The Earth on which Ready Player One is set is dystopian, meaning that it is an imagined world in which everything has degraded to a terrible, oppressive state of existence. In contrast, the OASIS at times resembles a utopia, a fact that is even reflected in the game’s name. An oasis is a place in a desert containing water and fertile plant growth; similarly, the OASIS is a haven of hope, possibility, and joy in the midst of an increasingly desolate landscape. Yet the novel complicates any simple understanding of the binary between utopia and dystopia and how these might be applied to the OASIS versus planet Earth. While at times the OASIS and the real world seem easily distinguishable as a utopia vs. dystopia, both places are ultimately shown to have utopian and dystopian elements. This in turn suggests that there might not be such a thing as a “true” utopia or dystopia—in reality, things are much more complicated.
It is true that there are many elements of the OASIS that could be considered utopian. Some of these emerge in Wade’s description of his OASIS school in contrast to the school he previously attended in the real world. Whereas his “real” school was chaotic and underfunded, in Wade’s OASIS school resources are essentially unlimited. The fact that it occurs within a simulation means that the class can take extravagant “school trips” to other geographical locations and even other periods in time. Meanwhile, the teachers do not have to worry about bad behavior because the game automatically prevents students’ avatars from behaving badly in class. Of course, while this enhances learning, it also limits students’ freedom to a significant degree. The OASIS might thus be seen as a utopia with some dystopian elements.
Earth, meanwhile, has been stripped of much of what previously made it a pleasant place to live. It is decidedly dystopian insofar as it is plagued by inequality, poverty, famine, war, unchecked corporate power, and an ongoing energy crisis. At the same time, much of the OASIS—and certainly the Easter egg hunt—is built around nostalgia for Earth’s pop culture. The 1980s becomes a kind of utopia within the novel, a nostalgic reminder of what Earth was once like.
Furthermore, Halliday’s advice that true happiness can only be found in reality further undermines the view that the OASIS is a utopia and the real world a dystopia. Traditionally, utopias are places in which every citizen is happy. If true happiness cannot be found inside the OASIS, then the game cannot possibly be a utopia. Likewise, the fact that true happiness can only be found in reality suggests that Earth has not yet fully degraded into a dystopia; there is still hope that things might get better.
The word “utopia” comes from Ancient Greek; it means both “good place” and “no place.” This pun is central to what utopia is understood to be, and it is particularly relevant when it comes to the OASIS. Although the OASIS is a place with many utopian elements, it is also “no place”—it doesn’t really exist. The novel thus suggests that attempting to live in a utopia is ultimately a misguided aim. A perfect place cannot exist, and even if it did, it would not make everyone happy. Happiness can only be found in the real world—as dystopian as that world might be.
Utopia vs. Dystopia ThemeTracker
Utopia vs. Dystopia Quotes in Ready Player One
Playing old videogames never failed to clear my mind and set me at ease. If I was feeling depressed or frustrated about my lot in life, all I had to do was tap the Player One button, and my worries would instantly slip away as my mind focused itself on the relentless pixelated onslaught on the screen in front of me. There, inside the game's two-dimensional universe, life was simple: It’s
just you against the machine. Move with your left hand, shoot with your right, and try to stay alive as long as possible.
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 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.
I quickly lost track of time. I forgot that my avatar was sitting in Halliday's bedroom and that, in reality, I was sitting in my hideout, huddled near the electric heater, tapping at the empty air in front of me, entering commands on an imaginary keyboard. All of the intervening layers slipped away, and I lost myself in the game within the game.
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.
I cleared my throat and recited my pass phrase. Each word appeared on my display as I said it. "No one in the world ever gets what they want and that is beautiful."
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.
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.
"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?"