Sword Art Online Ep. 1: Poopsocking

I actually found this episode quite entertaining. But let’s get this clear — I’m a big fan of massively multiplayer online (MMO) games. To put it another way, if this blog stops updating on the 28th of August, you’ll know why. As a result, all of the MMOisms in the anime amuse me.

Take them away, however, and Sword Art Online will look and feel like any other shounen adventure. And hell, that’s sort of true now. If the ED is any indication of how the rest of the series will turn out, SAO doesn’t look like it’ll have much staying power. But for the time being, yeah, I enjoyed it.

10,000 players find themselves trapped within a virtual reality MMO that sure looks a lot like Ragnarok Online (then again, where are all the BR players?). In addition, if you die in-game, you’ll die in real life. If you disconnect from the game, you’ll die in real life. If you loved ones try to save you, you’ll die in real life. The game’s creator promises his players that any attempts to quit playing the MMO will result in their brains being microwaved. Think of it as Diablo 3‘s hardcore mode, but less laggy and, sadly, probably more fun. Still, having your brain slowly turn to mush as you kill Azmodan for the billionth time is quite analogous to having it microwaved instead!

Basically, SAO brings a whole new meaning to poopsocking. So is everyone screwed? Is there no hope? Are we doomed to camping 21-24 hour timed spawns in a area so small other players fade in and out from hardware limitations? Must we idiotically fight a boss so difficult for so long that we literally throw up in real life? If death is permanent, player griefing must be out of control! Perhaps some of the 10,000 SAO denizens will lose all hope and surrender themselves to something akin to Moon Guard’s Goldshire. Well, being a game and all, our hero Kirita must naturally ascend a 100-floor dungeon and, presumably, defeat the final boss. Kirita, being the MMO nerd that he is, has already planned out the best route to leveling up.

What’s the big deal then? Isn’t this just another hack-and-slash, medieval-themed anime along the likes of The Sacred Blacksmith? Can the thin MMO veneer add enough of a twist to such a tired premise? That’ll depend on how committed the anime is to the potential of the MMO concept. Don’t get me wrong — I love to play MMOs — but the genre is rife for mockery. SAO manages to nail at least one. There are a lot of people out there so addicted to MMOs that they’ll forsake their lives in the real world. The results are sometimes horrific. Well, the entire premise of the show is that if you stop playing, you die. Is this a larger commentary of gaming addiction in general or just a superficial plot element? We’ll see.

Later in the episode, the creator dispels every players’ in-game avatar. A boy-girl couple is thus revealed to be a fat guy and a skinny guy respectively. Neither of them are as young as they had previously claimed under the guise of anonymity. Incisive? Not exactly, but the gag nevertheless got a laugh out of me.

Still, I would have preferred that the characters’ in-game avatars had not been permanently dispelled. This would then leave the door open to explore the phenomenon of sex and its role in online communities. After all, we have guys who will, at the drop of a hat, send thousands of gold or free items to another player if there’s even the slightest hint that the other person behind the computer screen might be female. Then there are guys who think all girls in MMOs are good for nothing but destroying guilds and forcing others to carry them through difficult encounters. On the flip side, there are girls who must announce their sex in any conversation.


Considering what the female worgen looks like, can you blame them?

Then there are girls so disappointed by the negative attention that they prefer to adopt male avatars instead.

So what are other potential topics that SAO could tackle? Will the show touch upon the rampant sexism in video games? Will it address how MMOs often have their female avatars wear nothing but plate bikini?

Or how about the fact that the genre has, for a long time now, employed a gameplay dependent wholly upon mindless repetition of the carrot-on-the-stick model? The short bit where Kirito teaches Klein how to fight boars had some promise, but South Park did a better job. It would be fun to see our hero endlessly grind instanced dungeons over and over in order to level up. After all, is that not what an MMO is like?

Could the anime also address the contentious dichotomy between so-called hardcore players and their arch-nemesis, the casual carebears? Are there even NPCs in SAO? How will they be portrayed?

The thing that’ll likely happen is that SAO covers none of these issues, thus disintegrating into another adventure time anime with an MMO twist. Some will then defend this as totally valid, claiming that the anime was just for fun. But wouldn’t touching upon the issues outlined above be fun too if done properly? In any case, SAO has potential for now, but that’s as far as I’ll go.

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18 thoughts on “Sword Art Online Ep. 1: Poopsocking

  1. alsozara

    Of all the titles <_<. Not a term I'd heard before, but is scarily self-explanatory.

