Hiding from his aunt in his secret hideout—a van half-buried at the bottom of the stacks, the trailer park where he lives—Wade Watts logs in to the OASIS, the uber-realistic MMO that's captured the world's imagination (and lives).
During the course of his virtual school day, Wade realizes he knows where the Copper Key is hidden.
And so begins the first part of an online scavenger hunt created by the now-deceased creator of the OASIS, James Halliday. The prize? His entire fortune, and control of the OASIS.
After traversing the Tomb of Horrors, Wade claims the Copper Key and meets his rival and love interest, Art3mis.
After unlocking the First Gate, Wade is contacted by Nolan Sorrento, head of IOI, one of the world's largest ISPs, who makes an offer to Wade: tell us where the Copper Key is, or we blow up your family. Wade calls his bluff.
Wrong move, bucko, because Sorrento detonates a bomb, destroying Wade's trailer park.
Wade flees Oklahoma City in fear, moving to Columbus, Ohio, where he rents an apartment with money he received from endorsement deals that poured in after he found the Copper Key.
During Wade's quest, he dates Art3mis, is dumped by Art3mis, fights with Aech (his best friend), makes up with Aech, finds the Jade Key, the Second Gate, and the Crystal Key.
Now we're getting to it. The final Gate is a stumper, so Wade sells himself into indentured servitude to hack into IOI from the inside.
Once he busts out, he puts his final plan into motion.
At the end, Wade gets the Easter egg, wins Halliday's fortune, and gets a kiss from Art3mis—in real life. The end!