Sword Art Online; Could it Happen?

What would you do if you entered a virtual world with your Oculus Rift or PlayStation VR set, and you realized you couldn’t log out. What if you were told you were trapped in the game, and if you died in the game you died in real life? What if the only way to escape the game was to pass it? How would you react? How would you fair?

For those of you who don’t know, Sword Art Online is an anime that first released in 2012. The light novels it is based on were hugely popular, spawning an anime, a sequel series, two games and, earlier this year, a feature length movie, Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale. During a limited movie premier for Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale, lucky viewers were treated to an exclusive clip that pretty much confirmed a third season, and apparently there’s a live action TV series in production by Skydance Media (don’t get hyped for this, they’ll probably find a way to f*** it up), so it’s safe to say the series isn’t dying anytime soon

By the way, I know the anime came out like five years ago, but for the ones who haven’t watched it yet,

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I actual just watched the anime earlier this month, so I guess I’m late to the party. The anime follows a young man named Kirito (real name Kazuto Kirigaya) who, along with 10,000 other players, is trapped in a VR game called Sword Art Online (SAO for short). The rules of the game are simple, if you die in the game you die IRL, and the only way to escape is to beat the final boss. Kirito has an advantage because he was an original Beta tester and because he is exclusively a solo player. He quickly levels up to the point where he can take multiple hits from a party of enemy players without taking any damage.

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As a solo player, Kirito doesn’t like to play in a party, and he has his reasons for not joining a guild either, but he will team up with other players if the need arises. He eventually meets another solo player, and bad ass swords-woman named Asuna, and the two end up falling in love and getting married (in the game only). Kirito ultimately beats the final boss (though not by traditional means),  loses Asuna, gets Asuna back, beats another boss, and the all live happily ever after (until Sword Art Online II). Asuna and Kirito also have a daughter of sorts, but explaining that is just too weird.

The anime was an instant hit, and many people fell in love with the show. Personally, I really enjoyed Sword Art Online because of it’s battle scenes and sword play, but mostly because the main character is a bad ass fighter who beats the death game and gets the girl, unlike another anime character who’s pretty much OP, yet never wins or gets any girls. Cough* cough* Ash from Pokémon, cough*.

(Seriously, Ash has an OP Greninja that can mega-evolve without a mega-stone and a super strong Charizard who he can make mega-evolve too, not to mention all his other Pokémon. Even his Pikachu has to be level, what, 100? And yet he never wins an official Pokémon League! What the f***?

And don’t even get me started on a love interest. Ash has a new female partner in every season, yet he never get’s a girl. I mean, for Christ’s sake, Sarina is literally throwing p**** at him. At the end of XYZ all they do is kiss, even though Sarina obviously wanted ride Ash into the sunset. S*** really pisses me off)

Sorry for the Pokémon rant, but I’ve waited 20 years for Ash to win a League or get laid, and just when I think he’ll do both in XYZ, he f***ing doesn’t. Anyway, back to SAO.

The anime’s sequel was a bit slower than the first season, but it centers around another VR game: Gun Gale Online. Once again, deaths in game are resulting in deaths in real life, and Kirito is called upon to solve the crimes. Kirito and Asuna’s relationship takes a back seat in this season, and were introduced to a new character, Sinon ( her real name is Shinon Asada), a bad ass sniper who is struggling with a childhood trauma in real life. Kirito also has to face his own trauma of having killed people in SAO, resulting in their real world deaths.

The movie Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale centers around and AR game (augmented reality). I have not seen the movie yet, and I can’t seem to find the it anywhere online, but I’m sure it was an excellent action packed experience. It was number one in Japanese cinemas for 2 weeks in a row, and it was also the first animated movie to do so, so you know it’s going to be a bad ass movie. Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale came out in Japan in February, and I know the English dub comes out in June. I also wouldn’t mind a season three either (I just want to see Kirito and Asuna get married in real life).

As a gamer, I thought the idea of being trapped in a virtual death game was exciting and terrifying. I wondered what I would do if I was in Kirito’s shoes. Granted I’d probably die after the first few bosses, but still, a VR game where you literally enter and control a virtual body in a virtual world sounds amazing! But now for the reason behind this post.

