Sword Art Online, is not related to #gamergate, it was written or published online in 2002 (under a pen name) and the anime began in 2012. But it’s well worth entertaining the notion that it was a prophecy. For those that it will matter to, it’s not Funimation, so enjoy without guilt.
My oldest daughter and I have thrown anime at each other for a few years now. Some of which I refuse to watch, simply because of the large number of episodes and ongoing nature, at which point, the plot is usually lost, Fairy Tail being one such anime that I can’t bring myself to start; others are because I can only find the dubbed version, dubbed just plain sucks donkey balls. But if it’s something I can binge on for a weekend, I’ll take her up on the challenge, and we laugh, and we cry, and we fist bump, life goes on.
Sword Art Online (SAO) is one anime I was reluctant to start because it was about a game. But I came around and I am infinitely glad I did. Heads up, you’re going to encounter spoilers; I can’t do anything about that, the story has two seasons with two parts each; one movie so far, another planned, and talk of a third season (more if you read the manga.) That in and of itself, explains my stance.
MMO’s have upped their game by introducing Virtual Reality. 1000 beta testers have given Sword Art Online rave reviews. On the grand opening, 10,000 players enter Starting City. Among them, the beta testers with brand new accounts so everyone starts on an equal footing. Everything is fine until people start trying to log out. The Game Master finally calls all the players back to starting location and explains that this isn’t a glitch.
To leave the game the players have two options; end the game, or die trying. The NerveGear (NVG) VR helmet is equipped with an electromagnetic pulse which will fry the player’s brain if the character dies, or some one outside removes it; the GM follows this statement up by showing news feeds of the real world panic involving the NVG, already many players are dead. Shit just got real for these players, many of whom, aren’t even actual gamers, or adults for that matter.
Kirito, one of the beta testers realizes the gravity of the situation, knows the strengths and limitations of the game, and hatches an initial plan to make his survival possible. He also understands the futility of thinking ending the game will happen anytime soon; he was one of the few who figured out the system and got as far as floor 8 (there are 100). That took him a month of dedicated effort and trial & error. By the time they find the floor boss, two thousand players have died and the beta testers aren’t trusted, because most of them did exactly what Kirito did, they had fled Starting City and proceeded to level up. When the first floor boss is killed Kirito makes a decision, if some one needs to be blamed and hated upon, he will take that burden upon himself lock stock and barrel so that the other beta testers can get on with doing what’s ultimately important, building solid guilds to win the game; for this crime, he takes the label “Beater” (beta cheater), one of a handful of players who can claim that title and the only one anyone actually knows. Beater serves as a dual purpose for him, as he is often found scouting the “Front Line” and assessing the situation before the front line combatants move forward. Among the many things he does, he never fails to join the party gathered for a “Boss Kill”.
Asuna is not a gamer, she is the obedient daughter of a wealthy driven family; the NVG isn’t even hers, her older brother had to leave town for business so she tried it for the sole purpose of finding out if there was more to life… yeah… shit. She starts out driven to get back home; as she puts it “every day we’re here, we lose a day out there!” To which Kirito informs her “yeah, but today we’re here, and it’s actually not a bad day.” She spends the entirety of the series learning that there is more important things in life, than striving for a monetary standard she did not set herself.
People being people without any guiding influence or legal authority, the players shake down into various in-game lifestyles and the only rules enforced are those within guilds upon their members. The only over-all Law mentioned is that of murder. Duels (player vs player) are permissible, but you’re not allowed to bring an opponent to 0hp. This of course does not stop people from being people, and two notable orange guilds are mentioned in the game “Titan’s Hand” and “Laughing Coffin”, orange referring the crystal above everyone’s head denoting what they are, green for player, orange for player killer (usually game monsters), red for bosses. I didn’t catch the crystal for NPC’s, but quest givers have an exclamation mark. The only authority to keep this law enforced are the players at or close to the front line.
Kirito has completed the game and nearly 6000 players are released back to the real world, after two years. The VR company has long since gone bankrupt paying damaged for lives lost along the way; but the NVG product was bought out and sustained by someone else. Over all, things are fine except it’s discovered that 300 players have yet to come offline, Kirito’s in-game wife Asuna being one of them. Kirito has PTSD, as do many of the front line players who chose combat over a sedentary in-game lifestyle (though many of these aided the combatants in other ways). A special school is being created for students who survived SAO, for many reasons, not least of which are neural observation and trauma management. And a special investigation department had been created specifically for VR crimes; despite this, organizing RL for the 6000 coming offline at once, allowed the 300 to slip through the cracks.
An image of Asuna is brought to Kirito’s attention, an image from another VRMMORPG. Stripped of the power she had in SAO and literally caged like a bird, she is a prisoner in her own mind. While the VR crimes unit works out the RL side of things, Kirito takes it upon himself to don his online VR investigator’s cap once again and plugs the NVG in to get to the bottom of things. The result leads to a crippling body blow to “Full Dive” VRMMO companies, but SAO’s designer leaves Kirito one last parting gift, to do with as he pleases; he calls it “The Seed”.
Six months have passed and the SAO youth are settling into their RL routines. Kirito’s posse are still full-diving, but not through any company framework. The Seed has infected the internet and anyone with VR equipment can access it; anyone with enough computing power can use the seed to create their own world, and in no time, the VRMMO’s are interconnecting to each other in a web that rivals the internet itself.
Gun Gale Online is one such world. It’s… very American; it was designed by an American, the server is based in America, “shoot’m all, let the AI sort it out”. Hell, you can make real money in this game, making “Made in America” mean something again. Ok ok ok, it’s what the rest of the world thinks of America, thank John Wayne. Add a couple of unexplained RL deaths related to this VRMMO and the VRCU investigator brings in Kirito for questioning; when they agree that VR death can’t lead to RL death, Kirito agrees to investigate online, something is amiss, and neither of them can let it slide.
Kirito’s habit of using a random canned body, lands him in a very rare and very androgynous body type. Hilarity ensues as he swaps between the genders as the need dictates, allowing him to choose his battles more easily. The amusement is tempered by a meeting with the character related to the deaths he’s there to investigate, things take a turn for the worse as Kirito realizes this player is a member of the Laughing Coffin guild from SAO.
This part of the series deals mainly with trauma, both RL (Kirito’s partner Sinon) and VR (Kirito’s actions in SAO), and in Sinon’s case, when RL trauma manifests itself in VR, where she thought she could be safe from it.
Kirito works out that the deaths have to be at least a two man operation, one in VR to show his power, the other in RL creating a drug induced heart failure. However, it dawns on him during a major competition and he can’t just logout until a winner is has been declared, which means only one player left alive and the murderer is one of the contestants.
Here we get to see Asuna’s RL home life. While she takes her friend’s rich girl jokes in stride, she is increasingly more dependent on school and VR to cope with it. Her mother has other ideas for her though, which involve neither, nor her VR husband, Kirito. She finds new friends and discovers that the SAO survivors aren’t the only deep divers, not all deep divers were a mistake. She learns from friends, how they prioritize in various states of life and screws up the courage to face her biggest challenge yet, standing up to her mother.
Kirito’s main (and not insubstantial) contribution to this part is programming VR to interact with RL; in it’s most basic sense, he’s creating skype for VR entities to connect to RL. While his reasons are innocent enough, I can’t help but think of the implications of such technology; dating NPC’s being one, but depending on what the NPC’s are programmed to do, they would make sufficient teachers, possibly moral guides, or even bad influences.