Nostalgia for Happier Times

They didn’t find out about the Easter egg’s existence until a few months later, when kids all over the world began to discover it. I was one of those kids and finding Robinett’s Easter egg for the first time was one of the coolest videogaming experiences of my life.

This quote is located in the Preface and is spoken by James Halliday in Anorak’s Invitation. This quote describes one of the core sources of Halliday’s penchant for nostalgia as it is about one intensely happy childhood memory in a sea of unhappy childhood experiences. As with 1980s pop culture in general, Halliday seems to be obsessed with this memory and has a desire to recreate the feeling he had when he discovered the Easter egg as a child. Like a parent who tries to recreate happy childhood memories for their own children, Halliday attempts to recreate this happy memory for all OASIS users. Since Halliday has no family, the OASIS users are almost like his children. Of course, Halliday’s egg hunt is nothing like his childhood experience. While finding the Easter egg in Robinett’s game was a happy accident, the OASIS egg hunt is a serious competition with real-world consequences. 

Looking around, I wondered why Halliday, who always claimed to have had a miserable childhood, had later become so nostalgic for it. I knew that if and when I finally escaped from the stacks, I’d never look back. And I definitely wouldn’t create a detailed simulation of the place.

This quote appears in Chapter 10 as Wade is exploring a recreation of Halliday’s Middletown house while looking for the First Gate. Nostalgia for happier times is not always straightforward. Often, people romanticize the past and focus on the good things, even if there were many negative things as well. Perhaps Halliday was nostalgic for his childhood because it was real, unlike the OASIS. We know by the end of the novel that Halliday values reality over virtual reality, but it is clear that he did not always believe that reality was better. Halliday’s nostalgia for his childhood could be nostalgia not only for happier times but for simpler and more predictable times. Although Halliday’s childhood was miserable, he still had youthful hope for a better future. As he grew older and the OASIS didn’t become the utopia that he and Morrow hoped for, Halliday tried to maintain his connection with the past. Being so young, it is difficult for Wade to understand how Halliday could be nostalgic for his childhood, but it’s still possible that he would pine for his past when he’s older.

Halliday mentioned Happytime Pizza several times in the Almanac, so I knew he had fond memories of this place. He’d often come here after school to avoid going home.

In Chapter 22, Wade visits the planet Archaide on a hunch that he will find the Jade Key there. After realizing his hunch was a dead end, Wade stumbles across a recreation of Happytime Pizza in the Gregarious Simulation Systems Museum. Although he had never seen this mentioned on any of the gunter message boards, Wade knew that it must be important since Halliday mentioned it so many times in his journals. Even the name of the pizza place evokes a sense of nostalgia. Visiting the restaurant as a child was literally a happy time for Halliday, and it shows again that his nostalgia for happier times is tied closely to his desire to avoid the unpleasant times. It is at Happytime Pizza where Wade finds that Pac-Man game that adds a 1981 quarter to his inventory when he achieves a high score. Although the significance of the quarter isn’t revealed at the time, Wade’s commitment to absorbing himself in Halliday’s nostalgia pays off later when the quarter grants him an extra life in the OASIS. 

The Fluidity of Personal Identity

You could create an entirely new persona for yourself, with complete control over how you looked and sounded to others. In the OASIS, the fat could become thin, the ugly could become beautiful, and the shy, extroverted … Or you could cease being human altogether, and become an elf, ogre, alien, or any other creature from literature, movies, or mythology.

In Chapter 5, Wade describes the malleable online universe that is the OASIS. This quote describes the endless possibilities that the OASIS grants its users. In the OASIS, one’s personal identity is not confined to the options available in the real world. Additionally, whatever identity someone chooses in the OASIS completely masks their true identity because anonymity is guaranteed. This quote also ties the idea of personal identity to wish fulfillment. Many people are raised to believe they can grow up to be whatever they want. Those childhood notions about endless possibilities are usually adjusted when people grow up and realize it’s not always true. In the OASIS, people really can be whatever they want, even if it’s not in the realm of real-world possibility.

I, David Lightman, a teenage computer geek from suburban Seattle, had single-handedly prevented the end of human civilization.

