Sword Art Online Alternative, Episode 6

I could have sat down and guessed at potential plots for this show all day long, and I have to admit, I never would have predicted this one. I thought there would be some mysterious, shadowy conspiracy, or an evil villain trying to hack the game, but Karen drawn into the romantic nonsense of two certifiably insane people? Did not see that coming.

First, let’s deal with the rhythmic gymnastics team. Initially I thought having the girls meet up with Karen post-Squad Jam was just a pointless bit of fluff, but as the girls explained their motivation for playing GGO, they presented a good justification for the existence of violent video games in general. Thanks to GGO, the girls were able to become “war buddies,” without the risk or inconvenience of actual war. They’ve bonded as a team, and while they could have done that in many different ways, fighting for their virtual lives together was a very effective way to do it.

However, before you think the show is declaring “Violent games are great! Video Games will solve all problems!” it becomes pretty obvious that there’s a downside; the girls don’t seem to care too much about their chosen sport anymore. They started playing to improve their teamwork, but the means became an end unto itself. I wonder how often this happens in real life; people play games in part to address specific problems, only to get so into the game that they forgot about the problem in the first place. It’s something that’s likely to only become more common as games get more immersive, so it’s an important thing to look out for.

Gun Gale Online: Quite possibly the only MMO where the gamers are actually more attractive in real life than they are in the game.

Then there’s Pito, who’s so upset that she missed out on Sword Art Online the first time around that she’s trying to put another Death Game together. Logically, thinking about the way even the most horrible things seem to become memes that people want to repeat, it makes perfect sense that someone would do this. I mean, Pito and M are clearly nuts (which Karen realizes immediately), but it’s completely believable that they would be crazy in this exact way.

What this storyline seems to be dealing with is how the world would have changed in the wake of the Death Game, but from a different angle from the original series. The main show dealt with a lot of the details, like how SAO kids were sent to a special school for survivors and whatnot, but this show seems to be dealing with how the broader culture has changed as a result.*

I hesitate to bring up school shootings, because I don’t want to get dragged into a gun control argument (and whatever merits those arguments may have, I don’t think there’s any point to having one here), but there are obvious parallels. No matter what we try to do about it, school shootings are part of the culture of the United States right now: it’s awful, frightening, sickening culture, but it’s real. Now, in this anime’s world, killing and dying in real life based on video games is becoming the new culture.

I wonder how much we have to worry about this in the future. Up until now, video games (violent and otherwise) have done little to inspire real-life violence. I’m sure there’re cases where players have hunted down other players in real life to get revenge for in-game altercations, but considering just how many people play video games, that sort of thing is still astonishingly rare. Will it remain so? Are we just waiting on a grisly, seminal event, to get it ingrained in the public consciousness to the point where it becomes a meme, and thus, infinitely repeatable?

This is getting a little too dark for one of my typical anime posts, I think. But one of the things SAO does well, just like Ghost in the Shell, is get us to anticipate societal problems that new technology may enable, before that technology exists. Maybe it’ll never exist; maybe virtual reality will remain as basically clunky and limited as it is now (unlikely, but possible I guess), and we’ll never experience the full-dive games Karen and Pito play. Maybe killing yourself in real life because you died in a game will never take off as a concept. But if games continue to become more and more immersive, this is something we’re eventually going to have to deal with.

I’m impressed that this show brought this problem to my attention, but I think I probably would have been happier if I could have remained ignorant a little longer. So I’m an impressed, depressed anime blogger right now.

Just in case this was all too serious for you, here’s Goushi being ridiculous, because he is a crazy man with an even crazier girlfriend. Come to think of it, is Pito even his girlfriend? He could just work for her, for all we know.

*I don’t want to say that mainline SAO never tackles these themes, because I haven’t read novels. I’m just comparing this show to the other animated entries in the franchise that we’ve had so far.

5 thoughts on “Sword Art Online Alternative, Episode 6”

  1. Intense PVP combat in any game teaches trust. Once learned it applies to all interactions with those people. It’s almost magic how well it works in that way. If anything the surprising element is how these girls knew to try something like a war game for the bonding element. I wish they told us what inspired that idea.

    The identities of M and Pito seem super obvious now. I will be pretty surprised if they aren’t exactly who I think they are.

    Instead of making killers of people what you get from the darker side of intense PVP combat is the making/awakening of thrill seekers I think. Maybe this is an awful thing to say, but the violence in video games is going to be more satisfying in the games than it is in real life. It takes someone who is mentally ill to want to try something they do in a violent game for real. On a real basic level it’s obvious that what you are doing in a video game is not worth doing in real life even if you could do it in real life.

