Analysis: What's Up With the Ending?
The hero wins the game, defeats the big bad corporation, inherits bajillions of dollars, gets the girl, and learns a life lesson: you can't live your life in virtual reality. Could it get more perfect? It's just like your favorite '80s movie, you know, the one with the geeky guy against impossible odds, but it all works out in the end and he even gets the dream girl? Yeah, that one.
There's a darker side to this ending, though. The head of that big bad corporation, Nolan Sorrento? He's not going down without a fight. And the dream girl? She won't even say "I love you" to Wade, despite the fact that he's told her that about a dozen times.
But the life lesson makes all the bad news worth it. Thanks to Halliday, Wade learns that reality is "the only place where you can find true happiness" (38.48), and that leads Wade to say he "had absolutely no desire to log back into the OASIS" (39.53). It pretty much tells us that Wade now thinks virtual reality is all a sham.
If Wade really thinks that now, we wish he had learned that lesson a little sooner. Like, maybe before he prompted Nolan Sorrento to detonate a bomb—a real-life bomb—that killed dozens of people—real people—in Wade's hometown, just to save the integrity of a virtual reality video game that Wade couldn't care less about anymore.
It's like killing your family to save your favorite toy from being thrown away, and then throwing the toy away yourself when something better comes along. It's not just immature and dangerous. It's borderline sociopathic, suggesting that Wade somehow thinks life is a game and he's in control. Let's hope for Art3mis's sake that a prettier, geekier girl doesn't come along, because there are no extra lives in the real world.