Can a Game Like Sword Art Online Happen?

SAO is a first person virtual reality MMO game where the player, with the help of a headset, takes control of an avatar, and functions more or less like one would in real life. For example, if your brain tells your right arm to move, the right arm of your avatar will move. The headset that allows this to work is called the Nervegear. It takes inputs from your brain and applies it to your avatar in the game. The headset also sends signals to your brain to simulate things like taste, smell, temperature, and apparently sex. Yes, sex.

The headset also has a feature which blocks your nerve system, preventing you from moving in the real world, and from feeling any actual pain (that part goes out the window in the end of season one). In addition to this, the headset will discharge an electric current that will effectively fry your brains if you die in the game, if the headset is unplugged, or if the headset is removed from the player.

Now that we know how the concept of SAO works, is it possible to create games like this in real life?

Technology

The anime takes place in the year 2022, where the first full-dive VR game has just been released to the public. I assume that technology is highly advanced in the year 2022. Today, VR gaming is only just getting off the ground. Headsets like the Oculus Rift and the PlayStation VR allow gamers to experience games like never before. HTC and Samsung are also bringing out their own VR sets. Even the porn industry has have hopped on the VR bandwagon, releasing VR adult films.

However, the VR headsets I mentioned above are nowhere near as advanced as the Nervegear from the anime, which could simulate a complete virtual world as well as interpret commands from the brain, but that’s not to say the technology is too far off.

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Last year, engineers from Johns Hopkins University created a prosthetic arm that could be controlled by thought. The robotic arm has 26 joints and can curl up to 45 pounds. It is controlled with a person’s mind just like a regular arm. Nathan Crone, M.D., professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, had this to say,

We believe this is the first time a person using a mind-controlled prosthesis has immediately performed individual digit movements without extensive training. This technology goes beyond available prostheses, in which the artificial digits, or fingers, moved as a single unit to make a grabbing motion, like one used to grip a tennis ball.

The way this works is way too complicated for me to explain, so here is a link to the original report, and the New York Times article.

Seeing how medical technology is allowing people with disabilities lead normal lives is truly inspiring. With more research and study, we could eventually see people who are permanently paralyzed stand and walk again!

Another key point of SAO is brain stimulation to simulate things like touch, taste, and smell. Even sex could be simulated within the game, as shown in an episode where Asuna invites Kirito to copulate.

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So, since we know that the controlling aspect of the game is possible, could the simulation side of the game be possible as well?

Well, in 2015, a blind man was able to see thanks to a bionic eye implant. The implant, called a retinal prosthesis, is a small electronic chip that is placed at the back of the eye to send visual signals directly into the optic nerve. This bypasses the damaged cells in the man’s retina.

LiveScience reported that, although the man was now be able to detect his wife’s outline, “The bionic eye doesn’t have enough electrodes to recreate the details of human faces.”

Though the technology to simulate sight is in very early stages of development, it is a reality. Thanks to advances in medicine, people can not only output commands to cybernetic appendages, but they can also receive input signals to simulate sight and sound when they previously couldn’t.

If we port that technology over to the video game industry, we could effectively create games like Sword Art Online. Knowing this, one can see that an apparatus like SAO‘s Nervegear is not only possible, but closer than we might think. So, from a technological standpoint, a game like Sword Art Online not so far fetched.

Game Development

The games in Sword Art Online are EXTREMELY advanced and complex. Games today are pretty complex themselves. Grand Theft Auto: V and Skyrim are just two games with an insane amount of detail and complexity, to the point where people are still discovering new features in GTA:V that bring life to the state of San Andreas.

However, VR games in the anime cannot be compared the the VR games in real life. VR games for the Oculus and PS VR are very limited and very simple. The headsets are also very primitive compared to the anime’s Nervegear. For one thing, the Nervegear headset has no need for a screen, so things like graphics and frames per second would not have to be taken into consideration, but they would be replaced with completely different things to make the VR world more realistic.

