Wade wakes up to the sound of gunfire, a common occurrence in the stacks. He is curled up in a sleeping bag in a corner of his Aunt Alice’s trailer. 15 people live in the trailer, including two families. Wade uses a 10-year-old laptop he renovated himself; it is his “portable research library” and is filled with almost every videogame made in the 20th century. He plays one of his favorite videogames, Robotron: 2084, for a while, before watching an episode of the ‘80s sitcom Family Ties.
Wade’s nostalgic obsession with the 1980s may seem a little odd given that it was a period before he was even born. However, given that his surroundings in the year 2045 are so grim—characterized by violence and extreme poverty—is there any wonder that he chooses to spend his time dreaming about another decade?
Wade’s own family is nothing like the one he is watching on TV. He was born to teenage parents who were refugees. His father was killed while robbing a grocery store; his mother, Loretta, had two OASIS jobs, as a telemarketer and online escort. When he was a child, the OASIS was Wade’s “babysitter.” Although being inside the OASIS was in some ways a wonderful experience for Wade, it was also where he discovered the “ugly truth” about the world. He learned that God, Santa, and the Easter Bunny were all “bullshit,” and that humanity had brought chaos upon itself through climate change and the energy crisis. The future looks bleak, everyone dies, and heaven and the afterlife are also “total bullshit.”
This is the point at which readers are first introduced to the remarkable of scope of the OASIS. Far from just a videogame, it is a place in which people work, have sex, and learn about the world. For someone who embraces the illusion of the OASIS with such eagerness, Wade is perhaps surprisingly disdainful of other things he sees as illusions, from heaven to the Easter Bunny. Clearly, he finds some illusions more tolerable than others.
On the other hand, the infinite possibilities afforded by the OASIS helped keep Wade “sane.” Loretta died after shooting up a bad batch of drugs when he was 11, and after that point he moved in with his Aunt Alice. Alice only agreed to this arrangement to get extra food vouchers from the government, which she kept for herself. A year after Loretta’s death, the Easter egg hunt began, which “saved” Wade and gave him purpose.
In the trailer, Aunt Alice demands that Wade hand over his laptop so she can pawn it; after being threatened by Alice’s boyfriend, Rick, Wade reluctantly gives it over. He has two spare laptops in his hideout, although these run slower. Aunt Alice’s trailer is located in the Portland Avenue Stacks, a tower block of mobile homes powered by solar panels. After the energy crisis, thousands of these stacks appeared on the outskirts of major cities. They are dangerous and prone to collapse.
The more readers learn about Earth in 2045, the more dystopian it appears. Poverty and the energy crisis make it such that most people do not live in apartment buildings anymore, but are instead cramped into trailers that are then stacked on top of one another, creating a horrifying image of overcrowding and deprivation.
On the way to his hideout, Wade stops at the trailer belonging to his neighbor, Mrs. Gilmore. She is a “sweet old lady” who offers him breakfast, although Wade declines. She is very religious and spends most of her time inside mega-churches in the OASIS. Wade keeps going down to his “hideout,” which is an old abandoned van whose seats have been removed. The hideout is Wade’s “Fortress of Solitude” where he hangs out, attends school, and continues his search for the Easter egg. Wade logs into the OASIS; every time he does this, the same words flash up on the screen: “Ready Player One.”
Mrs. Gilmore is the first person in the book shown to be nice to Wade, which suggests that Wade’s dismissiveness of religion may be a little harsh. The fact that Mrs. Gilmore attends church inside the OASIS highlights the fact that everyone in Wade’s vicinity seems desperate to escape reality in one way or another, sometimes immersing themselves in multiple layers of illusion at once.