Wade Watts lives in The Stacks, on the outskirts of Oklahoma City, in the year 2044.
A generation before, this would have been a trailer park, but the world has changed and space alongside cities is at a premium. Trailers are no longer in nice neat rows. They are piled up in tottering towers, platform by platform, scaffolding searing the skies.
These are The Stacks, amongst the poorest residences in a poverty stricken world.
Reality isn't fabulous in The Stacks, nor is it particularly wonderful anywhere else. Humanity used up all of the oil and you'd be amazed how much global infrastructure relied upon that natural resource. As cities and civilizations fell under the pressure, dispossession, dislocation and war became the name of the game.
Actually no. The Game was called The Oasis. It was the one shining light in the lives of most people, no matter where they lived in the world. A virtual reality which fully immersed its players into a universe where everything was possible.
People played there. People worked there. People frequently spent the greatest portion of their lives inside its better-than-life digital environs. As a high school student, Wade goes to school there.
The Oasis made its inventor James Halliday the richest, most influential person in the world. Then he died. All that power and wealth was suddenly up for grabs, with very predictable results thwarted by the man himself.
Ready Player One begins with the announcement of James Halliday's will. A contest - open to all - with his place in the Oasis as the one and only prize. From world leaders to schoolboys in The Stacks, the opportunity and rules were the same. All anyone had to do was find the Easter Egg hidden somewhere in his game.
And survive those who would stop at nothing in real life to secure such power for themselves.