nearby post office center where he had ordered a portable OASIS console before being indentured. He sends messages to Art3mis, Aech, and Shoto, telling them about the surveillance that they are under and how they need to leave and get somewhere safe.
Wade loads the citizen registry, notices that Bryce Lynch is already a wanted fugitive, and changes his retinal pattern and fingerprints back to Wade Watts. He purchases a flak vest and handgun from a vending machine. He then travels to an OASIS parlor nearby that is not owned by IOI. He rents the most expensive private room for twelve hours and requests the fastest upload speed possible. After uploading the entirety of his stolen IOI data to his OASIS account, he sends the footage of Daito’s murder, his conversation with Sorrento, and the plan to abduct Art3mis and Shoto to every news outlet. When he logs into Aech’s basement, Art3mis, Aech, and Shoto are waiting for him.
Wade greets his friends and tells them about being indentured by the Sixers and stealing their data. Art3mis is angry with him for looking at her photo, but eventually she thanks him for the warning. Wade shows them the Sixer footage of Sorrento’s attempts to open the Third Gate with his Crystal Key. Above the Third Gate, “Charity. Hope. Faith.” is printed. Wade explains to them that it is a reference to “Three is a Magic Number,” from Schoolhouse Rock. He tells them that he believes that three people with the Crystal Key must work together to open the gate. He then tells them that the final part of his plan will have the impenetrable force field around Castle Anorak fall in 36 hours. The others ask how he plans to defeat the entire Sixer army and gain entrance, even with the force field gone. Wade tells them that they will rally every gunter to fight the Sixers. They discuss the challenges of trying to remain hidden in the real world. Without warning, Ogden Morrow’s avatar, the Great and Powerful Og appears in the Basement chatroom. Ogden then asks if they have ever been to Oregon, stating, “It’s lovely this time of year.”
Ogden Morrow’s avatar explains to the group that he has superuser access and has been eavesdropping on them since their first meeting. He explains that James Halliday asked him to do everything he could to “protect the spirit and integrity of the contest.” He tells them that he cannot help them with the contest in the OASIS, but he wants to help them in the real world, by providing a safe place from the Sixers. Ogden charters private flights for them.
Aech warns Wade that he looks nothing like his avatar—which depicts a while male. When Aceh arrives to pick up Wade in his RV and drive to the airport, Wade is shocked to find that, in reality, Aech is a black female close to Wade’s own age. Aech explains that her mother used a white male avatar in business to avoid racism and she has done the same. Aech also tells Wade that when she told her mother that she was gay, she was kicked out of her house. Wade tells Aech that her gender, race, and sexual orientation do not affect their friendship. In Oregon, Ogden Morrow leads them into high end haptic rigs inside his mansion. He tells Wade that Art3mis and Shoto both wanted to avoid the distraction of meeting them in person until the battle was over. Wade is relieved and disappointed. Before entering his rig, Wade asks what happened between Morrow and Halliday. Morrow tells him that Halliday was also in love with Kira and became upset and jealous when Morrow married her.
Wade loads up his avatar with gear for the oncoming battle and activates his Leopardon robot in his stronghold. The robot grows to a hundred meters and Wade’s avatar takes an elevator to the cockpit in its chest. Wade travels to Castle Anorak in his giant robot and meets Aech, Art3mis, and Shoto, who are all also in the giant robots that they received for clearing the Second Gate. Wade comments that he has never seen so many avatars and ships in one place, as swarms of users in the OASIS have come to watch or participate in the battle.
Sorrento and ten other Sixers come to the edge of the force field and each activate the giant robots that they earned after passing the Second Gate. Sorrento pilots Mechagodzilla, which is twice the size of Leopardon, causing many of the avatars around the heroes to flee. Wade then narrates a series of events that he did not witness, but set into motion. A Sixer supply robot inside the force field, given delayed orders from when Wade was indentured, retrieves a bomb and drives it to the avatar holding the artifact that generates the force field. The bomb detonates and the force field drops.
