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WARNING: Massive SPOILERS for Ready Player One are in play. If you want to avoid any further details of the film's OASIS quest, bookmark this page and come back later.
When James Halliday, the enigmatic creator of Ready Player One's OASIS, passed away, he left behind the Easter egg to end all Easter eggs -- control of his greatest achievement. But looking at the hunt for Halliday's egg, specifically the challenges that acted as gates to the final prize won by Wade Watts and the rest of the High Fivers, there was a lot more the man was leaving behind.
Perhaps the greatest prize left behind by James Halliday was a chain of moral challenges and lessons to test whoever would try to control the OASIS. What were those lessons? Well, you're about to find out. So if you really don't want to know what happened in Ready Player One, now's your last chance to log off before we head into the OASIS and piece together the film's ultimate puzzle.
The True Meaning Of The OASIS Challenge
Putting it all together, the entire OASIS challenge in Ready Player One is meant to show Halliday's regretful decisions in life, as well as impart his advice about running the OASIS. Ultimately, this serves two purposes: not only would this prepare the next generation of OASIS user to utilize the resource better than the current and past generations did, it groomed them to potentially run it better than he did thanks to lessons from the past. With no heir and a lonely lifestyle that was a by-product of his sole ownership of the OASIS, Halliday had one last chance to leave his lasting legacy in the right hands.
Seeing as Nolan Sorrento and IOI's plans for the platform were in line with the unwieldly and all-consuming entity that the OASIS had become, the Easter egg challenge allowed James to do something that he couldn't do himself. As his reclusive final act in life, he drafted this challenge as his legacy's redemption in the hands of future generations, creating a more responsible and friendly OASIS through three personal challenges.
The Copper Key Quest
To retrieve the Copper Key, OASIS participants in Ready Player One's film version are challenged to a street race around a trap-filled New York City. With obstacles like Rexy from Jurassic Park, King Kong and a bunch of surprises in the way, the Gunters and Sixers race through the city to the finish line, in hopes that someone can beat Kong and retrieve the prize. But James Halliday wasn't trying to teach the future heir to the OASIS how to beat a simple game.
Instead, he was imparting wisdom to the participants that would attempt winning his life's legacy, with the first lesson being that to run the OASIS, you can't be some "corporate asshole" who wanted to beat the system. If anything, Halliday felt that in order to really rule this digital land with the right mind, you need to think outside of the box and have fun with it. So in this challenge, as well as the rest, James' playful and creative nature was on display, requiring the victor to be clever enough to go backwards as fast as they could, with conviction they could navigate the way to victory.
The Jade Key Quest
While those who sought to win James Halliday's Easter egg were preoccupied with the game-playing aspect of his challenges, those who wrapped their head around the Copper Key's challenge found themselves inspired when it came to the quest for the Jade Key. With the riddle hinting to "take the leap not taken," and "a creator who hates his creation," this second step on the road to OASIS ownership in Ready Player One turned the contest into something darker than that jaunty race through New York. This time, it was a stroll through the most infamous adaptation of Stephen King's work, one so "bad" that the author himself hated it: Stanley Kubrick's The Shining.
In terms of taking the leap not taken, Halliday was expressing his regret for not pursuing Karen Underwood when he had the chance. The reason The Shining is the setting for this particular lesson is that it's the movie he and Karen watched on their only date, instead of going out dancing as she'd expressed she wanted to. As far as the clue mentioning "the creator who hates his creation," that works in a double-edged fashion, with both Kubrick and Halliday qualifying. In James's case, he learned to hate his own creation because it not only blew up into this huge, all-consuming entity that caused more pain than he'd ever meant, it also lead him to isolate himself from Karen, and even his former partner, Ogden Morrow. It only took one of Halliday's favorite movies, dancing zombies inspired by his first game and the fulfillment of his greatest regret to teach the lesson that you can't run this business and forget the people around you. Otherwise, you'll leave everyone behind.
The Crystal Key Quest
In the final showdown of Ready Player One's Crystal Key stage, there are two prongs of attack that the Gunters have to fight through: the challenge of a lonely Atari 2600 in the icy fortress of Castle Anorak, and the battle through Nolan Sorrento and his Sixers that are hell bent on preventing anyone from getting to the end. Obviously, in fitting with the rest of the film's messages, it's the lesson learned at the hands of an ancient gaming console that drives home one of its biggest messages: sometimes you need to play for the Hell of it, and do so out of pride and fun rather than personal gain.
The last key isn't won by beating the Atari game Adventure, but rather by winning the Easter egg in the center of the game. So rather than just winning the game by playing by the rules, and forgetting the finer details, the player was supposed to search for the greatest sense of pride that Warren Robinett left within his game's code: his hidden creator's credit. James Halliday is trying to tell everyone that the OASIS egg hunt is not only the quest to win control, it's Halliday's pride in his invention. Not only that, it's ultimately a tribute to his '80s fandom, and a lesson meant to teach the player to not only keep their eyes on the prize, but also to not forget how the prize was won.
The Final Puzzle
After collecting all three of Ready Player One's keys and opening the vault of Castle Anorak, Wade is greeted by Anorak The Wise yet again. This time, he's given a pen and a hearty smile, assuring him that once he signs the contract in front of him, everything is his. However, in a Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade meets Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory moment, Wade chooses wisely and pushes aside the contract to own the OASIS. Satisfied that his digitally-selected heir is the right person, Anorak morphs back into James Halliday, and we go backwards, full speed, to a digital flashback to his childhood - back when it was about fun and games, and before it became rules and business. It's here that all the previous lessons are tied together, with one ultimate reveal.
With young Wade questioning just who was running this game anyway, we see that it's an A.I. construct of Halliday's digital consciousness. Somehow fully intelligent, and in a sense the greatest gift James could leave behind, it ran the game to see who truly deserved to run the OASIS, and eventually got its wish. Seeing as Wade splits control with the rest of his clan, with their implementation of two days downtime to allow everyone to reconnect with reality, the virtual world is in good hands, and can begin to take a form more similar to that of what James Halliday had initially intended.
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