— Fencedude (@Fencedude) July 22, 2012
Technology moves really fast, especially in areas where there is a lot of economic incentive to innovate. HCI stuff, big time. But it wasn’t too long ago that science fiction begin to imagine what it would be like in the next “dimension”; the orthogonal turn from linear improvement of, say, how fast and power computers are, but to how these faster and more powerful computers enable things that we cannot even dream of doing before. For example, AI is one of those very staple thing, but mimicking intelligence is as old as when the first monkey learned from mimicking the next. None of these forefathers were big about, say, streaming from the cloud. Or being able to torrent to dropbox. Or be able to control sex toys via USB.
The reality of the situation is that, well, reality has long since caught up to fiction. When Google demoed their skydiving glasses (go to 1:27:00 or so) during this past Google I/O, the only thing missing was Densuke. The reality was that wearable visual augmentation hooked up to a computer with network capabilities was something that was around since I was in undergrad, and that was a long ass time ago. It was just a problem of how practical you can make it, and figure out what the heck people would use it for. I think Brin & co is still working on that.
So what does fiction do when reality has caught up to it? In Japan’s case, you make a moe heroine and pour some kind of white, viscous fluid on her, using this new technology. Yep!
Well, entertainment and fanservice aside, I think Sword Art Online approaches the whole virualized reality thing by playing on the experiences of hardcore MMORPG gamers. And by that I mean games like UO, EQ or FFXI, and by that I mean definitely not WoW, although WoW probably gives players enough of an in given how similar that was to those two games. While it probably isn’t the first anything to build on some kind of new HCI paradigm, SAO is the first one that I know which builds on the newly introduced concepts that came with the advent of MMORPG.
By definition, MMORPGs are constructs that are significantly different than their historical, single-player-offline sort of deal. Compare that to, say, Dennou Coil’s Densuke or thermonuclear beard war, people probably have an easier time imagining dealing with the mechanics of SAO (the game) than having to walk Densuke everyday, even if we do walk our dogs and what not. There’s just too much of a gap between walking your dog versus walking your virtual dog that lives in your glasses; or rather, since we have no idea how it walking your virtual dog, we can only think of it like walking with a real dog. On the other hand, we can imagine a virtual reality WoW experience easily, and it is nothing like actual WoW.
(The point I want to make by excluding games like WoW is because I get the feeling SAO is created by someone who has realized how punishing and annoying some of these games are. And WoW is basically the polar opposite of punishing. The whole exclusive, “leet” streak Kirito takes is all too much for me to take seriously without questioning the credentials of what’s at stake, or how this story got to the point it did by episode 3. Soloing in a game means different things if you grew up with FFXI versus, say, any WoW and post-WoW games, let’s just say.)
Anyway, I think it would be interesting to see if SAO is indeed pulling from the viewer/reader’s experience to construct the emotional context that the story takes place. It certainly is considered otaku material, so we do have that going. If we contrast SAO with Accel World, I feel that connection is the biggest difference between the two. In SAO you feel like playing a MMORPG (albeit in a very chuu2 way); in Accel World it feels like just another chuu2-shounen manga formula.
PS. You know SAO is otaku lit when the game is populated largely by guys. In reality more women play MMORPGs than any other types of games! At least, in the west.