Sword Art Online (SAO) is a Japanese light novel and anime series written by Reki Kawahara centering on a multiplayer virtual reality (VR) game in the year 2022, where players are held captive in a virtual world.

The suspenseful sage sees players discover that they cannot escape the game at their own will. They must play to victory or death in the game, which in turn, results in death in real life.

While the metaverse is still in its infancy, stories like SAO highlight the extremities of VR games. Palmer Luckey, the creator of the Oculus Rift headset, built a modified VR headset—the SAO NerveGear—that can kill players through lethal levels of microwave radiation to the brain. Although Palmer Luckey replicated the series’ SAO NerveGear as a piece of office art, anime fans are eager to build such devices and are excited to be trapped in a game hosted on a decentralized platform.

How does SAO work?

SAO is set in a fictional Tokyo, Japan, where a hyper-realistic VR game suddenly traps more than 10,000 players in its universe. Within the virtual world, players exist in a metaverse platform called WorldSeed that captures reality and transcends real-life limitations. Players access WorldSeed by connecting a VR headset called a NerveGear directly to their brains, enhancing control of their avatars. As the story progresses, the game transitions into a nightmare, where players learn they cannot exit the game unless they complete 100 levels and defeat high-ranking monsters. However, if players die within the game, they are killed in the real world.

The reality of Sword Art Online in today’s world

Although SAO portrays a very far-advanced version of the metaverse, the likelihood of developing such devices is high. As SAO continued for three seasons, presenting terrifying possibilities, anime and gaming communities began developing technologies inspired by the series. As mentioned above, Palmer Luckey, creator of the Oculus Rift headset, built a modified VR headset similar to SAO NerveGear that can kill players through lethal levels of microwave radiation to the brain. Luckey stated, “The idea of tying your real life to your virtual avatar has always fascinated me…only the threat of serious consequences can make a game feel real to you.” At the same time, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, is rumoured to be working on a project allowing us to control computers with our consciousness.

Shockingly, SAO fans are eager to explore the danger of the game. According to a Reddit page, some fans are willing to consent their lives for the game, with one fan stating, “Sure, give me everything. Even the possible death. It’s a lot more fun that way.” While some people have thanatophobia—an intense fear of death—SAO fans are seemingly willing to accept the risk of death to bring pleasure to their greatest, deepest fantasy.

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By GlobalData

While SAO is full of adventure, romance, action, comedy, and drama, the reality of SAO today is impossible. If they went the route of SAO, future metaverse developers would face serious legal and ethical issues around privacy and data security, health and safety concerns, and even first-degree murder. In the anime series, over 200 people have been killed due to their families removing or disconnecting the headset. Yet, many fans of the anime series will certainly not stop future game designers from developing devices that will effectively cut them off from the physical world—with some already giving consent for game designers to kill them in the real world when their avatar dies in the game.

The future of SAO

While the world will likely never accept SAO NerveGear technology in real life, current progress in the VR market highlights that it could become a possibility. Instead of fearing the emergence of SAO NerveGear, many anime fans are eager to build such devices and explore the danger of the game, tampering with life and death.