A river of words flowed between us.
Wade Owen Watts (born August 12, in the year 2027 (in the digital book) and (in the movie) or 2026 (in the paper book)) is the protagonist and narrator of Ernest Cline's novel, Ready Player One. He is a poor orphan from the Stacks surrounding metropolitan Oklahoma City. Wade names his OASIS character Parzival after Percival, the Arthurian knight famous for his quest for the Holy Grail, and dedicates his life to finding James Halliday's Easter egg. He is married to Samantha Evelyn Cook, also known as Art3mis. He had an aunt named Alice, who was dating a man named Richard, before the bomb went off in the stacks.
Wade is described as nerdy, shy, awkward, overweight, and average looking. It's known he loses weight later on in the novel by forcing himself to exercise in order to use the OASIS.
His appearance is similar to Danté with the exception of a gold ThunderCats belt buckle. He made his avatar more muscular and thinner than his real self. He only wears some jeans and a T-shirt at the beginning, but later levels up and gets more outfits.
Wade was born to a teenage couple, two refugees who met in the stacks. His father, who goes unnamed, was shot to death when Wade was only a few months of age. He was allegedly shot and killed while looting a grocery store during a power outage.
His mother, Loretta, held two full-time positions within the OASIS. She worked as a telemarketer by day, and as a virtual escort by night. It is explained by Wade, that Loretta used the OASIS to babysit him during these work hours; he would play interactive games and learn fundamental skills within the virtual world, beginning his infatuation with technology at a young age.
When Wade was around 11 years old, Loretta died due to her drug addiction and committed suicide. She "shot a bad batch of something into her arm," and Wade found her, listening to music on an MP3 player he had repaired and gifted to her the prior Christmas. After her death, he was forced to live with his aunt Alice and her often abusive boyfriends, including others who rented rooms in his aunt's double-wide trailer. Wade's aunt didn't actually take care of him; the only reason she agreed to take him in was to receive additional food vouchers. She would often take stuff from him and sell it so that they would have enough money to pay the rent. He spent very little time in her trailer, only sleeping and eating there when he had to. Most of Wade's waking hours were spent in his secret hideout.
Wade attended school in the real world for a few years and then volunteered to go to school in the OASIS, This was when he first had access to the OASIS since he was issued a school supplied visor, haptic suit and gloves. However, he didn't have enough money to do anything else.
Wade was often bullied by the richer students at the school since he only wore jeans and a tee shirt, the default options for clothing and this signified that he was poorer than the other students. However, since it was a no PvP zone, he was safe from any injuries.
Wade often slacked off during school, he even found a way to hack the system so that he could read the clues for the hunt. Yet he still earned enough credits to graduate.
After Wade completed Halliday's Hunt, he became one of the richest people in the world and also gained the abilities of Anorak in the OASIS world (including unlimited hit points and cyberpotence). He also became Art3mis's boyfriend.
- Main article: Halliday's Easter Egg Hunt
After the announcement of James Halliday's Easter Egg Hunt, Wade is one of millions of people all over the world who eschew "normal" life to become full-time gunters (short for "Egg Hunters"), OASIS users who are obsessed with learning everything about James Halliday and his history to discover the easter egg and earn his fortune. The Egg Hunt consists of locating three keys placed in different places throughout the many worlds of the OASIS to unlock three matching gates. After locating all three keys and gates, one must be tested for their worthiness of Halliday's fortune. Only then will one reach The End, where their prize awaits.
As indicated by Anorak's Almanac, knowledge of 1980's pop culture was critical to locating the keys scattered throughout the OASIS. Wade, among many others, immersed himself in countless television shows, video games, science fiction novels, comic books, and more. Over the years, Wade amassed a mental and digital collection of thousands of items relevant to the Egg Hunt. This included digital versions of coin-operated video games such as Galaga, Defender, Asteroids, Robotron: 2084, sitcoms like Family Ties, comics including complete editions of The Amazing Spider-Man, The X-Men, Green Lantern, and much more.