After the barrier drops, a large-scale battle breaks out between the collected gunters and the Sixer army. Wade, Aech, Art3mis, and Shoto try to use their giant robots to injure Sorrento’s Mechagodzilla robot, but they have little success. Shoto decides to act as a distraction so that the other three can enter the castle. The plan works until Wade decides that he needs to defeat Sorrento and to humiliate him publicly. Wade activates the Beta Capsule and transforms into Ultraman. Wade defeats Sorrento’s robot and checks the Scoreboard to make sure that Sorrento’s avatar is dead. He then returns to the castle. Aech congratulates him and Art3mis tells him that he is a selfish jerk and might have cost them everything. They each produce their Crystal Keys and Wade says aloud, “Three is a magic number.” Three keyholes appear and they open the Third Gate. Before they are able to enter it, they hear a loud explosion. Wade says, “And then we all died.”
All the avatars, items, and even Castle Anorak have been destroyed by the Catalyst. The Sixers have activated it, knowing that Wade, Aech, and Art3mis are going to enter the Third Gate. Somehow, Wade’s avatar is resurrected, but without any of his items or gear. He notices that the 1981 quarter that he received for playing a perfect game of Pac-Man is now just a plain quarter. It granted him an extra life, something unheard of in the OASIS. Ogden Morrow patches Aech, Art3mis, and Shoto into Wade’s headset. They can see what he sees in the OASIS and they can talk to him. They have a brief conversation, stating that at least 20 Sixers are headed to the Third Gate and Wade has limited time. Before entering the gate, Wade promises the others that he will split the winnings with them, because they all deserved to reach the Third Gate and he would not have been able to reach it without them. He knows that he must finish the Third Gate on his first try, since the Sixers are on the way, and so he asks the others for their help. They agree and Wade enters.
Wade’s avatar appears in an empty space with a single arcade machine, Tempest, from 1980. A voice tells him that he has to beat James Halliday’s high score. Wade is upset, as he is not very good at the game, and the machine shows that he only has one credit: a single attempt. Art3mis reassures him by telling him that the original release of the arcade cabinet had a glitch where the user could earn forty free credits. Using the method, Wade earns extra credits and gives the game several tries, each time falling short of the high score.
Wade’s friends inform him that the Sixers have entered the gate and that they were all playing Tempest. Wade gives another attempt and reaches the needed score. His avatar is transported to another Flicksync, similar to Wargames. This time, it is Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It is one of Wade’s favorite films. He recites the dialogue with little difficulty. After completing the film, with Sorrento only nine minutes behind him in his own Flicksync, Wade’s avatar appears in a large room made to look like Halliday’s office. It has every major gaming console laid out in an oval, from a PDP-1 all the way to an OASIS console. Wade knows that Halliday’s Easter egg is somewhere in the room.
After trying all the consoles, Wade finds that only the IMSAI 8080 has power. He tries several different logins but is initially unsuccessful. Eventually, he tries Leucosia, the name of Kira Morrow’s Dungeons & Dragons character. Every system in the room powers on. Wade sprints his avatar to the Atari 2600 and immediately starts playing Adventure. He moves through the game quickly and reaches the secret area, which has a large egg instead of Warren Robinett’s name. Wade’s avatar receives a large metallic egg, and he exits the office. Inside another room in the castle, Anorak speaks to Wade about the importance of living in the real world and not wasting his life hiding in the OASIS, as James Halliday had done. Anorak transfers all his powers to Wade’s avatar and shows him a button that will destroy the OASIS forever. Anorak tells him to use his powers for good. Wade also sees that his account has billions of credits. Wade uses his new powers to resurrect Aech, Art3mis, and Shoto and restore their lost items. Aech and Shoto log back into the OASIS and thank him. They tell him that Art3mis did not log back in and that she is waiting for him when he is ready to meet her. Wade watches a news clip of Sorrento being arrested and escorted from IOI headquarters.
Wade meets Art3mis in the garden maze behind Ogden Morrow’s mansion. Wade tells her that he thinks that she is beautiful. They sit beside one another on a bench and hold hands. Art3mis introduces herself as Samantha. They talk and get along, despite the awkwardness. Wade professes his love and Samantha tells him that he is her best friend and favorite person. She eventually kisses him. Wade says, “for the first time in as long as I could remember, I had absolutely no desire to log back into the OASIS.”