We all remember how it felt watching Charlie open that chocolate bar and exclaim, “I’ve got a golden ticket!” Charlie was the underdog. He had no rich father with a factory full of workers (slaves) tearing away at chocolate bars non-stop. He wasn’t spoiled or TV obsessed or gluttonous. He was this poor child with a pure desire. And by the time we watched him enter that Wonka-vator and blast away into the sky, our imaginations were tickled, our hopes restored, and our desire for chocolate and every kind of sweet on the planet increased by ten million. Plus, we wanted to be Charlie.
This week another official Ready Player One trailer came out. And if you’ve read the book, you might be wondering what Willy Wonka has to do with Ready Player One. Or maybe you know where we’re going with this. But either way, it’s time to take a journey into a virtual world made of imagination and wonder.
1. The Poor Underdog Receives a Challenge
We really don’t see much of Charlie’s quest for the Golden Ticket. What we know is that his grandfather is generous enough to give him some money for a chocolate bar and that his grandparents all sleep in the same bed (don’t remember that? Maybe you need to re-watch the movie.) But there is a challenge given to everyone who loves chocolate. Find the golden ticket, and you get to visit Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. What’s so special about the factory? Nobody gets in or out except Wonka and his special troop of workers from a foreign land.
The chances that a poor child in London could find a one in a million ticket are low. And yet because of his earnest luck and determination, Charlie gets the ticket and receives (quite unknowingly) a challenge. Make it through the factory without breaking the rules and return the everlasting gobstopper and the factory is yours. Our hero in Ready Player One, Wade, is similarly poor although he has no set of grandparents living in his house. His quest isn’t to find a golden ticket. Instead, he is to find and open the first gate in a virtual world.
RPO’s Willy Wonka is the creator of a pervasively used and useful virtual world called the OASIS. And at the outset of the book/film, James Halliday supposedly dies and leaves behind a challenge or a quest. Simply solve all of his 80’s riddles, find the final hidden easter egg, and both the OASIS and Halliday’s massive fortune will be yours. While Wade’s quest is immediately apparent, Charlie’s is not. And yet both embark on adventures and seek a similar prize.
2. The Temptation to Sell Out
Once Charlie finds the golden ticket, he’s immediately met with temptation. A creeper in a bowler hat who looks like he needs to learn how to fix a receding hairline approaches him in some back alley. While most kids would have run like hell, Charlie listens to the man spin a yarn about being Wonka’s competitor. He desperately needs an “in” and would pay handsome money if Charlie could steal an Everlasting Gobstopper from Wonka’s factory.
Of course, Wonka lets the kids try the Everlasting Gobstopper on their tour and we later find out that the man with the receding hairline is none other than Wonka’s faithful assistant. As we all know, Charlie passes the test in the end and gets to ride the Wonka-vator in glory. Wade faces a similar temptation in Ready Player One. In the RPO Universe, a stereotypical giant evil corporation exists. And their sole aim is to own the virtual world. And to do this, they have to win the contest like everyone else.
The only difference is, they have all the resources in the world. Underdogs like Wade don’t have very high real-world chances at beating them to the prize. But they, like the meta-fictional receding hairline man in Wonka, must fulfil their evil corp role and attempt a shortcut. Offering Wade $5 million dollars to give up the secret to the first lock. Like Charlie, Wade eschews temptation and $5 million dollars in favor of the prize ahead. Only this time 101 is a real corporation and Wade still has a long ways to go before claiming his prize.
3. The Final Twist
Charlie discovers after giving up the Gobstopper that the receding hairline man is Wonka’s assistant and that the real prize isn’t just a lifetime of chocolate but the whole shebang of a chocolate factory. Wade certainly knows that his prize will be the whole virtual world and the anticipation throughout the novel is palpable. But there is one twist SPOILER ALERT at the end of Ready Player One. We may never meet Halliday, God rest his weary soul, but we do meet his partner Ogden Morrow. In the Oasis, his name is the Great and Powerful Og and he reveals himself to be the co-founder of the Oasis in the end and helps Wade and his friends complete the challenge. He owns a massive property in Northeast Oregon and gives Wade and his friends access to some high tech gear. In the end, both Charlie and Wade become the gamemaster.