In Chapter 11, Wade finds himself inside the 1983 movie WarGames as Matthew Broderick’s character, David Lightman. In order to pass the First Gate, Wade is required to assume the identity of David Lightman and recite all of Broderick’s lines. It is not surprising that Halliday programmed a challenge in which the players had to shift their identities to win. Again, the OASIS is all about the fluidity of personal identity. The fact that Wade had WarGames memorized is also not surprising. He is used to immersing himself in pop culture, which allows him to shift his identity as needed. What’s more interesting is that this challenge requires Wade to be a character played by an actor rather than the actor himself. It is almost a statement that all identities are make-believe, which is mostly true in the OASIS. It is often true in the real world, too, as people do their best to present themselves as they want to be seen, rather than how they really are.

I made Bryce twenty-two years old and gave him a brand-new Social Security number, an immaculate credit rating, and a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. When I wanted to become my old self again, all I had to do was delete the Lynch identity and copy my prints and retinal patterns back over to my original file.

In Chapter 16, Wade creates a new identity for himself to hide from the Sixers. Here, changing identity is more about self-preservation than wish fulfillment, but the impermanence of the new identity shows that it is still fluid. When Wade chooses to create the identity of Bryce, he is giving himself the freedom to live his life without being noticed, a luxury for him as the Sixers have already tried to kill him. Assuming the identity of Bryce allows Wade to direct his attention to the things that are important to him, Art3mis and the hunt, without having to focus on his physical safety. The OASIS is where Wade feels safest and living as Bryce in his new apartment in Ohio removes the possibility that the Sixers will find him in the real world.

The Conflict Between Reality and Illusion

I don’t know, maybe your experience differed from mine. For me, growing up as a human being on the planet Earth in the twenty-first century was a real kick in the teeth. Existentially speaking.

This quote, which occurs in Chapter 1, shows Wade speaking directly to the reader about the jarring feeling of realizing life is not always as it seems. As a child, Wade did not realize how bad life on Earth had become for humans because he was not alive during the twentieth century when things were better. The dystopia he lived in seemed normal. As he grew into a teenager and increased his knowledge in the OASIS, he realized that things used to be better, and his generation was getting the short end of the stick. Feeling this conflict between the illusion of childhood beliefs and the reality one faces as they mature helps the reader understand that Wade is at a turning point in his growth and development. Most people undergo such growing pains when they look back at their childhood without bias. This quote also helps the reader understand Wade’s general mindset as the novel progresses.

Users could now teleport back and forth between their favorite fictional worlds. Middle Earth. Vulcan. Pern. Arrakis. Magrathea. Discworld, Mid-World, Riverworld, Ringworld. Worlds upon worlds.

In Chapter 4, Wade explains the vastness of the OASIS, and the user understand how much it differs from any video game or virtual reality that we have available today. Not only are users able to design their avatar to look however they want, but they can also visit any world that exists in the OASIS. This includes recreations of real-world places and a host of fictional worlds as well. The purpose of the OASIS is for the users to immerse themselves in an illusion and assume that as their primary reality. In the real world, experiencing a fictional world would be limited to reading a book, watching a television show, or playing a game. In the OASIS, however, experiencing a fictional world is like existing there in the real world. All the devices that accompany the OASIS experience, such as a haptic suit, allow the user to be completely immersed in a fictional reality. In a way, it allows users to forget themselves and create any reality that they desire. 

‘You don’t live in the real world, Z. From what you’ve told me, I don’t think you ever have. You’re like me. You live inside this illusion.’ She motioned to our virtual surroundings. ‘You can’t possibly know what real love is.’

In Chapter 18, the conflict of reality and illusion is addressed when Art3mis tells Wade that he does not live in the real world. Art3mis shatters Wade’s belief that their relationship is as real as an in-person relationship. She accuses him of not living in the real world, but she also spends countless hours in the OASIS. The difference between Art3mis and Wade is that Art3mis seems to accept the OASIS as an illusion, but Wade allows himself to believe that it is real. Art3mis seems to be protecting her heart, and she pushes Wade away out of fear that he would not have the same feelings for her if they met in real life. She denies the reality of her feelings for him as a defense mechanism. Like Wade’s “kick in the teeth” from Chapter 1, this is a similar experience, a fissure in what he believed was real.