Over the course of five years, Wade and millions of other OASIS users comb countless worlds of the OASIS simulation for any lead to where the Copper Key might be. Their only leads were the original poem given in the Almanac, and The Limerick discerned from marked entries in the Almanac.
During the course of the Halliday's Easter Egg Hunt, IOI attempted a blackmail and assassinate Wade by planting explosives in his aunt's stack in a way that made it appear as if a drug lab had exploded in a huge accident. However, Wade was not killed because he was in his hideout at the time. In an attempt to stay hidden from IOI, Wade Watts assumed the alias of Bryce Lynch, a 22-year-old male with an immaculate credit rating and a bachelor's degree in Computer Science. He was able to do this via connections he made with hackers on the OASIS. He also assumes a position at a tech help desk to help pay the bills and fund his research.
After facing the problem of the Orb of Osuvox near the end of the story, Wade decides to infiltrate IOI as an indentured servant. By modifying his aliases financial status to being indebted to IOI for tens of thousand dollars, Wade successfully manipulates IOI into abducting and forcing him to work off his debt. He is given a help-desk position much like his old job, but without the freedoms of being able to watch movies or do anything else on the job. Using tools he acquired from hackers he had contacted when creating his alias, he was able to hack the IOI database and download nearly ten zettabytes of information relevant to The Hunt onto a flash drive. He also requisitioned a figurative time bomb to be delivered and detonated inside the shield at a later date in order to take it down. Once he had successfully done this, he zeroed his account (wiping out his debt) and disabled the locking mechanisms on his earcam and security anklet, allowing him to slip past IOI security guards. Once he escaped, he resumed his original identity as Wade Owen Watts and removed all records of existence for Bryce Lynch.
- His father named him Wade because he thought “Wade Watts” sounded like a secret identity like Peter Parker or Bruce Banner, but more likely to be Deadpool, whose non-superhero name is Wade Wilson.
- Wade3 is the name given to Wade's avatar whenever he is at OPS #1873 on Ludus. The avatar continues to look the same.
Wade is quick-witted and passionate, his dedication to being a gunter by finding the egg fuels his desire to win. He is extremely knowledgeable in 1980s video games and spent a lot of time in hiding from his aunt to practice as much video games listed in Anorak's Almanac as possible. His determination is essential for his success in the contest.
In the film, Parzival has grayish skin with blue tattoos. His hair look, as chosen at the start of the movie is windswept with wind originally blowing his hair constantly until Art3mis stopped that effect. His hair itself is a white with blue streaks throughout. This remains his chosen hair look for the movie, even switching back after testing out a punk style in preparation for his date at the Distracted Globe with Art3mis. For the date, Parzival changed into the suit of his favorite character from Buckaroo Bonsai, but his general clothing is a pair of jeans and a T-shirt with a vest over it that has a golden sword on the back. Parzival wears a belt that has a gun holster on the right side, but the holster is empty. The only time Parzival is seen carrying a gun in the holster is during the final battle on Planet Doom.
After the detonation of the Cataclyst and the restoration of Parzival through the 1981 Quarter, Parzival's appearance is reduced to a simple T-shirt and jeans due to Parzival losing his character progression and with it, all of the weapons and items he had acquired. He retains the windswept hair however.
Wade Watts is an orphaned teenager living in the slums, or ‘stacks’, of Columbus, Ohio, with his Aunt Alice. In the OASIS, his avatar, Parzival, is best friends with Aech, a virtual mechanic. One day, Parzival befriends Art3mis, a well-known Gunter, sharing a common interest in Halliday's history. They review Halliday's life from the Archives, an online library of Halliday's life that came online upon the start of the games, with help from its Curator. They learn Halliday had several regrets in life, including his unrequited love for Morrow’s wife Kira and losing Morrow as a friend after forcing him to sign away his part of Gregarious Games. Using this information, they solve the first two challenges of Anorak's game: a car race across an ever-shifting Manhattan cityscape and a search for Kira in the Overlook Hotel from The Shining. Aech and two other friends, Daito and Sho, soon follow suit, the group becoming known as the "High Five" on the OASIS scoreboards.
