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Wade Owen Watts is only 18 when Ready Player One takes place. He also attends school. Yet he somehow has enough time to memorize everything in James Halliday's atlas!

Not only is he super-amazing at every 80's videogame he's ever played, he also is outstanding in every TV show of the 80's, knows every book, knows every band and even memorized every movie so much so that he can verbally recite Wargames from memory!

How did Watts possibly have time for all this?

  • 19
    How do the people on scifi.stackexchange.com have time to memorize every episode of Star Trek, or every Marvel comic book? – Kevin Workman Nov 14 '17 at 19:32
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    He's channeling Valorum? – jeffronicus Nov 14 '17 at 19:49
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    Read the book. Its far more than every startrek episode. Its likememorizing the whole IMDB – TheAsh Nov 14 '17 at 20:12
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    My impression is that Wade Watts spends all of his free time cramming 80s geek trivia into his brain - he doesn't have much of a life beyond school and egg hunting. – RobertF Nov 14 '17 at 20:34
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    @jeffronicus, well, as far as I can tell, Valorum is much older than 18 and spends pretty much all his time on this stuff. – ThePopMachine Nov 16 '17 at 21:13
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  1. He spent 5 years doing this, double-full-time.

    Over the past five years, I’d downloaded every single movie, TV show, and cartoon mentioned in Anorak’s Almanac. (Level One, 0001)

    As in, probably 8-9 hours a day (assuming 6.5 hours for school, 2 hours a day eating/hygiene, 6.5-7.5 hours sleep) on weekdays and pretty much entire day (15 hours) on weekends/holidays.

    If he's anything like me or other Aspergers-light nerds who grew up in the 80s, he probably spent 2 less hours sleeping and 2 more geeking out.

    So that gives us 180*9 + 15*185 = 1620 + 2775 = 4395 hours a year, for a total of 21975 hours; and if we reduce sleep by 2 hours a day, 25625 total hours.

    Wade estimates it a bit differently in 0006 (he comes out to a similar number which makes me think he was probably averaging out: 21840):

    You’d be amazed how much research you can get done when you have no life whatsoever. Twelve hours a day, seven days a week, is a lot of study time.

    This is plenty enough time to consume most of the main nerdish and other culture of the 1980s, with important pieces being consumed repeatedly.

    • Most TV shows run less than 20-30 hours total. Entire Star Trek is only 531 hours as per this quora answer. And there weren't all that many large series like Simposons and Star Trek.

    • If he's a typical geeky fast reader, books also don't take that long (average novel is ~100k words, meaning a fast 1k WPM reader can read the book in ~2 hours).

    He himself noted that the main challenge was music. TV shows, books and games were manageable given the time frames involved, and a fact that Halliday left detailed lists of what to study.

  2. He didn't watch them all.

    I still hadn’t watched all of them yet, of course. That would probably take decades. (Level One, 0001)

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How did Watts possibly have time for all this?

In short: he doesn't have anything better to do, and doing it is a lot better than the alternatives.

As you say, he is in school. He does not need to physically attend school, so he's not wasting time on a bus. He doesn't have a social life with real-world peers; his social circle is limited to online relationships with other Gunters, all of whom are just as obsessed as he is.

He does not have a job, online or off.

He's not inclined to go out and about much; while he mentions scavenging electronics, he also mentions how likely losing electronics to a mugger is, and the stacks are described as slum-like in many ways.

So - school and Gunting are all he does. And as Gunters go, he's an impressive sample. When you only see him with peers like Aech and Art3mis, it doesn't seem obvious, because they're both in the same boat. As Aech points out, he keeps I-R0k around because I-R0k reminds him how clueless most Gunters are. So bear in mind that what Wade is shown doing is well above average levels of engagement.

(Note that Aech and Art3mis are in the same boat - both inclined to "live" in OASIS because [they perceive] their physical selves are at a disadvantage with people, and their Avatars allow them to define themselves in more successful ways. Daito and Shoto as well... all the top tier Gunters we see have reasons to embrace OASIS to the exclusion of the physical world).

So, there's nothing for him in the real world. What can the Hunt offer him?

It offers him a sense of belonging with other people who value what he values, something the real world fails miserably at.

It offers him intellectual challenge that he can't get in the real world.

It offers him the benefits of immersing himself in a subculture, something teens are prone to in any case.

It offers him the dream of immense wealth.

Now, is it reasonable to believe a teenager in these conditions could become a subject matter expert in ~20 years of video games, television, music, and movies? Hell yes. Heck, people did a pretty good job in the actual 80s, even without on-demand access to a vast library of everything, whenever, wherever. As @KevinWorkman points out, this sort of focus is not terribly unusual. And Wade had more freedom, access, and encouragement to focus than most of us do.

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    I particularly like this part: " Heck, people did a pretty good job in the actual 80s, even without on-demand access to a vast library of everything, whenever, wherever. " Wade and other top Gunters basically live in the 80s as much as possible. – Jontia Nov 20 '17 at 15:08
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    +1 @TheAsh Being wholly committed to the hunt is how he was able to learn it all. The drive he had was the most important part. Everything he did was related to the hunt where possible, including his classes at school. Instead of vegging out with Law and Order marathons, he was vegging out with 80s content. It also helps that with the internet everything was a click away and that there were reviews and torrents that both explained and made it all available to him. And not ALL of the 80s was necessary, just what Halladay was interested in; no sports, stocks, cars, ancient history, etc. – Odin1806 Dec 24 '17 at 17:38
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    "he doesn't have anything better to do" AND he had been doing it for 5 years! It took Wade 5 years of being a dedicated gunter to find the copper key. – knightscharge Feb 2 '18 at 20:34
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    I have been rereading (listening) to RPO for another question and came across another point I forgot about that relates. Early in chapter 29 Wade states how while watching IOI training videos he had it memorized and was mouthing the words along after only five views. I think we forget to give Wade credit for how bright he actually is... – Odin1806 Mar 14 '18 at 16:23
  • @Odin1806 I think that was meant to be a commentary on the dreary, limited nature of the training videos! But I agree with you that he's bright... – gowenfawr Mar 14 '18 at 16:24

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