The heroes of the novel—Wade, Art3mis, Aech, Morrow, and Halliday—are all united by the fact that they are nerds and underdogs whose power lies in their shared obsessions. None of them possess the typical attributes of a hero. They lack physical strength, and Wade, Art3mis, and Aech in particular are described as overweight. In the real world, the characters—particularly Wade and Halliday—lack charisma, and find interacting with other people uncomfortable and anxiety-inducing. However, the strength they do possess lies in their intelligence and their mutual obsessions with video games, computing, trivia, and the 1980s. In the end, it is Wade’s mastery of Halliday and OASIS trivia that allows him to emerge as a serious gunter (Easter egg-hunter) and eventually win the hunt.
There are many parallels between Wade and Halliday’s trajectories in the novel; in both cases, nerds go from being powerless, victimized underdogs to powerful, admired figures. Halliday was a shy, awkward child whose father was an alcoholic and whose parents fought constantly. Wade is also shy, and he must deal with the even more extreme issue of being an impoverished orphan in the midst of an apocalyptic, dystopian world.
Whereas Wade’s difficulties are slightly more circumstantial—they are the product of his environment more than his personal characteristics—many of Halliday’s struggles stem from the fact that he is autistic. People with autism can find certain aspects of human socialization difficult, a fact emphasized by Halliday’s difficulty existing in the real world. However, as the novel shows, people with autism do not necessarily have something wrong with them; instead, they just interact with the world in a different way, which can also have benefits, such as Halliday’s intelligence and creativity. While Halliday may have trouble existing in the real world, he is able to build another world in which he thrives—one far more suited to nerds, underdogs, and obsessives like himself.
Wade, Halliday, Aech, and others use their obsessions as a means of escape from their dire circumstances, but also to transform the world around them. Halliday becomes obsessed with computer programming, video games, and pop culture, and Wade follows suit, spending his entire time in the OASIS increasing his knowledge about Halliday and Halliday’s interests. Ultimately, these obsessions do not only allow Halliday and Wade to forget about their difficult lives. They actually become the means through which they gain real wealth, power, and respect.
Furthermore, the novel implies that nerds and underdogs have a stronger moral compass than those who were born into privilege or natural confidence. When Wade finds the egg, Halliday asks him to use his new wealth and power for good. Although Wade had originally planned to use the money to build a spaceship on which he and his friends could escape Earth and find another habitable planet, he ultimately decides to take Halliday and Art3mis’ advice and use it to help feed the needy and make Earth a better place. Wade’s experience as an underdog leads him to want to help other disadvantaged people with his newfound money and power.
Nerds, Underdogs, and Obsession ThemeTracker
Nerds, Underdogs, and Obsession Quotes in Ready Player One
Luckily, I had access to the OASIS, which was like having an escape hatch into a better reality. The OASIS kept me sane. It was my playground and my preschool, a magical place where anything was possible.
The more I'd learned about Halliday's life, the more I'd grown to idolize him. He was a god among geeks, a nerd über-deity on the level of Gygax, Garriott, and Gates. He'd left home after high school with nothing but his wits and his imagination, and he'd used them to attain worldwide fame and amass a vast fortune. He'd created an entirely new reality that now provided an escape for most of humanity. And to top it all off, he'd turned his last will and testament into the greatest videogame contest of all time.
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."
There was no furniture in the cube-shaped room, and only one window. I stepped inside, closed the door, and locked it behind me. Then I made a silent vow not to go outside again until I had completed my quest. I would abandon the real world altogether until I found the egg.
Parzival: I've had a crush on you since before we even met. From reading your blog and watching your POV. I've been cyber-stalking you for years.
Art3mis: But you still don't really know anything about me. Or my real personality.
Parzival: This is the OASIS. We exist as nothing but raw personality in here.
Art3mis: I beg to differ. Everything about our online personas is filtered through our avatars, which allows us to control how we look and sound to others. The OASIS lets you be whoever you want to be. That’s why everyone is addicted to it.
"You don't live in the real world, Z. From what you've told me, I don't think you ever have. You're like me. You live inside this illusion." She motioned to our virtual surroundings. "You can’t possibly know what real love is."
Standing there, under the bleak fluorescents of my tiny one-room apartment, there was no escaping the truth. In real life, I was nothing but an antisocial hermit. A recluse. A pale-skinned pop culture-obsessed geek. An agoraphobic shut-in, with no real friends, family, or genuine human contact. I was just another sad, lost, lonely soul, wasting his life on a glorified videogame.
But not in the OASIS. In there, I was the great Parzival. World-famous gunter and international celebrity. People asked for my autograph. I had a fan club. Several, actually. I was recognized everywhere I went (but only when I wanted to be). I was paid to endorse products. People admired and looked up to me. I got invited to the most exclusive parties. I went to all the hippest clubs and never had to wait in line. I was a pop-culture icon, a VR rock star. And, in gunter circles, I was a legend. Nay, a god.
When you owned your own world, you could build whatever you wanted there. And no one could visit it unless I granted them access, something I never gave to anyone. My stronghold was my home inside the OASIS. My avatar's sanctuary. It was the one place in the entire simulation where I was truly safe.
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.
"Listen," he said, adopting a confidential tone. "I need to tell you one last thing before I go. Something I didn't figure out for myself until it was already
too late." He led me over to the window and motioned out at the landscape stretching out beyond it." I created the OASIS because I never felt at home in the real world. I didn't know how to connect with the people there. I was afraid, for all of my life. Right up until I knew it was ending. That was when I realized, as terrifying and painful as reality can be, it’s also the only place where you can find true happiness. Because reality is real. Do you understand?"