The world of the novel is afflicted by a variety of problems, but perhaps the most significant stem from corporate greed, elitism, and inequality. As most people on Earth become increasingly poor, the oppressive power of corporations like IOI increases. IOI, which stands for Innovative Online Industries, is a communications conglomerate and internet service provider that embodies the trope of the evil corporation. Indeed, the reason that Wade is so desperate to win the Easter egg hunt is not just because he wants this triumph for himself. It is also to stop a Sixer from winning, which would give IOI control over the OASIS. Wade explains that under an IOI takeover, the OASIS would start charging a user fee and would become plastered with ads. It would eventually become a “fascist corporate theme park” that could only be enjoyed by the rich. In this sense, it would reflect the issues of inequality that exist in the real world—perhaps in an even more extreme form.
Part of the reason that Wade and his friends are underdogs is that they are competing not only against high-level gunters, but also against IOI. Indeed, there are many moments in the novel in which IOI seems so powerful that it is impossible to imagine Wade succeeding against them. This includes the scene in which Sorrento attempts to recruit Wade as a Sixer, first by persuasion and then by threat. Although Wade is militantly opposed to IOI, he cannot help but be stunned by their offers. Furthermore, when they threaten to kill him by blowing up Aunt Alice’s trailer (and when they succeed in killing Daito), Wade must confront the reality that, by any objective standard, he has no chance of succeeding when faced with their massive wealth and power.
At the same time, the novel also shows that elitism and corporate power can be successfully fought, even if success is highly unlikely. It is only by risking death that Wade is able to escape IOI’s clutches and ultimately win the hunt. Yet the fact that he does so proves that such triumph is possible. Once again, Wade’s ability to succeed is tied to his superior knowledge of Halliday’s obsessions. His genuine love of the OASIS and all things Halliday allows him to beat the team of professional “Oologists” hired by IOI. Wade’s determination to hold onto his individuality is also what helps him succeed, as it is this that gives him the courage to refuse IOI’s recruitment offer. At the same time, perhaps the most important element of Wade’s battle against corporate elitism and power is his alliance with his friends. IOI functions on a foundation of selfishness and greed, but Wade’s devotion to his friends—and their ability to work together as a team—allows him to overcome the inequality of the world around him and succeed in the unlikeliest of situations.
Inequality, Elitism, and Corporate Power ThemeTracker
Inequality, Elitism, and Corporate Power Quotes in Ready Player One
My virtual surroundings looked almost (but not quite) real. Everything inside the OASIS was beautifully rendered in three dimensions. Unless you pulled focus and stopped to examine your surroundings more closely, it was easy to forget that everything you were seeing was computer-generated. And that was with my crappy school-issued OASIS console. I'd heard that if you accessed the simulation with a new state-of-the-art immersion rig, it was almost impossible to tell the OASIS from reality.
The moment IOI took it over, the OASIS would cease to be the open-source virtual utopia I'd grown up in. It would become a corporate-run dystopia, an overpriced theme park for wealthy elitists.
Morrow stayed on at GSS for five more years. Then, in the summer of 2022, he announced he was leaving the company. At the time, he claimed it was for "personal reasons." But years later, Morrow wrote in his autobiography that he'd left GSS because "we were no longer in the videogame business," and because he felt that the OASIS had evolved into something horrible. "It had become a self-imposed prison for humanity," he wrote. "A pleasant place for the world to hide from its problems while human civilization slowly collapses, primarily due to neglect."
Then I was led into a warm, brightly lit room filled with hundreds of other new indents. They were all shuffling through a maze of guide ropes, like weary overgrown children at some nightmarish amusement park. There seemed to be an equal number of men and women, but it was hard to tell, because nearly everyone shared my pale complexion and total lack of body hair and we all wore the same gray jumpsuits and gray plastic shoes.
In Marie’s opinion, the OASIS was the best thing that had ever happened to both women and people of color. From the very start, Marie had used a white male avatar to conduct all of her online business, because of the marked difference it made in how she was treated and the opportunities she was given.
Sorrento had tried to kill me. And in the process, he'd murdered my aunt, along with several of my neighbors, including sweet old Mrs. Gilmore, who had never hurt a soul. He'd also had Daito killed, and even though I'd never met him, Daito had been my friend.
And now Sorrento had just killed Shoto’s avatar, robbing him of his chance to enter the Third Gate. Sorrento didn't deserve his power or his position. What he deserved, I decided in that moment, was public humiliation and defeat. He deserved to have his ass kicked while the whole world watched.