    SAO looks like another case of could, should, but probably won't. This post is bringing back fond memories of that South Park episode, and Welcome to the NHK though.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      I’d be curious to find out when and where ‘poopsocking’ originally became part of the MMO vernacular.

      This post is bringing back fond memories of that South Park episode, and Welcome to the NHK though.

      If those shows are your benchmarks, however, SAO is too serious and earnest about its plot to meet your expectations.

      Reply
      1. alsozara

        Ok, so South Park is mostly just for laughs, but it’d be a stretch not to call Welcome to the NHK pretty serious and earnest. Besides, SAO doesn’t have to be similar to be good. It can play it all straight and that’s fine by me if it does a good job of it. Was just commenting that the theme is kind of reminiscent of two shows I really like.

        Reply
        1. E Minor Post author

          I did not mean to imply that NHK did not deal with serious themes and issues. Rather, I meant that while NHK tweaked its subject matter, SAO is likely to see its MMO adventure as an epic tale of heroism, which would actually be kind of funny in a sad, pathetic way.

    1. E Minor Post author

      Y’know, I dunno. Maybe I missed an explanation for that during the episode. I just recall the main character saying that eating in-game will make you feel less hungry.

      Reply
        1. Andmeuths

          I recommend you ask that question in say, the Animesuki’s LN Thread for Sword Art Online. The LN apparently did go into greater detail on that issue, but alas, the adaptation probably is a poor medium for addressing that.

          I am personally optimistic about SAO. I’d say that treating it as a straight out Sci-Fi Fantasy cross, with a possible minor emphasis on social commentary is the best way to see it. It doesn’t seem to be a parody to me, but rather an actual, serious story of a scenario that might well happen in a certain reiteration twenty to thirty years in the future.

        2. E Minor Post author

          but rather an actual, serious story of a scenario that might well happen in a certain reiteration twenty to thirty years in the future.

          People staying forever in a VR world they find more appealing? Maybe. I hope you don’t mean the whole “trapped in a video game” bit though. I personally could’ve done without the malevolent creator nonsense. What would have been more interesting to me is focusing on why Kirita thinks he’s more alive in an MMO than, well, his actual real life ’cause that’s already happening to people right now. People don’t even have to play any game to find themselves entranced by a fantasy world. I read an article on how some moviegoers actually got depressed after watching Avatar, a film that is basically about MMOs without realizing that it is. Personally, I think the whole “ascend the 100-floor dungeon and beat the game” can only distract from the more salient issues regarding MMOs and their role in modern society.

        3. Andmeuths

          Probably. That and the difficult to conceive of implications of Virtual Reality on our Caveman like minds. I’m sure you’ve heard of the Caveman principal before. How would such minds interact to the emergence of virtual worlds? It goes again to the core of premise, and why interesting and rarely used premises are so interesting. Of course, I’d think that even in the best case scenario, there’s alot of reading in between the lines one must do, because ultimately, LN are pulp fiction, and popular pulp fiction does have to fulfill certain common denominators to reach a certain level of success.

          Is it original? I’ve heard of people comparing it to Hack/Sign and some even arguing it as a ripoff.

          SAO takes a rather extreme scenario in this case. It’s worth noting again though, SAO is based on a Light Novel that begun roughly just before Hack/Sign. So, whatever the significant decline of LN Standards in the past few years, I’m more optimistic, and like to believe that SAO, while falling into some cliches (which never existed when the novel was first written) will prove more competently executed than some of the LN adaptation disasters you are satirizing (deservedly so, and very well at that) right now. So, it’s not completely “original” but, it’s certainly rarely seen, and in a way, is an exemplar of a time before LN Cliches became pervasive.

          I can see some similarities to Hyouka in that sense. People would ultimately compare them to their animated predecessors, even if their source material precedes their luckier , slightly younger counterparts.

          But I doubt it’d go the route of debating “Can Virtual Worlds co-exist, supplement and even substitute Real Life Interactions?”.

          I wouldn’t go so far as to argue it is the same as asking whether “Video Games can be a story telling medium, or can Video games be art? ” But I do detect similar vibes to that question.

          Beat 100 floors is the setting, the backdrop, the scenery. I do think it’s easier to tell a story and push a message using more familiar, rather than esoteric scenery,Used correctly, the 100 Levels concept could well tell a parable using a scene most of it’s audience would easily comprehend. I agree with you though, that if it’s badly done, then the setting would begin hijacking the plot, rather than serving as the background.Still, the whole “dying” thing suggest to me that the setting will supplement and explore the social implications of Virtual Worlds.

          But ultimately, it’s too early to judge where SAO can go. I’d say though, that personally, I feel rather optimistic about it.

