I’m really enjoying the anime adaptations of Kawahara Reki’s Accel World and Sword Art online, both stories set in a world of neuro-connected MMOs.
Accel World concerns an MMO fighting game that allows the players accelerated mental capabilities outside of the game – the narrative centres around a pudgy, low self-esteem kid who is recruited by the popular girl for his skill at computer games, in order to overturn the established order and seek out the game’s creator. It’s an imaginative and innovative near-future setting (pervasive CCTV “social cameras”, quantum cryptographic identity proof, neural links since birth, social distinctions between wired and wireless connections), with clever developments that have kept a rather jaded anime fan like me hooked. As befits a modern writer, Kawahara is versed in technology and its potential, both technically and sociologically, and steadily paces revelation of the rules of the game (and the society) without ever feeling contrived, over-complex, or forced to fill plot gaps. The protagonist is a semi-hetare who somehow avoids being tiresome, and the heroine is an admirable character drawn to the former for good reasons (I liked her kokuhaku speech). I knew I was hooked when I worked out exactly what the protagonist had to do to protect the heroine moments before he performed it in the middle of another reveal.
Sword Art Online is a different beast that incorporates similar technical content – direct neural connections, online games and their style of social interactions, but focuses on a more sombre journey through a more typical fantasy PvE MMO. I like to think Kawahara was inspired by Demon Souls or Dark Souls, as there is no magic or ranged attacks in this game, and player skill (not just levels and items) is necessary. In what some have somewhat jovially dubbed “brutal honesty”, Kawahara brings up the use of more attractive avatars (sometimes of the opposite sex), beta player advantage, and grinding efficiencies – concepts that gamers are no stranger to, but have yet to find their way into popular media. SAO is by far more technically aware than hack sign, which seemed to be created by people with limited knowledge of real MMOs.
Kawahara Reki’s works are some of the first depictions of near future gaming that seize the imagination and ring true to this computer game fan.