Ready Player Two shouldn't exist. It is the bastard love child of late-stage capitalism and white nerd power fantasies, all while somehow being significantly worse than the first one. It's a book so bad that even diehard fans of the series brutally ridiculed it on release. Which is saying a lot given how soulless and misogynist Ready Player One was. So what went wrong here, besides corporate exploitation of nostalgia? Let's dive in ...

The World Has Turned Into An Even More Hellish Police State Dystopia, And Wade Becomes A Doomsday Prepper

Ready Player Two starts off a few days after the central protagonist Wade Watts won James Halliday's contest from the first novel, with Wade now fully in control of the OASIS and hundreds of billions of dollars. This is a big deal because Wade came from an impoverished life of living in trailer parks stacked dangerously high on top of each other that had a tendency to collapse and kill people. So you'd think that Wade would put his money to good use to ensure that no kid ever goes through the suffering he did, right? Nope! The first thing he does is literally pay off the US deficit and install military police drones in neighborhoods and cities. 

Ballantine Books
"Hold up ... did I forget to name drop RoboCop in the last book.  Better correct that."

That's right, goddamn aerial drones. Side-stepping the hilariously stupid idea that a bunch of gamers gave the United States money to pay off its national debt, it's a bit messed up that Wade's highest priority wasn't improving local infrastructure or helping to fix systemic issues that create crime to begin with, but automated death from above that's supposed to be somehow better than cops, which is totally working just fine right now

True to real life, Wade doesn't do anything remotely useful with his billions. All he does is provide some food and ONI headsets for orphaned children in developing countries, which is a bit like if Elon Musk gave homeless orphans a sack of rice and a Playstation 5. His friends also set up some charities, which gives us this monstrosity ...

Ballantine Books
This is your warm-up cringe.  Really put some time into it so you don't pull a muscle later.

Yeah, you read that right. The lone Black character in the entire series starts a charity for African nations called the "Wakandan Outreach Initiative." You get the feeling that Ernest Cline didn't have any hypothetical Black friends workshop this ahead of time, which is good because the fewer people that read Ready Player Two, the better. 

So if Wade isn't putting his money towards dumb ideas like ending world hunger and homelessness unconditionally, what is he doing? Turns out he decided to go full billionaire doomsday prepper and build a giant space bunker for humanity.

Ballantine Books
Well, 'Giant' might be a relative term for what would be a pretty sizable waitlist. 

Besides the entire reason for this needlessly wasteful expenditure just being Thanos's wet dream about overpopulation, the plan is incredibly dumb and wouldn't actually help humanity. Last time we checked, there are a lot more than "two dozen human passengers" on the planet, so only Wade and his other rich friends will get to ride out the apocalypse. When his girlfriend Samantha (Art3mis) finds out they wasted $300 billion on an escape pod for the wealthy elite, she reacts accordingly by calling him a dipshit. 

Ballantine Books
Still, having the group of billionaire teenagers who now rule the world bounce to Neptune isn't the worst idea.

Wade flips out and even throws a "fake news" fit about it, all because the only friend of his with any sense told him to be more productive with his gargantuan wealth. The entire problem with this setup is that Wade is a manchild given total authoritarian power over an entire virtual world and the world economy, who doesn't take even the faintest of criticism lightly because he posits himself as the savior of humanity. Which leads us to ...

Wade Has Sole Access To A Button That Can Destroy The Global Economy

We've talked about how Wade has come off as a massive misogynist creep whose sole concern is '80s references and getting laid before in the first book, which seemed like the worst thing imaginable at the time. Ready Player Two decided to ramp that up by a billion by giving Wade the power to collapse the entirety of real-life society any time he wants to.

Ballantine Books
Good at Tempest, versed in Rush trivia ... what more do you need in a supreme overlord?

So James Halliday thought it was a great idea to just give some random gamer kid the power to obliterate society at any moment? All it takes is one bad day or "heated gaming moment," and boom, no more global economy. Perfect. 

What makes this even better is that at some point, Halliday's evil AI replicant named Anorak goes Blade Runner, holds the entirety of the OASIS hostage, and threatens to use the button if Wade does not hand over the seven shards.  

