Meet our narrator, Wade Owen Watts: initials W.O.W.
Wow, that's a great name for a superhero, isn't it? He's the hero of our story, and like most superheroes, he had a tragic upbringing right out of the most melodramatic afterschool special. Wade's father was shot dead while looting a store, and his mother, the OASIS's version of a phone-sex operator, died of a drug overdose. Wade's also socially awkward and overweight, a double kiss of death on the road to friendlessness. No wonder the kid has a need to escape into the OASIS, the MMO game so real that it makes you forget reality.
Without friends or family, Wade finds other passions: namely videogames, music, and movies of the 1980s. He's obsessed with James Halliday's legacy, and falls in love with everything Halliday did. His obsessions make him a mini-me of Halliday in a way, a strange recluse who thinks everyone should love what he does. Does Wade know he's imitating his idol? And why is this creepy old dude his idol anyway? Could it have something to do with the fact that Wade lacks a father figure? Or is he just the world's biggest fanboy?
Wade's obsession with Halliday's passions is like religion for Wade. When he plays video games he "[does] so with a determined sort of reverence" (1.2). He memorizes movies like some people memorize Bible verses. He even says "[Anorak's] Almanac had become my Bible" (6.4), which sums things up right nicely if you ask Shmoop.
It's worth noting that his Halliday obsession is not without its problems. For one thing, we're not sure if Wade has any passions of his own, or he just likes what Halliday likes. After all, everything he enjoys in the novel comes from Halliday's suggestion. Plus, he's a little hypocritical when it comes to religion, thanks to all the Halliday love. He calls Christianity (and other organized religions) a "pleasant fantasy that gave [people] hope and kept [them] going" (1.67). But then he acknowledges that he's addicted to the Hunt for pretty much the exact same reasons people join religions.
In fact, Wade even goes to much greater distances for his religion of the Hunt than most people do for their religions. He ends up rarely eating, shaving his entire body, and refusing to go outside for months. Can you say asceticism? His physical body becomes a hermit while Parzival, his avatar, becomes a god in the world of the OASIS. We guess that's one way to achieve immortality and a glorious afterlife (or at least a glorious Second Life.)
Not only does Parzival become a virtual OASIS god, earning the awe and respect of all the OASIS's players, Wade-the-real changes a bit, too. At first, "charging the batteries [for his computer] was usually the only physical exercise [he] got each day" (1.78). But then, something shifts.
Once he moves to Columbus, Ohio, he starts spending even more time in the OASIS—pretty much all his waking hours, in fact. Because of this, he gains a lot of weight and can't even fit into his haptic suit, which is really saying something. In order to get back into the game, he starts a strict exercise regimen to burn off the pounds. He also shaves off all his body hair (all of it, including eyebrows, ours of which are raised right now) to better experience the physical sensations his haptic suit gives him.
All this hard work (and manscaping) gives him the added of benefit of a more muscular frame, a flatter stomach, and more robust immune system, even if it does make him look like some pale, hairless worm living at the bottom of the sea. Maybe that's why Art3mis doesn't say she loves him in person. She's a little creeped out that he looks like Samantha Morton in Minority Report. Still, these health benefits were unintended consequences. We can't help but think that Wade would be just as likely to destroy his own health if it brought him closer to his goals. This extreme makeover shows that Wade is just a smidge too devoted to his quest.
Despite almost singlehandedly finding Halliday's Easter egg and taking down an evil corporation, Wade isn't a flawless hero. Not everything he does is on the up and up. For one thing, he uses illegal file sharing sites to obtain many files. Plus he lets his friendship with Aech crumble when Art3mis enters the picture (classic violation of the bro-code). He's a little hypocritical, fearing that Art3mis lives "in [her] mother's basement" (17.40), and using that living situation as an insult even though he, until recently, lived in an abandoned van in his aunt's trailer park. Who's the pot and who's the kettle, buddy?
Finally, there's the fact that he's putting his own life, and the lives at others, at risk for a video game. That's right: a video game. The OASIS is pretty awesome, yes, but it's still a virtual reality, which is to say not something real people deserve to die for. But those are exactly the stakes when Sorrento gives Wade a choice: tell us where the Copper Key is so that we can find it and maybe the egg (and then we'll start charging for the OASIS and putting advertising in it), or we blow up your family.
Wade chooses the latter, which is awkward. Think about it this way: if you were really into World of Warcraft and they threatened to charge you more for it, or blow up your family, would you dare them to do it or give in to protect your loved ones?
No matter which way you slice it though, Wade's a heroic figure. Or maybe he just fancies himself one. After all, he names himself Parzival (which is Percival as we know it in English), the famous knight from Arthurian legend who finally gets his hands on the Holy Grail. And it's a fitting moniker, don't you think? After all, what's Wade doing in this novel if not questing for his own Holy Grail—Halliday's Easter egg?