        4. E Minor Post author

          A mini-essay for every comment!

          I can’t touch upon a lot of what you talk about. On this blog, I try to focus very much on anime and just the anime itself. If I happen to have any previous knowledge of the source material (e.g. No Longer Human), I’ll explore how the adaptation responds to its origins. Beyond that, however, I do not nor do I intend to supplement my enjoyment of anime with anything explicitly outside the very medium of anime itself. A flaw of the blog? Perhaps, but not from my vantage point. But anyway, you probably would not have known that particular bit of idiosyncrasy about the blog since “Moe Sucks” isn’t very popular. Nevertheless, all of the LN talk and comparisons are interesting, but I do not have anything meaningful to add to the discussion.

          Beat 100 floors is the setting, the backdrop, the scenery. I do think it’s easier to tell a story and push a message using more familiar, rather than esoteric scenery,

          Well, I don’t know how esoteric it would be to separate the plot from such a cliched video game resolution. MMOs are quite distinct from its offline cousins. The games– no, the virtual worlds themselves do not end until someone pulls the literal or proverbial plugs (anticlimactically too, it must be added). Even if there is some arbitrary end point to any particular MMO, most MMO players do not or will not ever reach that ceiling. For a long time, only a small percentage of World of Warcraft players ever managed to beat the “final boss” (this is before Blizzard nerfed the content and/or added the much-complained-about raid finder). Few MMO players ever start their characters with the hopes of “beating the game.” The very notion is even more preposterous in a game like Second Life. Even should MMO players beat said “final boss,” the game is not likely to end there for them as they continue to play on for a myriad of reasons.

          To put it another way, a lot of people play MMOs just for the fun of being in a different world unlike our own. So would it be esoteric to center the plot of SAO around the very idea of how MMOs function as escapism? I really wouldn’t think so. In fact, putting in an “endgame” the way that SAO has done serves only to distance the premise itself from authenticity. The vast majority of players log on to chill out with friends from all around the world, to roleplay, to cyber, to craft, to buy and sell, etc. There is thus a strong human element here that is rife for exploration. Why, for example, spend your “gaming” hours camping a virtual auction house as if you’re a real world stockbroker? Why not just be a real world stockbroker?

          The way I see it, the “beat the game” backdrop, as you put it, is an unnecessary and unfortunate limiter. You’re probably right in that it makes it easier to tell the story… if the story follows the traditional sort of framework that one might cynically expect from anime. On the other hand, the “beat the game” backdrop makes it harder to tell the very authentic story — the one that’s truly about MMOs and its impact on people’s lives. If you’re too busy detailing the epic encounters against Deathwing, you’re giving up precious time you could be devoting to answering the very question as to why people will allow their physical states to deteriorate just for the benefit of their online personas (again, I point to Avatar).

          Again, I don’t read LNs; I just watch anime. If the LNs do a better job of addressing what I’m talking about, good for them, but I’m focusing just on the anime.

        5. Andmeuths

          Hmm. I’m not actually claiming of course, that focusing on Virtual Reality Escapism is an esoteric premise, if anything, this fits the mood of the times with regards to Sci Fi. Even the most recent Culture Novel touched tangentially on this issue. Far from esoteric, the focus on Escapism has been a running theme on many Sci-Fi touching on the virtual- this is, I guess inevitable for any intelligently written, thinking Sci-Fi.

          But still, Virtual Reality Escapism is not scenery. Just because we have an end goal and linear game (rather than something open ended like EVE online) doesn’t mean that fighting or a primer stroke by stroke walk-through on the bosses is going to be on the cards. The spoilers filtering down to me suggests that human relationships are actually going to be the core of SAO, not the boss fights. And the emphasis of If you Die here, you really Die does suggest that the anime is leaning towards that.

          Of course, they could also go all Lord of the Flies on us, with a Cyberpunkish twist.

          But I would agree that the Male Protagonist mind-set may not be the most valid one. Why rush after all? One could take your time Skilling, feasting off the initial bonanza of resources by panicked players, I made this argument on Animesuki just now. So, Over-crowding and rushing is not only oveplayed, it is is tremendously foolish for a Non-Beta player to take more than a conservative, careful approach. But here we go. The male protagonist wants to beat the game, and ultimately, in SAO, someone has to beat the game to escape. Is he right? Is he wrong?

          Will the anime put him on a pedestal, and declare him the hero, where Shounen heroic wiillpower of the sorts Gurren Laagan exaggerated to it’s logical extremes will make him the all glorious hero of the day? Or will the anime turn around, and yes, argue what you just did, that the purpose of an MMO, for most players is the social experience and escape to another world, and one needs not “finish it ” to love it. And that our Protagonist is going to either get himself, or someone else killed with that attitude, or worst.

