Feature Article

Ready Player One's Ending Explained

Out with the old.

Ready Player One spoilers below!

If you saw Ready Player One over the weekend, you know that it ends on a relatively triumphant note. Wade gets the girl, he gains control of The Oasis, and he splits that control among his clan, the High Five. Then he closes The Oasis down two days of the week, so players will be forced to spend more time in the real world.

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There are some nuances here that are worth exploring. For example, did you notice that the very last shot, where Wade and Samantha are making out on a chair, is the first time she's had her hair tied back instead of covering her face? It signifies that she's grown to be more accepting of herself, including the birthmark that she's self conscious of earlier in the movie.

There's a bit more to discuss regarding Ready Player One's ending, so let's jump in.


First off: Wade gets the final key by finding a secret Easter egg in the Atari 2600 game Adventure. You might be wondering: Is Adventure really the first game to feature a hidden Easter egg? Is that part of the story based in reality?

The answer is yes! Released in 1980, Adventure was indeed the first game with this type of secret. At the time, Atari didn't credit individual designers; Warren Robinett hid his name in Adventure to signify his authorship of the game. It's become known as the first Easter egg, and its inclusion in Ready Player One is one of the coolest things about the movie (or the book).

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The old man and the boy

You might also be wondering exactly what's going on with old man Halliday and his younger self in the scene where he gives Parzival the Easter egg. This version of Halliday isn't a character controlled by the game itself, but it's also not Halliday back from the dead--the designer really is gone, he tells Wade.

So what is he? This is where a bit of Spielberg magic comes in, and as the viewer, you just have to suspend your disbelief a little bit more than usual. Is this apparition of Halliday being controlled by someone else? Did the designer somehow upload a part of himself into The Oasis before he died? There's a reason Halliday doesn't answer the question, and it's because it doesn't really matter.

What's important is the symbolism of Halliday finally leaving the room--his room--with his younger self in tow. The imagery of Halliday keeping himself as a boy around like a pet is strong and haunting, considering this is a man who feared change and chose to live his entire life in the past, obsessing over his childhood. When his successor, Wade, finally makes his way through all three challenges, Halliday can let go.

Witnessing that moment cements the lesson Wade has learned by the end: That he can't keep living in the past if he ever wants to be happy. That's why he resolves to split control of The Oasis with his friends, and even why they choose to shut it down on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The real world "is the only place where you can get a decent meal," after all, as Halliday puts it.

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Justice prevails

There's one other thing that might itch the back of your mind once Ready Player One's credits start to roll: Where were the cops, or any authority besides IOI, for the rest of the movie?

This one isn't easily answered. For much of Ready Player One, it seems that IOI is the only authority in existence, almost like this movie takes place in some kind of post-apocalypse world (Wade does mention the ominous-sounding "corn syrup drought" and "bandwidth riots" at the start). Then, once F'Nale has been defeated and Sorrento had a change of heart--in other words, when the cops are no longer needed--they finally show up to bust the bad guys.

First off, why did they show up then? Well, it seems the combination of a lengthy car chase, a guy with a gun, and the taped confession Aech sent them (a detail that's noted only briefly at the end) was finally enough to get their attention. If they showed up to investigate after Wade's stack blew up, it must have happened offscreen (although maybe Sorrento was right, and they really didn't care).

As to where they were the rest of the movie, we can't really know. Apparently Ready Player One takes place in a world in which massive, all-powerful companies like IOI have so much authority that it takes a recorded confession from one of its executives to finally get the cops involved. What matters is justice prevailed--it's a very Spielberg ending, when you think about it.

Any more questions about Ready Player One's ending? Hit us up in the comments below and let us know.

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Michael Rougeau

Mike Rougeau is GameSpot's Managing Editor of Entertainment, with over 10 years of pop culture journalism experience. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two dogs.

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