Sorrento learns of Parzival's real-life identity through OASIS mercenary i-R0k, and attempts to sway Wade into joining IOI, but he refuses. In retaliation, Sorrento has IOI's head of operations F'Nale Zandor bomb Wade's stack, killing Alice. Art3mis' player, Samantha Cook, rescues Wade, but they are soon found by IOI. Samantha is captured and remanded to one of IOI's Loyalty Centers to work off the debt IOI acquired, while Wade is extracted by the other High Five – Helen (Aech), Toshiro (Daito), and Zhou (Sho). The group tracks down Samantha's location at IOI and they remotely help her escape, allowing her to assist them in the OASIS as Art3mis.
The third challenge requires one to play Halliday's favorite Atari 2600 game, in a castle on Planet Doom, which Sorrento has protected with a force field. Parzival recruits other OASIS players to help the rebels attack the IOI forces around the castle. Art3mis deactivates the force field, allowing Parzival to reach the console, but Sorrento activates the Cataclyst, a bomb that kills all the avatars on Planet Doom. However, due to having won a coin from the Archive's Curator earlier, Parzival gets an extra life, proceeding to play through Adventure to find its Easter egg; he is awarded the last key. He opens the gate and is greeted by Anorak and given a contract to sign; however, he recognizes it as the same contract Morrow signed to turn over his part of Gregarious and refuses. Anorak changes form, becomes Halliday, and reveals that the contract was the final test to make sure Parzival would not make the same mistakes he did. Parzival is given the Golden Egg and control of OASIS.
In the real world, Sorrento and Zandor fail to stop Parzival before he wins. They are quickly arrested for the bombing. Morrow, revealed to have been the Curator, offers his services to Wade. He gladly accepts. Wade decides to run OASIS with the other High Five, agreeing to ban IOI's Loyalty Centers from forcing people into servitude resulting in them being shut down and to shut down the OASIS twice a week for everyone to spend more time in the real world. Meanwhile, he and Samantha move into an apartment together.
- During the fight in the Distracted Globe, Parzival initially wields a colonial revolver from Battlestar Galactica.
Behind the Scenes
"Wade and Parzival are two very different people," says actor Tye Sheridan. "Parzival is everything that Wade is not in the real world, and so, when we meet Wade, he is kind of this skittish guy who's quite introverted and closed off. The OASIS is where he expresses himself." Sheridan describes that while rehearsing motion capture footage, Spielberg instructed him on how Parzival walked with a swagger that Wade did not have. To aid him in achieving Parzival's swagger, Spielberg used the film Saturday Night Fever as an example and began playing "Staying Alive" to give Sheridan the beat to walk to.
According to production designer Adam Stockhausen, Parzival's look drew heavily from Wade's obsession with every facet of 1980s pop culture, with a nod to the myth that inspired the avatar's name. "It has roots in anime heroes, it has roots in '80s rock stars. When you look at the hairstyle and you look back at '80s rock 'n' roll hairstyles, you see where that comes from. He's got this sword on his back, which was sort of the idea of how do you make an '80s pop-culture knight--does he wear a whole suit of armor all the time? Or does a jean jacket with a skull and sword become his suit of armor?"
For Parzival's footwear, the design team looked back to Earnest Cline's original text and found inspiration from Art3mis' Black Chuck Taylor All-Stars sneakers that Parzival uses at the end of the book.
In regards to the dynamic between Wade and Samantha in the film, Spielberg had Sheridan and Olivia Cooke watch "His Girl Friday"; with specific instruction to focus on the dialogues and interactions between the characters Hildy Johnson and Walter Burns.
Differences from Novel
- In the early scenes in the movie, Wade wears a pair of glasses. The glasses disappear partway through the movie with no explanation at all. They are last seen before Wade visits Halliday's Journals a second time.
- In the movie, Wade's avatar is referred to as Parzival and Z as a nickname. The movie gives no reason for the Z nickname the High Five calls him by, but it likely stems from it being pronounced 'par-ZEE-vall'.
Notes & References
- The Kindle Edition and Apple Book both list 2024, on pages 141 and 290 respectively. The paper book lists 2026 on page 222.