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Ready Player One | Symbols

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The Sixers

The Sixers, mercenary gunters working in collaboration with each other and with the megacorporation IOI, symbolize manipulation and greed as well as corporate advantage. As such, they are the most significant threat to the independent gunters' success. Their strategy involves piggybacking on the independent gunters' success and then shutting out other independent gunters from locations that contain keys and gates. When the Sixers locate the Tomb of Horrors in Chapter 15, they enact a "force field ... to keep everyone else out." Similarly they install an impenetrable, spherical shield around Castle Anorak in Chapter 27. They use the Tablet of Finding in Chapter 21 to track Art3mis's location when she discovers the Jade Key. Multiple IOI employees control each Sixer avatar, which provides a significant advantage because at a difficult moment in a quest, a more skilled employee can take control of the avatar and succeed. Additionally they have unlimited financial resources provided by IOI to back them in the quest.

Even with all these advantages, the Sixers fight dirty by committing violence against independent gunters in the real world with an attempted assassination against Wade and a successful one against Daito. It is these tactics that lead Daito to remark in Chapter 15 that "the Sixers have no honor." Aech calls them "cheating bastards." The motivation behind these tactics is not to use the prize money for good, as Art3mis wishes to, or to use it to escape a difficult life, as Wade desires, but rather to turn the OASIS into a moneymaker for IOI. Despite the Sixers' profound advantages, the scrappy, self-made Wade wins the quest. Corporate greed is a powerful force, but it can be overcome with persistence and dedication by passionate individuals.

Avatars

Avatars, the characters created by users of the OASIS to represent themselves inside the simulation, symbolize both personal transformation and escape. Avatars allow a weak person to experience power. In real life, Wade Watts is "just another sad, lost, lonely soul." As his avatar Parzival, Wade receives the privilege, respect, and attention that accompany his success in the quest: "People admired and looked up to me. I got invited to the most exclusive parties." Wade achieves true success, however, when the confidence that he feels as Parzival becomes his own at the end of the book.

Avatars also allow people to escape qualities they dislike about themselves by replacing them with more desirable or advantageous qualities. With an avatar, "the fat could become thin, the ugly could become beautiful, and the shy, extroverted." Art3mis, who in real life has a prominent facial birthmark of which she is ashamed, excludes this feature from her avatar's appearance. In Chapter 18 she tells Parzival, "If I ever let you see me in person, you would be repulsed." Like a mask, Art3mis's birthmark-free avatar bolsters her confidence, yet the discrepancy between who she really is and who she pretends to be keeps her from getting too close to Parzival: "You don't even know me ... You only see what I want you to see," she says before breaking off their relationship on the grounds that their connection is an illusion based on a deception. Having an avatar can be a deeply transformational experience or it can be a way of escaping real-life personal challenges such as self-acceptance. It can also allow people to avoid forming genuine and deep relationships with other people by interacting only inside the OASIS with other avatars.

Early Video Games

Early video games figure prominently in the text as symbols of Halliday's nostalgia for his youth and his desire to escape a painful and complicated life. The planet Archaide is described as a nostalgic place, existing as a tribute to early video games and containing "thousands of classic video arcades, each one a loving re-creation of an actual arcade." Like Halliday, Wade finds escape in playing early video games, stating in Chapter 1, "There, inside the game's two-dimensional universe, life was simple: It's just you against the machine."

Wade's strategy to prepare for the quest involves mastery of the early video games best loved by Halliday, which is smart because Halliday designs the quest largely around early video games. To possess the Copper Key, a gunter must defeat an undead creature at Joust (1982), and clearing the First Gate requires beating the game Dungeons of Daggorath (1982). When Wade stumbles upon a vintage Pac-Man machine in Chapter 22, he defeats the game and is rewarded with a quarter that provides his avatar with an extra life. The Jade Key is awarded to gunters who beat an immersive simulation of the 1980 game Zork. Clearing the Second Gate requires a gunter to beat an immersive simulation of the 1987 game Black Tiger, and clearing the Third Gate requires beating Halliday's score at Tempest (1981). In the text, early video games convey the idea that nostalgia itself can be a form of escapism.

Quarters

Quarters symbolize accessibility and the power that comes with it. In the early days of the form, many video games were coin-operated. Halliday's actions repeatedly reference the idea that great things can be bought for only a quarter. In Chapter 5 Wade Watts excitedly notes, "GSS only charged a onetime sign-up fee of twenty-five cents." Later he mentions that at one point in Anorak's Invitation, Halliday appears inside a casket with quarters over his eyelids—quarters minted in 1984. Here quarters symbolize the power Halliday retains even from beyond the grave, encapsulated in his contest for control of his company and fortune, a contest in which much of humanity feels compelled to participate.

In Chapter 8 Wade is able to play Joust against the undead creature Acererak because Acererak provides the necessary quarters. Wade is impoverished in real life and in the OASIS, lacking even this small amount of money. Halliday incorporates the game Black Tiger into the quest, a game he loved as a child because, as he writes in Anorak's Almanac, "for one quarter, Black Tiger lets me escape from my rotten existence for three glorious hours." When Wade plays Pac-Man on Archaide in Chapter 22, he notices a quarter glued to the top of the machine. The quarter won't budge until he attains a perfect score, at which point it falls off the machine and enters Wade's personal inventory. Although he has no idea what the quarter is for, he suspects it's important. Indeed it is; in Chapter 36, while attempting to access the Third Gate, Wade learns the quarter has given him an extra life. When the Cataclyst explodes, Wade is killed and then instantly reborn, unlike Art3mis and Aech. Because of this quarter, Wade has the power to clear the gate and win the quest. In the novel a quarter denotes that accessibility and power shouldn't be confined to those who have massive resources, such as IOI and the Sixers. This small denomination serves as an equalizer. Anyone can play as long as they have a quarter—and, Cline seems to be saying, this is how it should be.

The Stacks

In Chapter 1 Wade explains that the stacks are "strange hybrids of shantytowns, squatter settlements, and refugee camps." These structures consist of trailers, mobile homes, and RVs literally stacked dozens high. For Wade the stacks symbolize the trap of poverty and the inability to progress in life. Wade, whose parents were economic refugees who died untimely deaths, has grown up in the stacks outside Oklahoma City. People live there because they have no other option, and the large number of abandoned vehicles around the stacks is a result of the prohibitively high cost of fuel. Life in the stacks is inherently dangerous and stressful since "collapses weren't that uncommon" and the communities are full of "dangerous and desperate people ... who would rob you, rape you, and then sell your organs on the black market."

Wade hates the stacks and sees the quest as his only chance to escape his life of poverty and despair. He escapes the stacks using money he makes from endorsements and rents an apartment in Columbus, Ohio. He says in Chapter 16 that he "walked out of the stacks for the last time. I didn't look back." It is only by his own ingenuity that Wade escapes the stacks and the poverty that held him there. His new home affords him the privacy he needs to concentrate on winning the quest. Through the symbol of the stacks, Cline seems to be commenting on the ways poverty can bring out the worst in people—or the best, when someone like Wade is determined to overcome it.

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