We should’ve known. The English-speaking internet was hoodwinked by some mistranslations recently; getting all worked up over the notion that IBM might’ve developed a virtual reality MMO (VRMMO) and realizing Sword Art Online‘s supposedly fantastic premise. Of course, such excitement willfully neglected how ominous that premise actually is. This vaporware would’ve themed itself after a sci-fi story while somehow completely missing said story’s message.
Sword Art Online is about hapless gamers getting stuck in a virtual world that can suddenly, actually kill them. Who’d ever want to strap on a visor and enter that world? To our benefit, the temptation was never real. It turned out Sword Art Online: The Beginning is just an interactive VR experience–not an actual game. Somebody needed to review their kanjis. It did get SAO trending again, though, which was the basic point anyway. And if your curiosity was piqued, here’s the 411 on the anime, along with a couple other shows you’d probably be interested in. The set-up of MMOs gettin’ real is actually rather popular these days.
Sword Art Online
As mentioned, the eponymous game is a VRMMO which plugs players in via a “NerveGear helmet,” which integrates all five senses. The fun stops, of course, when Sword Art Online’s creator appears as a menacing cloaked figure before 10,000 players and informs them that he’s locked them inside. Escape is only possible if they defeat the final boss atop its 100-level castle. If they “die” during the sword and sorcery gameplay, or if anybody in the outside world takes their NerveGear helmets off, then they’re dead for real. Our hero is best suited for the job because he played the game’s beta previously. Other chosen ones who fight for the people might be called “Pendragon” or “Muad’ib.” He, however, is known as the “Beta Cheater.”
To spell it out: the title is an onomatopoeia. Because tons of big explosions happen in this show! Btooom! is also the name of the console game our young lead has earned a top ranking in. Whether he wished to live it or not, he inexplicably wakes up on a tropical island very much like the game’s setting, and quickly finds himself fleeing from competitors tossing bombs! Has he been digitized? Or is this mysterious place some Survivor-esque recreation? No time to suss out. The white knuckle, life-or-death tension starts in Scene One and never, ever lets up. It’s not just all viscera, either. The ol’ reality/fantasy line blurs even further when our lead runs into a girl who’s his “in-game” wife. Can online romance translate to the real world? There’s no better time to find out than during a deathmatch.
Basically Tron meets Wall Street, this builds the “MMOs gettin’ real” premise up with more conceptual layers. Our lead is a struggling scholarship student working several jobs, constantly wishing he could just have enough money to live stably and court the girl he’s crushing on. Enter a Mad Hatter-like Faustian figure, entreating him to an alternate world called the Financial District where entrepreneurs compete. It isn’t explicitly a MMO, but it functions the same, right down to strangers’ avatars pitting Pokemon-like sprites against each other to win good fortune. Money comes with victory, sure, but the “fortunes” they collect are both literal and figurative. Entire lives can be re-written, for example, with good luck being added or subtracted to decide if a winner has a happy, healthy family.
Years have passed, and this still might be the only major work of fantasy to sharply metaphorize the Great Recession of the late 2000s.
What other shows about MMOs getting’ real are worth logging into? If a VRMMO version were viable, would you actually want to sign up? Sound off in the talkback.
Featured Image Credit: Aniplex