Sword Art Online Mid-raid Ready Check

Sword Art Online is an enjoyable watch, but I don’t particularly enjoy many aspects of it. I think with a broad stroke I can write off most of the things I don’t like under “this is way too chuu2.”

Such things include, for example, the paternalistic nonsense in the latest episode when Asuna was being stalked, or how Kirito is just this projection of all things chuunibyou (a “beater” duel wielding double phalluses made of the hardest material you can find and is probably the highest level character soloing mobs (almost) nobody can!), someone who is able to do everything important himself except all the domestic stuff, so he has some excuse to interact with cute girls, or generally the design of the MMORPG is not only outdated, but has some glaring problems that borders on anacronism. The list can go on, but it tops out at “why is a solo freak playing a MMORPG?” Because we have a term for this, and it’s not Beater–it’s Retard. Only an idiot play a MMORPG by himself the whole time. I guess even bots play with each other in those games! Yea yea he does play with someone else and he will play with other people eventually, but this loner attitude is for losers.

I’m not really a big MMORPG player nowadays, although I paid my dues in EQ and WoW over the years, plus handful of other games that I just dabbled in. I enjoy being hooked on it, and in a perverse sense I see the setup for SAO as the ultimate vacation. “Hey boss, some evil cyberterrorist hijacked my body so I have to play this game until I beat it, or I die. Can I take a sabbatical? Oh my health insurance will cover the cost of living, niiiice.” Do you ever feel like that? My friend who already put in his PTO days for Pandaria probably would agree. What’s more, our SAO overlord enslaved an entire server full of people, so you will have people to do stuff with even at all times, day and night.

I read this post not too long ago and it reminds me the one thing SAO did right that, say, .Hack//sign did poorly. That is exactly how the video game interact with reality in a way that the viewer can associate with. Back in the late 90s, .Hack appealed to the type of people who actually played, say, RO Beta or EQ, and the nods in the game are a great way to build on that connection between viewer and material. Fast forward to today, I think that alone is definitely not enough. SAO does refer to game mechanics, too, but it adds the whole dimension that, coincidentally, I could really care less for but elevates the show: a solid standalone narrative. You could treat SAO like a fantasy novel and ignore that they’re trapped inside this VR thing, living lives like fictional characters in a fantasy story. I think by cutting out (admittedly very potent plot juice) the real life aspects, it makes SAO an enjoyable story about MMORPGs as narratives like a MMORPG. Think of SWTOR without all the traveling.

To that end, I’m taking the assumption that a game is only a game when it’s fun to play. When it gets too personal or too serious, it’s going to require some change in perspectives. Fundamentally, that is going to happen when you try to rope in a couple friends for a weekend night crawling dungeons online, or any other similar activity. It just gets less personal and more business-like when we’re talking about 25 or 40 people and their collective weekend or whatever time zone they happen to be in, in order to not stand in the fire and make the other 39 people’s lives miserable. In FFXI’s and EQ’s cases, this number can be up by even more. In other words, MMORPGs are often very serious business, at least up to say 2009 or so.

Perhaps another way to look at it is that a honest look at MMORPG culture and fandom necessarily cannot be encapsulated by a chuunibyou-driven narrative. Think of the Guild for example; it’s more about normal, everyday lives. It’s not about some guy who is super powerful and beats all his foes. He doesn’t suffer any real setbacks. But because now we don’t have this everyday life thing to get in the way, we can enjoy SAO for what it is: just yet another hero’s quest, the ones that typifies the single player experience. There is not much MMO-y about SAO besides that other characters can interact with you; once you strip the gamer-game-character-dichotomy, it’s all just a fantasy setting with people in it.

Because, indeed, you can’t save the world in FFXI all alone by yourself, that’s for the home versions of such games. Juggling this dichotomy and undercutting the fundamental fact about MMORPG life makes SAO ultimately a sad exercise in excessive chuu2-ness, but also one that can be enjoyable as a single-player media that typifies the TV-viewing and novel-reading experiences. Personally it makes SAO a very difficult pill to swallow because I enjoy MMORPGs for largely different reasons, but I know for sure there are all kind of people out there who probably gets that power trip out of it.

And I can probably go on and show you how sad it is when people enjoy their power tripping on MMORPGs, because all that has happened is a player demonstrating his or her own pathetic nature for the world to see. It’s fine if you power trip all you want in some single-player experience, but, again, this is why it’s Retarded to be a Kirito in real life. Friends don’t let friends play MMORPG by themselves.

He isn’t a guy I dislike, but Kirito (and to an extent, Asuna) should really take a back seat and enjoy their GLOOP GLOOP moment, out of our view. Meanwhile, MORE DEBAN plz.

