*Don't come at me with "They explain this in the book," because the movie is its own separate thing.
Even though Ready Player One bakes pop culture references into its plot, it's understandable that the movie doesn't have the rights to every franchise in creation. Characters might mention the Millennium Falcon, but you won't see it on the screen because Disney wouldn't sign over the rights to Warner Bros. So it makes sense that a good deal of the licensed material in RPO is from WB, and it mostly works because their catalog is massive as it stands. But what doesn't make sense is that this movie is set in the year 2045, and acts like pop culture as we know it came to a standstill in 2018.
As is explained in the movie, the virtual reality fantasy world known as the Oasis was built by James Halliday, a child of the 80s. But it's not as though everything in the Oasis is from Halliday's childhood specifically. There are more recent references, the easiest of which to point to is Tracer from Overwatch, a video game released in 2016.
It's as though there were no memorable movies, games, books, albums or fads that left an impression on anyone during the 27 years between now and when Ready Player One takes place. Halliday himself is said to have died in the year 2040, so surely something in the intervening time would have piqued his interest enough to include in his masterwork. The only hint that anything of note occurred after 2018 is an offhand mention regarding a remake of The Fly (which COULD just be referencing the Jeff Goldblum movie, which is technically a remake). As a result, characters in the movie seem weirdly obsessed with the pop culture of 60 years ago. In comparison, it would be like kids today quoting lines from I Love Lucy or The Andy Griffith Show.
If a sci-fi movie wants to rely on established characters and concepts to build out its universe, fine. But if you don't even bother to fill in the gaps with anything original, that movie will lack an identity of its own.
Present-day Earth already has a rudimentary version of the Oasis. It's called Second Life. Or these days, maybe VRChat. If those programs have taught us anything, it's that humans will use any amount of virtual freedom they have to turn a digital world into one giant, polygonal orgy. Ready Player One acknowledges this reality in the opening exposition dump, pointing to a seedy internet sex hotel and quickly moving on. But there is just no way that humans with access to a limitless playground would all collectively agree to keep their dirty business in a designated bone zone.
In a flashback scene, Halliday insists that the Oasis have as little rules as possible. That's why the bad guys can bust into a virtual nightclub and start killing avatars -- every part of the Oasis is fair game for violence. If that's true, then you'd think the Oasis would be a bit more sexually liberated and, well, more like Second Life.
The microtransactions in the Oasis kind of suck. You can put tons and tons of money into your character, building it up over years and years -- but if you die in the game, your avatar is "zeroed out" and you have to start from the very beginning. The consumable/loseable monetization items of the Oasis seem like something Reddit would be up in arms about in 2018, but apparently future generations are a little more tolerant of exploitative DLC.
Throughout Ready Player One, we see almost nothing but extravagant and ornate avatars in the Oasis. We also see scores of people "dying," their characters disappearing into a mass of coins for others to collect and use to level up their own rigs. But rarely if ever do we see anyone who has just lost it all starting back from beginning with stock gear and a standard appearance. Yeah, zeroing out no doubt would piss you off (we see a montage of several angry people in the real world who just had everything taken away from them). But the cooldown period after a ragequit only lasts so long before you're back in the game, looking for revenge. For a movie that takes place in a video game for 80% of its runtime, you'd think it'd be a little more video gamey. Speaking of...
Think about it. Every single person in the Oasis is controlled by a person on the other side. The AskJeeves robot known as the "Curator" turns out to be the avatar of Ogden Morrow, co-creator of the Oasis who is seen in flashbacks with Halliday. And the projection of the Halliday himself is strongly implied to be some kind of AI upload of the dead man. Everyone else seems to be a projection of a real person, wearing a VR headset somewhere else in the world. There are some enemies along the racetrack during the first challenge (a T-Rex, King Kong), but we don't ever see any questgivers like you might see in World of Warcraft. It certainly seems like there would be some kind of need for a neutral AI character in the Oasis, but there isn't any indication that they exist.
Then again, a lot of people in the Oasis have bigger problems.
When we first meet the people living out their fantasies in the Oasis, they all seem to be living sad little lives in the real world. We pan through several small homes in skyscrapers made of trailers. In each home, a person is wearing a VR headset, presumably doing awesome things in the Oasis while looking like a goofy asshole in the privacy of their own homes. That about lines up with most sci-fi dystopias where virtual reality becomes the primary form of entertainment.
But as the movie explores more of the "real" Columbus, Ohio, we see tons of people out on the street, sort of milling around with their VR headsets on the sidewalk. A couple of questions spring to mind, namely "What?" and "Why?"
What is everyone doing outside in large crowds while strapped into the Oasis? From what we've seen, it doesn't appear as though you can really see into the real world while jacked into the virtual world. So anyone milling about next to a road (as we see loads of people doing) could walk into oncoming traffic at any moment, especially if they're as gung-ho as these yahoos were during the final battle:
Again, parts of this video game movie don't really seem to "get" what video games are and how they interact with them.
This is sort in the "Gandalf riding the Eagles to Mount Doom" territory, but it's still valid all the same. The biggest action setpiece of the movie comes at the climax, when hordes of players led by the hero attempt to breach a large castle to get at the last challenge of the easter egg hunt. When the bad guy summons MechaGodzilla to guard the front gate, the good guys counter with a Gundam. That seems reasonable, until you realize that the Gundam drops out of Serenity, the spaceship from Firefly.
So why wouldn't they just fly that ship over all the chaos? The whole gang was pressed for time, and earlier a couple of them had bragged about all the spacefaring vehicles they owned. Of course, that would mean they could skip the boss battle with MechaGodzilla, and that would be cheating. Now they follow the video game rules.
Maybe I missed something. The Cataclyst is a special item that gets namedropped early in the movie, and sure enough the villain uses it in the last act. When activated, the Cataclyst destroys everyone in a given area, including the person who uses it. That would make sense for the evil corporate overlord to use as a last-ditch move... but not everyone was logged in and in the area at that exact moment -- including Artemis.
So why couldn't anyone simply disconnect from the server before the annihilation wave hit? From what we see, all it takes is removing your helmet in the real world, and poof, you're gone. The bounty hunter saw his doom coming -- shouldn't he have ripped off his headset instead of reaching for a portal to another server?
Not only could this disconnect/reconnect tactic (often used by ragequitters in fighting games to preserve their win record) work for the good guys, but the bad guys could easily employ it as well. IOI in particular is shown to have hundreds of grunts ready with VR headsets, so you'd figure at least one of them could log on after the digital nuke goes off and continue the fight.
Seriously, they say they know that Sorrento was behind the bombing of the trailer park that killed several people. If a domestic terrorist was confronted by the entire neighborhood of his last target, you can bet there would be blood in the streets. C'mon, Spielberg, all I want is to see a man literally torn limb from limb by a vengeful mob in a PG-13 movie. Is that so much to ask?