Ballantine Books
Spoiler: humanity will never need a self-destruct button.

Even after being proven demonstrably wrong about having a nuke button being a good thing after A.I. Hitler steals it, they still cling to some "better to have it than not" bullshit for reasons. None of it makes sense. Ernest Cline's ideas on nuclear proliferation have about as much nuance as Fallout '76

The OASIS Is A Hellish Nightmare To Be In

So there's this underlying assumption that runs through both books that the OASIS is a pretty sweet place to be in. Sure, reality still sucks, but at least you can be anything you want to be in virtual space. It's not like if you die in the game, you die in real life ... right? Well turns out that the ONI headsets used to transport people into the game can outright kill you if you wear them for too long. 

Ballantine Books

People have actually died from exceeding the limit here, which you can imagine is probably not a terribly good marketing team without some fantastic PR going for it. But there are safety measures in place to make sure that this kind of thing never happens ... only that all flies out of the window immediately when Anorak takes over the entire OASIS and keeps billions of people locked in, creating a potential global genocide. And all Wade is concerned about is lawsuits that might come about from players being lied to.

Ballantine Books
Well, at least we can all relax knowing that the billionaires are safe from legal consequences.

So to cap off: an all-powerful evil avatar has taken a virtual world of billions hostage, which will trigger off the worst human disaster in history, and the only real danger here is getting sued. Great.

An equally scary reality of the OASIS is that criminals will steal your organs or rape you while you're plugged in. This is such a rampant problem that they even started selling special "immersion vaults" to protect gamers while they're inside. 

Ballantine Books
"Organ harvesters?"  Seriously, Cline?

Playing in the OASIS means constantly living in fear unless you're privileged enough to afford a BodyCapsule. So you're basically screwed within or outside depending on circumstances, and the person in charge doesn't even remotely care about your safety.

Wade Is Basically Big Brother

Being a bastard billionaire gamer with a god complex is bound to eventually stir up some hate, which is just what happens to Wade when people protest about his abuse of powers within the OASIS. How does Wade take all of this? Not very well, as he decides to just do a lot more power abuse by looking up the private profiles of his trolls and endlessly killing them in PvP.

Ballantine Books
So, omnipotent billionaire AND online gaming cheater.  Real likable protagonist, there.

Eventually, people start getting mad, and hundreds of millions of players sign a petition against him, along with an assload of class-action lawsuits, all of which Wade just laughs off because he's a billionaire with practically the gamer equivalent of the Infinity Gauntlet.

Ballantine Books
Seriously: how is this not the villain?

Wade has gone from embarrassingly lame nerd to a literal virtual dictator who can fuck with anyone at any time, and absolutely nothing can be done because he has Scrooge McDuck levels of wealth here.

The privacy invasion doesn't stop there and only gets worse. Wade meets a woman named Skylar in-game while hunting for shards, and he basically decides to invade her privacy entirely, shrugging it off with, "Eh, might as well go full creep."  

Ballantine Books
Is it clear why we had you stretch your cringing muscles earlier, yet?

After digging around her private information with no shred of dignity, he comes upon the stunning realization that she's a trans woman.

Ballantine Books
...And with that, your cringing bingo card should be entirely blacked out.

So on top of being a control freak, Wade exercises enough privacy invasion to make an NSA agent blush with envy. All this culminates in some trans woman being outed in a way she probably never wanted to be out, and none of this is responded to with consequence because ethics apparently don't exist in Ernest Cline's headspace.

Ready Player Two is a bad book for many reasons, but perhaps the most heinous of all of those is the fact that people actually think stuff like this is okay. The same myth of overpopulation that Wade Watts is so concerned about permeates a lot of policymaking in real life. Stuff like using police drones to watch over marginalized neighborhoods for crime is happening as we speak. Wade Watts isn't a hero; he's a ruthless oligarch who just so happens to like Lord of the Rings and Ferris Bueller. But what can you expect from a dude who wrote a poem about masturbating to Star Wars references?

Top image: Ballantine Books, Warner Bros. Pictures

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