In the anime, the game developers had to program things like scents, tastes, and environments into the game. Players in the anime could taste different kinds of foods, and even create different flavors and tastes when cooking. Similarly, when in a cold environment, players complained about the freezing conditions, so the game could simulate temperature as well. Later in the season it is revealed that the game could also simulate pain.

In the anime, the way the developers recreated things like smells and tastes is not shown, but in the second half of the first season it was revealed that smells could be recorded via a scanner. This information was told to Kirito by the second villain, after he explained what he had to do to recreate Asuna’s scent within the second game. How they were able to input a scent into the game is beyond me.

You also have to take into account the players ability to move and act freely. In the anime, players could move, fight, and act without any limitations. For example, in the second game, Alfheim Online, Kirito did not have his signature skill, which was Dual-Wielding. This meant that he could only fight using one sword. Despite the skill not even being in the game, Kirito was able to defeat General Eugene by using a second sword. Of course, Kirito wasn’t allowed actually use the second sword to fight, but he did it anyway to block General Eugene’s attack. Player freedom is probably the most impossible aspect of Sword Art Online to recreate as it would strain the limitations of the game.

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From a developmental aspect, a game with an insane amount of detail and freedom is just too complex to be created in real life using today’s technology. That’s not to say that it couldn’t happen, but if you take a look at the VR games we have today, it’s obvious that we are very, very far from a game like SAO.

There’s also the whole ‘online’ part of the game. As we know, online games are a pain, especially upon release. Games like Battlefield 4, The Sims, The Division, and more had major backlash for their unreliable and inconsistent servers. Of coarse, the game of SAO was only available to 10,000 players upon release, but the games that came after it had an unlimited number of players. But, if a game like SAO does happen in real life, let’s pray it wasn’t Ubisoft that developed it (because their servers are trash).

The Death Part

We can’t talk about SAO without bringing up the main feature of the anime, which is the whole ‘die in real life’ stint. Can a headset in real life be programmed to kill the user via electric discharge? Well, given that Samsung’s Note 7 could blow your hand off, I would say that yes, a killer headset like the Nervegear is very possible (God, I miss that phone, that was my favorite phone).

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However, think about it. Gaming accessories go through strenuous testing and troubleshooting before getting released. If there was a hidden feature that could kill a player, someone would be sure to find it. Then again, games and products that never see a quality control team get released all the time, so for a death headset to slip by isn’t too unbelievable.

On the other side of things, gamers have a tendency to try and mod their accessories, or tear them up just for the f*** of it. Surely one of the many modders who tears into a VR headset is bound to find the killing feature. Also, think of all the millions of people who have seen Sword Art Online. Think about all the people who will suspect something if a game like SAO ever becomes reality. Don’t you think that if a full-dive VR game like SAO is released, people won’t be hesitant to try it after watching the anime (probably not, to be honest)? In any case, I highly doubt that the events of Sword Art Online will ever play out in real life.

Augmented Reality

I was debating whether to include this or not, since Sword Art Online is a VR game and not an AR game, but given that the new movie centers around an AR game I think I should at least say something about it.

An AR game seems more believable than an VR game, since we already have working AR games like Pokémon Go. Xbox hasn’t joined the VR bandwagon yet, but Microsoft has been working tirelessly on Augmented Reality. In fact, Microsoft already has a game that functions more or less like the game in Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale. Check out the trailer for the movie, and the Microsoft HoloLens demo.

Of course, I assume the game in Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale still interacts with your brain to activate power ups and abilities as well as simulate things like heat, smell, and obviously sight, but from a technological standpoint, an AR game like the one in the movies is very possible.

So that was my take on a possible Sword Art Online game in real life. I know this was a rather long post, but I come to my own conclusions on the subject. Since VR games still have a ways to go, let me know which games you are currently looking forward to in the comment section below. Also, if some one knows where I can find a bootleg version of Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale, let me know, I don’t care if it’s in Japanese.

As always, I hoped you enjoyed, and I hope you all have a kick ass day.

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