What is striking about the first two chapters of “Ready Player One” is the desperate situation, which our protagonist, Wade Watts, finds himself in. Wade’s back story has all the hard luck of an orphan from a Law & Order episode. Raised in ‘the stacks’ which are basically trailer parks turned Lego’s, he was left without a parent after his father died looting and his mother died of a drug overdose. He’s now taken care of by his drug addict aunt who only keeps him around so she and her veteran- of-the-prison-system boyfriend can benefit from government aid, and steal from him whenever he has something of any value. So the kid’s got problems. But this is just the start of the storm. Civilization and the world itself are deteriorating into a Mad Max level of dystopia, and there is no one to blame but human kind. Our greedy ways at last sucked the ability to sustain from the earth; there’s not enough fuel, not enough food and no institution capable improving the quality of life (though there is still an institution stable enough to administer food vouchers).
This Hellish setting is important to the story because it makes OASIS, the ubiquitous video game played by all and used for standard education, the last pillar of society standing. OASIS is not just an escape; it is the one place that Wade can go to learn and improve himself, which is safely a part from the desperate circumstance of real life. This said, there is one additional level of misery which seems to have its own purpose, for it seems that the end of the world has not been met with a renewal in faith but instead a sweeping realism. For Wade establishes his firm belief that there is no God, that there is no afterlife, that all of those beliefs were “wishful thinking”. He poses a world view where life is not just miserable, it is meaningless.
This gives us another way in which the virtual world presented in OASIS differs from that of the real world (as it is in the book). The real world is absent any sort of over arching authority, at least from Wade’s perspective; God doesn’t exist, references to the government are strangely sparse and every mention of Wade’s guardians includes the phrase ‘drug’ or ‘dead’. Wade’s continued existence seems to be of little worth to any single entity. Meanwhile, as it comes to OASIS, there is James Halliday, a mix between Willy Wonka and your mysteriously deceased great-uncle who’ll give you a fortune you spend a night in the haunted house; creepy, maybe a little evil, and profoundly interesting. Now in real life, the force behind the creation of a virtual world is some faceless corporation, but by making it a single person, with Wonka-like err of mystery about him, Cline give OASIS a distinctly religious feel. Halliday takes on a God like role for the virtual world of OASIS. He is the creator, the one who has the set the rules of the world; he has a degree of influence and poweer that no one else in the world seems to have. And best of all, he ha bestowed a purpose onto his world (and by virtue to Wade’s character) which doesn’t seem to exist in the actual world: find his hidden treasure and you will inherit his power. Viewing the world from within OASIS, this would be like unto becoming God.
Besides being exceptionally cool this plot device reveals an interesting existential benefit of virtual worlds. In the actual world we are faced with problematic questions about our continued significance. But virtual worlds are made for us, so there is no need to worry about our existential place within them. Even if we are not granted new and exciting powers withing the game, we are still taking part in a world that was made especially for us, which is of course, a comforting thought.