Wade’s favorite class is a senior elective called Advanced OASIS Studies. The class is a breeze considering that Wade spends all his spare time researching Halliday and his creation. Wade worships Halliday as the ultimate “nerd über-deity” who invented an “entirely new reality.” Today, the class is discussing a biography of Halliday that Wade has already read four times. Wade has to resist the urge to correct his teacher’s errors and omissions, and instead makes a mental note of them.
Wade may be worse off than most other people in the OASIS, but he is rich in knowledge—particularly knowledge about Halliday. Thus far, however, the only advantage that Wade’s extraordinary knowledge about Halliday has given him is the ability to ace his Advanced OASIS Studies class.
Halliday was born on in 1972 in Middletown, Ohio. His family was working-class; his father was an alcoholic and his mother had bipolar disorder. He was a fiercely intelligent but shy child who was obsessed with computers, comics, science fiction, fantasy, and videogames. In high school, he befriended another boy, Ogden Morrow, and Halliday was soon embraced by Morrow’s friend group of “mega geeks.” Halliday and Morrow would go on to be a world-altering pair of best friends and business partners. Halliday created his first game, titled Anorak’s Quest, when he was 15. Morrow encouraged and helped Halliday to sell the game, and before long they started their own company, Gregarious Games.
Already there are some parallels emerging between Halliday’s life and Wade’s. Both suffered unhappy childhoods with troubled parents/guardians, and both choose to escape this unhappiness through certain obsessions. Of course, there is a meta level to Wade’s obsessions, in that he is obsessed with Halliday’s obsessions, inheriting Halliday’s interests second-hand.
Neither Halliday nor Morrow went to college; instead, they devoted all their time to Gregarious Games. Morrow was charismatic, and was thus able to handle the business and other public-facing sides of the operation. Halliday remained eccentric, intense, and odd. He rarely gave interviews and the ones he did give were largely nonsensical. Halliday struggled to understand why others didn’t share his obsessions. Wade notes that it is believed Halliday had Asperger’s syndrome or another variety of “high-functioning autism.”
In many ways Halliday is the typical nerd-genius. He is highly intelligent, but does not have the academic achievements to show it—instead, he eschews traditional schooling and focuses on creating his own inventions. Furthermore, Halliday’s social awkwardness is also tied into his extraordinary intellect. His unique mind makes it difficult for him to interact with others.
Halliday and Morrow were multimillionaires by the age of 30. Where Morrow used his fortune to travel the world, Halliday focused on acquiring collectibles. In 2012, Gregarious Games relaunched as Gregarious Simulation Systems (GSS), simultaneously debuting what would become GSS’ only product: the Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation, aka the OASIS. The OASIS was not the first massive multiplayer online game, but it was far bigger and better than anything that had existed before. Halliday and Morrow also designed it to be as free and accessible as possible—a way for anyone to escape from reality.
The fact that Halliday chooses to amass collectibles while Morrow travels the world indicates that even with massive wealth and power, Halliday was still too afraid of the real world to want to spend much time in it. He makes the OASIS free so that anyone who feels similarly afraid of reality can escape it as well.
Part of what made the OASIS so the unique were the trademark OASIS visor and haptic gloves, which provided total sensual immersion into the simulation. Additionally, the OASIS was capable of hosting five million users. When the OASIS first came out, advertising campaigns framed it as “an online utopia.” The game only charged a one-off 25c admission fee. It quickly became the most popular thing on the internet, such that “the terms ‘OASIS’ and ‘Internet’ gradually became synonymous.” People worked, played, fell in love, and got married inside the simulation. It was now where most of humanity chose to spend all their spare time.
The OASIS’ impressive technological developments, alongside its radical accessibility, again emphasize the impression that it is a utopia. On the other hand, the fact that it is so all-consuming is somewhat dystopian. Can anything that makes people neglect reality on this scale—no matter how many great qualities it has—really be a good thing for humanity?