Anime Review: Sword Art Online

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Posted from my Facebook December 22, 2012

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Sword Art Online is a shounen anime series which captures virtual reality, online gaming, and human survival tactics together at the same time. I do admit that among most anime fans, SAO is perhaps one of the most popular series from this year, perhaps because these themes I had mentioned are intertwined. Its premise is chillingly realistic (in a gamer’s standpoint), it features two compatible protagonists, and it has more girls playing a sadistic MMO than perhaps the number of girls that actually play games of this RPG genre (okay, that might be a stretch, because I’ve heard quite a few female voices over Ventrilo back when I was playing World of Warcraft. On the other hand, it is World of Warcraft I’m talking about).

For the most part I enjoyed the series because it followed the somewhat-noble direction of perhaps the greatest VRMMORPG (Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) player in the anime world, almost to a point where I felt that the protagonist was doing all of this to save the friends he had met along the way from what I will just call the “Gamers’ Apocalypse:” a condition where everyone plays the game and can’t get out of it until they lose.

And on that note, I LOST THE GAME!!

Unfortunately, I’ve come to realize that this was probably the handy-work of some writer who probably imagines that the most noble people in the world are in fact the ones that make it to the top. This hero known to the gaming world as “Kirito” is a simple solo player whom for the most part plays for his own survival. I don’t care what you say about this protagonist, but I know what solo players in the gaming world are actually like, being that I was one of them for a long time in other MMOs. Solo players complete video games for the enjoyment of the game mechanics itself, regardless of the fact it is in a huge virtual social space (hence the name “Massively Multiplayer”). They quest by themselves, they act and strategize in their world independently, and for the ones that essentially have no life, they are extremely good at player versus player activity because they are used to the concept that no one truly helps them become strong other than themselves.

There is one very obvious flaw in the solo player’s logic: why would you solo in a world that requires one to interact with many personalities to get quests done? I realized that my reclusive antics from the real world were transcending into the virtual world as well. A friend once told me that I’m supposed to play MMOs for the “MM” part of the deal. Slowly but surely, I realized the reason I was playing was not for my enjoyment but for my addiction to escaping into a world that was not my reality; and therefore I had to quit playing MMOs altogether.

I mention all of this because I believe Kirito is probably the same way. He unfortunately could not leave his supposed virtual reality though because he was trapped in it. Having him be the hero of this paradigm glorifies the antics of solo players in MMOs; granted he was lucky to find at least one friend he could confide in most. Personally though, I don’t think that one should exalt the solo player because he’s a solo player. Having a person stand on the top on his own in the MMO complex undermines the very reason MMOs exist: to have interactions with other players!

But I do have to say there is one thing I think is true about Sword Art Online’s premise. When you play a game, you should probably ask yourself what drives you to keep playing? Whether it’s clearing dungeons, beating up other players, providing a helpful hand to others, or simply just interacting with your best virtual friends, these are goals which are quite vague, based on the assumption that one is allowed to live forever. Games to me are supposed to have a finite objective, where knowing what needs to be done is clear and has a projected endpoint. I don’t start projects without a timeline of how I’m going to get it done, and playing a game is no different.

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