    The risk of getting harmed taken to an extreme where life is on the line is something you can see to a degree in some games that exist. Diablo comes to mind. It has a game mode called hardcore where you character is gone once it dies. I’ll admit that hardcore takes a game that I find kind of boring in general and makes playing it a lot more rewarding. So I know the type of thrill Pito is talking about. (Though I’m not sure how serious she is or if M just misunderstands)

    The thing to look for in people who become aware of how much they enjoy thrill seeking isn’t generally going to be violence or suicide I think. That stuff is still reserved for people who are mentally ill. I personally suspect that as games become more immersive the will be less likely to inspire thoughts of real violence or real suicide. The more immersive the games are the more satisfying the overall experience. People might want to go outside less, but that isn’t new. Going outside less does have it’s own problems…

    One sad thing I will credit gaming with, at least to a degree, is what happens when people who are already thrill seekers get into them as well as my own theory on what happens. Active people are happier people in general. Exercise creates happiness hormones etc etc. So when you get a person who was active and they stop being active and play games instead their thrill seeking increases and becomes more dangerous. Especially when someone is injured and can’t be active. I don’t want to blame games, but that situation tends to go hand in hand with other problems like gambling and drugs. If you’re not sure what I mean by gambling look at how many games have loot crates now.

    Game devs are aware of how to make games more addictive and some of them are already doing it. It isn’t by adding more immersion or violence. It’s by adding gambling to satisfy thrill seeking in a way that makes them more money. It is a problem I think, just not the one people generally want to talk about.

  2. You’re right that the issues you’re talking about here are bigger concerns in terms of the amount of people they can possibly affect. Right now I’m thinking more about nightmare scenarios that will effect relatively few people, but will be horrific when/if they happen. To be honest, if we hadn’t just recently had another school shooting, I might have been thinking along different lines when I watched the episode.

    I should stop watching any sort of news whatsoever, no good comes of it ><.

    1. I know this is an easy thing to say and a hard thing to actually do, but I think people ask the wrong questions with school shootings. It always becomes a control debate when it seems obvious to me that the underlying problem that needs to be tackled is why school shooters are motivated to do what they do. Social issues once identified need to be solved with or without the removal of guns.

      I agree that it’s cool to see where this story is going and I like the themes it’s playing with. Based off what we’ve seen so far Pito and M are both the right degree of nuts to make things interesting.

      The most depressing part of this anime for me is remembering that I can’t read Kino’s Journey in English. I have my priorities right! :/

  3. Yes it’s very frustrating that whenever people start to question why so many people are so motivated to murder their classmates, then they get accused of moving the conversation away from guns. You can be zealously in favor of more gun control laws and still think the question of why kids keep feeling compelled to do this is an important one.

    I do think there’s a strong meme-like element to it; like it’s a sick cousin of the desire to post the same images on Twitter with minor changes. Once something becomes a meme, it’s a meme, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a good thing (the Ice Bucket Challenge from a few years back comes to mind) or a horrible thing, it is going to be repeated, because that’s the nature of memes.

    Makes me wonder if maybe we’re approaching this school violence thing all wrong and what we should be doing is creating another meme to displace it. Like, maybe instead of coming in and murdering people, kids will start wallpapering the school with pictures of their anime waifu, and that will become the new way to commit social suicide. I feel bad even being glib about this, but honestly, it’s a perverse situation and the solutions may also be perverse.

    Brb, gonna read some more books on homeschooling, lol.

  4. I think I get what you mean with the meme comparison. Memes are an easy way to get acknowledgement because they’ve already been publicly acknowledged. They are an easy way to communicate something to a large audience. The implication then is something along the lines of wanting to be acknowledged so badly kids are shooting up schools. That’s nasty to think about.

    Comparing violence to memes and wanting to be acknowledged makes sense to me, but wanting to risk your own life to win at a game strikes me as different. That’s more wanting/being willing to disappear if you can’t succeed than wanting to be acknowledged no matter the cost. Similar things, but not entirely the same I think. One involves wanting to prove yourself in a desperate situation, or maybe simply experience a desperate situation for the stimulation of it. The other is being so desperate you’ve given up on acknowledgement without self-destruction. In that sense I don’t think the scenario in SAO:A is much like memes. Pito is bent on destruction if she loses, but as far as we know her goal is winning and her motivation is personal satisfaction at cheating death. Destruction is a penalty for failure and not her plan to get what she wants.

    Either way I already know the author of Kino’s Journey isn’t afraid of making statements about guns and violence with his storytelling. That story was full of them and Kino herself always treats herself as an outsider with moral neutrality. Pito kind of feels like an insane version of Kino. They even have similar names… I know it’s kinda cheating to use another author’s work to predict an unrelated one, but the similarity feels worth pointing out. If it’s not an intentional misdirection anyway.

    Side note, I feel like the original GGO route of SAO did go the meme route you’ve mentioned, it just did a bad job of making Death Gun feel like a real person. His motivations were very one-dimensional. That was somewhat intentional I think. The focus was on developing Kirito’s feelings about having killed someone in the game. It might be worth pointing out that it’s hard to humanize a character like Death Gun and it would have made GGO even more uncomfortable than it already was. IMO anyway. I know a lot of people don’t like that arc much and wanted it to be darker/wanted Sinon to be more badass. /shrug

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