15 Responses to “Sword Art Online Mid-raid Ready Check”

  • vendredi

    “You could treat SAO like a fantasy novel and ignore that they’re trapped inside this VR thing, living lives like fictional characters in a fantasy story.”

    I think this is the thing that strikes me as a little interesting, but at the same time irks me a little about SAO – it feels a lot like a bog-standard fantasy anime.

    Or heck, any bog-standard fantasy franchise where a person from today is thrown into a fantasy world – just that instead of a magical portal, time travel, mystic prophecy, etc. we get the whole apparatus of the fantasy MMO that allows us to have a fantasy world with modern social mores and mentality.

    The lead-in premise though had me expecting something slightly more… cyberpunk, I guess. Which I think is ultimately the difference between SAO and .hack – the .hack series always seemed more aligned with that sort of classical cyberpunk musing on what the nature of reality truly is when all around you is fiction. Where’s the real-world intrigue, the nation-wide manhunt for this terrorist, the drama of the real world mirroring events in the game, etc. etc. Instead, when the mad cyberterrorist says “You must beat the game to escape”, the show focuses precisely on that.

    On a related note, big fantasy anime titles seem to always have been game-derived. Record of Lodoss War was a book, yes, but that book was a compilation of multiple tabletop game sessions. And it seems the source material has simply shifted over the years from pen-and-paper games to their video game counterparts… and certainly the palette and visual direction of many fantasy shows feels depressingly similar (compare SAO with Sacred Blacksmith with Legend of the Legendary Heroes with Tower of Druaga. Then compare them to some of the big name JRPGs).

    • omo

      Treating SAO as the grandchild of replay novels sounds like a cool thing to do. Even if that side-steps the meta elements that SAO has baked in.

      Makes you wonder if there are replays of FFXI and such..

  • jpmeyer

    I loooooooooooove how Asuna is the perfect “gamer girlfriend”.

    1) Unlike those FAKE GAMER GIRLS, she is actually good at the game
    2) …but doesn’t recognize the agency that this should give her
    3) …and more importantly, she’s not as good as you, because that would be threatening (and besides, girls are worse than boys at vidya games amirite fellas?)
    4) Oh man and FINALLY, a cute girl realize just how ovary-inflaming your 1337 h4x0r sk1llzz are!
    5) And would rather do domestic stuff than like, go around soloing entire dungeons by herself like she actually could do
    6) Then the standard stuff about her looks
    7) And glooping

    In conclusion, gloop gloop went the two years of middle school as it flowed endlessly into SAO.

  • Digibro

    “Kirito is just this projection of all things chuunibyou”

    Oh man, you put the feeling I was trying to pin down into words.

    “Only an idiot play a MMORPG by himself the whole time.”


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  • NegativeZero

    I often play MMOs solo. Have played several completely on my own before. :(

    • omo

      Man, I would’ve stopped you if I have known!

    • Praestlin

      What’s wrong with playing solo? I often treat MMOs as singleplayer games with arguably endless content, particularly the F2P ones.

      Are they better than dedicated SP games? Not always, but just like a round of Diablo or some other dungeon crawler, there’s a comforting familiarity to the MMO routine.

      I don’t solo exclusively, but the argument that you’re not doing it right if you play solo is wrong, esp. when so many MMO designs that aren’t EVE or Guild Wars 2 actively encourage solo play.

    • omo

      Sorry, you’re doing it wrong. I understand why some people would choose to do it, and I understand some people might think there are no wrong way to play a game as long as a game lets them, but that ultimately undermines the nature of MMORPGs. I think it might be better to say that all MMORPG designs encourage playing with people, some also choose to reward solo play (as you say, mostly F2P ones).

  • Fencedude

    “more deban”?

    I seem to have missed this meme.

    • omo

      Not quite full blown meme status, but the phrase so far refers to some image from some magazine or website with Liz and Silica holding up those signs to protest the lack of screentime.

  • eternal

    I’m biased because I barely watch fantasy anime in the first place (I’m picky with shows that take themselves seriously), but I ended up dropping SAO because of the same issues you’re talking about. It doesn’t make use of its setting and it goes right back to the standard save-the-world fantasy fare.

    Kirito and Asuna both bugged me too but I hadn’t thought of them as chuuni until you mentioned it. That’s the perfect word for this. What with the latest episode, it’s funny to hear people praise Kirito for being better than “gutless” protags who remain indecisive for the whole season. Kirito gets the girl, I guess, but it’s a fake, self-insert alphaness that I don’t buy into at all (in contrast with Oreki who I think earned his not-quite romance in Hyouka). But JP summed that up neatly.

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