WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for the Ready Player One novel and, potentially, for the upcoming film adaptation.
Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One officially releases this weekend, meaning audiences will finally discover if the legendary movie maestro was able to pull off the adaptation many deemed impossible. But first, let's uncover everything you need to know before experiencing the pop-culture extravaganza!
The Not-Too-Distant Future
Before diving deep into the major players that populate Ernest Cline's hit novel, it's important to fully understand the story's nearly post-apocalyptic setting.
Ready Player One begins in the year 2044 (2045 in Spielberg's film adaptation), and it's not a future that one would find particularly inviting. The depletion of fossil fuels has generated a worldwide energy crisis, leaving the global economy in a state referred to as "The Great Recession." Global warming and rampant overpopulation have rendered the planet devoid of almost all resources, so citizens understandably become desperate for an escape route away from their dreary existences.
Then, with a little help from two technological pioneers, they discover a world packed with so much imagination that even Willy Wonka himself would perform a double take.
Enter the OASIS
During events that pre-date the novel, video game developers James Halliday (Mark Rylance) and Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg) spent a decade and an astronomical amount of money to transform virtual reality gaming into a resource just as intertwined throughout society as the Internet is today. Dubbed the OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation), their product worked as both a virtual Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game and always-online society where just about anything is possible. People could not only use it for recreational purposes (like piloting Ultraman, for instance), but eventually even logged in to the OASIS via a VR headset and haptic feedback system to work jobs or attend schooling.
Halliday and Morrow were crafty enough to make the one-time cost of the device cheap enough (the equivalent of a U.S. quarter) so basically anyone could partake. Contained within, however, in-game purchases and virtual fuel required to move around the OASIS' 10 light-hour wide environment cost credits that translated into real-world currency. As a result, Halliday and Morrow quickly made back all the revenue they dropped into the program's development cycle, and became two of the wealthiest men in the world once use of the OASIS became omnipresent.
But after several years, Morrow realized that the two had created an escape that was too perfect, as people the world over quickly forgot about their real-life problems to a dangerous degree. Fearing that he had helped society fall further into disarray, Morrow left the company, and Halliday, behind. Halliday took over sole ownership of the OASIS, and maintained it until his death.
The typically reserved creator did not depart quietly, however, as it was his last will and testament that sets the narrative of Ready Player One in motion.