The prologue consists of our as-yet-unnamed narrator telling us about the death of James Halliday, an eccentric billionaire.
Halliday invented OASIS, an immersive, online, multiplayer game that changed the world at a time when Earth was in catastrophic peril: climate change, energy shortages, widespread disease and war. No wonder everyone wanted to escape to virtual reality.
When Halliday died Howard Hughes-style (friendless, single, and insane), he left a digital video of him planning his own funeral.
His faux funeral is attended by digital copies of celebrities like Winona Ryder (to older Shmoopers: Lydia Deetz, to younger Shmoopers: Spock's mom) and other 1980s icons.
Halliday tells the world that he's hidden an Easter egg, a well-concealed videogame secret first made famous in the Atari game Adventure, inside OASIS. Whoever finds it first will inherit Halliday's entire fortune.
In order to find the egg, users must first find the three keys of copper, jade, and crystal, and unlock their corresponding gates. Sounds simple enough, right?
Included with the video is a downloadable document: Anorak's Almanac, named after Halliday's avatar, Anorak, and including over a thousand pages of details about Halliday's favorite things. Fair warning: they're a little more esoteric than brown paper packages tied up with string.
People trying to find the egg start calling themselves egg hunters, or "gunters" for short.
Almost five years pass, and still, no one has found the Copper Key.
The narrator tells us that he found it on February 11, 2045 (to which we want to say, "Happy 76th Birthday, Jennifer Aniston!"), and he's about to tell us his story.