Ready Player One is in some ways a story of individual achievement and success, yet it also highlights the importance of alliances, teamwork, and community. Throughout the novel, Wade and the other characters struggle to reconcile their impulses to act alone with their desire to connect with others. At the beginning of the story, Wade only has one friend, Aech, and no family members; he is essentially a loner. To some extent, his inclination to act alone is encouraged by the design of Halliday’s Easter egg hunt. Although the OASIS is a massive multi-user game with many opportunities for connection and community-building, the hunt itself can have only one winner and seems therefore to encourage acting alone. The novel suggests that striking a balance between acting alone and maintaining connections with others is sometimes difficult. However, it suggests that individual self-expression, independence, and achievement—while important—are ultimately meaningless without a connection to others.
Wade is not the only character who isolates himself from others. When Aech proposes an alliance between the top gunters, Art3mis, Shoto, and Daito refuse, pointing out that the hunt can have only one winner. Later on, Art3mis freaks out when Wade confesses his love for her and stops speaking to him on the basis that their relationship has led both of them to become distracted and neglect the hunt. While she ultimately reverses her position and apologizes for disappearing, her insistence that she and Wade stop speaking to one another proves prudent. Wade’s relationship with Art3mis does indeed hinder his ability to succeed at the hunt. This suggests that, while friendship, romance, and other forms of collective connection are valuable, sometimes isolating oneself is also important.
The most significant example of individual triumph over the collective emerges in Wade’s period of IOI indenturement. While in the IOI prison, Wade is stripped of his individuality; he is made to wear a uniform and live with other IOI indentured workers, and is given a mundane job in which there is no room for individual expression. This part of the novel highlights the negative side of “collective” existence, wherein individual freedom is subsumed under oppressive, authoritarian power.
Despite illuminating certain downsides of collective existence, the novel ultimately suggests that individual achievement is always enabled by a collective on some level and only becomes meaningful when shared with others. Although Wade wins the hunt, it is strongly implied that he would not have been able to do so on his own. Only with the help of his friends at different stages of the hunt is he able to make it to the final stage and locate the egg. Acknowledging this, Wade announces that he will split the money equally with his friends and will use his part of the wealth to feed the masses. Thus, while the novel is a story of individual triumph, it also emphasizes the codependence of the individual and the collective.
The Individual vs. the Collective ThemeTracker
The Individual vs. the Collective Quotes in Ready Player One
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.
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.
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.
"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?"