The novel “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline opens with a lengthy explanation of the story of James Halliday and the elaborate puzzle that he has set up. However, the actual opening scene is in chapter 1, which introduces the main character, his situation, and his relationship to the plot. The protagonist, Wade, lives in a trailer park that is tightly packed with people and sees gun violence regularly (Cline 13). The situation is indicative of the overall condition of a significant part of humanity, and the boy’s foremost desire is to escape the situation. The massively popular virtual reality game, OASIS, is the primary means for him to do so, but his extended family tries to drag him back to reality.
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The introduction’s climax is the scene where the abusive aunt finds Wade with a laptop and decides to take it away to pay rent. The event shows that the protagonist does not have any people who he can rely on in the real world. The boy proceeds to go to his secret hideout and do what makes him feel safe. His favorite activity is playing OASIS, which he uses for a variety of purposes, including education and socialization. As can be seen throughout the chapter, many other people use the game as a form of escape as well. The display sets up one of the primary conflicts of the story, which is that of people choosing to ignore reality in favor of virtual pleasures.
Innovative Online Industries, the main antagonistic force of the novel, is an archetypal corporation, exploitative and dehumanized despite consisting entirely of people. In Chapter 14 of the book, its representative, Nolan Sorrento, contacts the protagonist, Wade, and offers him a job with the so-called Sixers. It is quickly revealed that the corporation would go to great lengths to obtain his knowledge, easily choosing to fire a powerful executive like Sorrento. Nevertheless, Wade refuses, and IOI threatens to detonate his home, proceeding to do so when he declines their offer again. The chapter serves to illustrate IOI’s willingness to resort to any manner of measures to achieve its goals, disregarding livelihood and life itself.
The chapter opens with a demonstration of corporate power, as IOI shows off its array of weaponry and other online valuables. The financial resources of a large corporation make individual resistance incredibly difficult, if not outright impossible. Wade notes that “the larger clans had been openly plotting to nuke the Sixer Operations Base for several years now, but they’d never managed to get past the defense grid or reach the planet’s surface” (Cline 134). Even if people devote a lot of time to become more powerful in the game and group together, they are unable to match IOI’s capacity to deploy personnel and money in the pursuit of its goals.
With the narrative that resistance is meaninglessly established, the corporation attempts to enlist Wade’s assistance. Sorrento describes its vision of the changes it intends to make to OASIS in an attempt to convince him that it is not as evil as the rumors would suggest. His idea is that IOI would “start charging everyone a monthly user fee. And increase the sim’s advertising revenue” in return for “avatar content filters. [And] Stricter construction guidelines” (Cline 137). In essence, IOI would increase monetization while reducing users’ freedom. The restrictions would serve the promotion of a safe and advertiser-friendly image for the sake of further revenue. Ultimately, IOI is not concerned about anything but money, earning its poor reputation.
During the discussions, Wade begins to make demands that he considers unreasonable with the purpose of irritating and intimidating Sorrento. He is aware that the interaction is not personal and that Nolan is expressing the will of the company’s executives. The acquisition of OASIS would be a massive gain for the corporation, especially considering it that would not cost anything above what it had already invested. Therefore, it is not surprising that IOI agrees to give Wade a massive bonus and an extremely well-paying position. However, the executives also do not require a discussion to decide to fire Sorrento in exchange for the limited information possessed by the protagonist. They have no regard for the people working for IOI and consider them disposable, a common criticism against real corporations.
The corporation’s power and complexity lend its managers the conviction that it can engage in illegal activities and emerge unpunished. When Wade refuses IOI’s offer, Sorrento reveals that he knows the protagonist’s real name as well as other sensitive information. The information was obtained through bribery of the virtual school’s administrators, showing the company’s willingness to exploit the system. However, IOI is prepared to go further and kill people for the sake of its ambitions.
Sorrento asks, “do you think anyone will care about an explosion in some ghetto-trash rat warren?” (Cline 140). The threat is later executed when Wade decides to call IOI’s bluff, and everyone in the trailer where Wade lives and close to it dies in the event. The crime is not punished until the end of the book, where the protagonist exposes it to the public.
Wade’s refusal to accept the company’s terms ultimately does not stem from idealistic conceptions despite their importance to the global conflict of the book. As he states, “I could not come up with a single good reason why they would let me live, […] The only move that made sense was to kill me” (Cline 142). IOI, like many modern corporations, cannot be trusted to do anything that does not directly contribute to its immediate goals. It will use whatever tools are at its disposal to create maximum profits, be it people kept in conditions of near-slavery or outright torture and murder. The parallel here is that a real corporation may resort to such measures, as well, if it is safe for it to do so.
Ready, Player One? It offers a critique of the concept of corporations, and Chapter 14 contains some of the book’s most detailed insights into Cline’s opinion on the danger of letting them have too much power. Corporations tend to view profit as their sole goal, unlike privately-owned companies such as Gregarious Simulation Systems, which are driven by the owner’s vision. They disregard the people who work for them as disposable cogs in the machine, diminishing or suppressing individuality. Lastly, they are ruthless and will employ whatever underhanded and illegal methods they can use safely, and so they cannot be trusted. Cline’s message is that corporations are evil entities that are only capable of ruining existing works.
Cline, Ernest. Ready Player One. Crown Publishing, 2011.