          I actually think SAO may be an Apologetic for substituting real-life human experience with virtual experience, rather than a critique. The Beat the Game may just be a convenient backdrop, how it would affect the story, we’ll have to see. Who knows? It might just be like the One Piece- a nominal goal, but the journey in between is the main story, not the fights

          Then again, this is the author who also wrote Accel World, and in Accel World, Haru goes on a long rant on why all MMOs must have an ending. I don’t find his argument very convincing, personally.But still, I don’t see “Beat the Game” as a limiter- yes it is a pitfall, the producers could focus on the fights and not the actual implications of the world itself. But Pitfalls aren’t exactly limiters, and “Beat the Game” may merely be an excuse to get the plot going, to appeal to audiences likely more used to JRPG’s style of telling a whole story with a definite end. This is of course, all Semantics. But you are right in that the danger is that the adaptors will go on to talk lovingly about every boss, while using the rest of the premise as some stupid gimmick. That’s the way SAO can self-destruct, I think.

          As for the matter of LN, I partly concede it – the focus is on how they adapt it, and how the anime is as a standalone, not whether the LN sucks .Though mind you, if the LN Sucks, SAO is going to be a trainwreck no matter how good or clever the animators are going to be. Same goes for every LN and VN adaptation.

          Well, the fans are claiming otherwise, so we’ll see.

        6. E Minor Post author

          But still, Virtual Reality Escapism is not scenery.

          I don’t see how it couldn’t be.

          The spoilers filtering down to me suggests that human relationships are actually going to be the core of SAO, not the boss fights.

          Well, this sounds like LN spoilers and we have no idea what the adaptation will do. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

          I actually think SAO may be an Apologetic for substituting real-life human experience with virtual experience, rather than a critique.

          To clarify, there is no need to critique critique. I simply want the issue explored.

          But Pitfalls aren’t exactly limiters, and “Beat the Game” may merely be an excuse to get the plot going,

          They may not necessarily be limiters, but they often are. And I’m surprised that the anime would need a device to get the plot going when so many series out there are nothing but slice-of-life shows with no tangible “endgame.” And these shows are popular too. For once, the slice-of-life format might actually be appropriate for a story, and it seems SAO has decided to eschew it. But I guess the difference between us comes down to optimism and this is why we’re going around in circles. You’re optimistic about the show so you don’t think it’ll suffer from having such a gimmick. As for me, my blog is named “Moe Sucks.” Optimism isn’t really in the cards. ;v

  2. fadeway

    No matter how the anime turns out, at the very least it would have motivated me to read the LN. I haven’t done that yet, but it will happen eventually.

    The setting is interesting: “no magic” for a motion-detection world is borderline genius, while the 100 floors bit reminds me of Persona, doesn’t seem appropriate for the genre, and will probably get glossed over the way Druaga did. If they do detail the “eating in the real world” issue, this would be the only “game in an anime” setting to be so..realistic.

    No need for a casualhardcore struggle, the casuals will die too quickly to matter (yay 2k deaths in 30 days). I wonder if PvP is enabled. It would make sense, depending on the implementation, to have players kill others, either as sociopaths doing it on a whim, as someone forced to do it for loot, or just to remove competition for resources. I wonder if spawns around the beginner town are hard-limited or just on a long respawn timer – if the former, there will be no competition for resources past the first episodes, because everyone but a few players will be stuck at the start.

    Come to think of it, I’m only talking about the setting and not the actual episode. Shows how interesting it is, for now :)

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      “no magic” for a motion-detection world is borderline genius,

      Hm, I think you’ll have to elaborate on this for me.

      No need for a casualhardcore struggle, the casuals will die too quickly to matter (yay 2k deaths in 30 days).

      Well, this is the potential avenue that they could take, in my mind. There’s nothing precluding our players from working together to escape the game together. Sure, there are limited resources, but to what extent? Hell, the casuals don’t even have to level up, but simply help the hardcores level up. But maybe they don’t want to. The players who are not pushing themselves to the limit then get flak from those who are. Add in the fact that some people may not actually want to escape, and you could use this tension as a metaphor for the casual vs hardcore bickering we see in real world MMOs.

      I wonder if spawns around the beginner town are hard-limited

      Just as aside, what a terrible MMO if this is the case.

      Reply
      1. fadeway

        Terrible, yeah, but on the other hand, I see no reason to rush forward if this is not the case.

        Motion-detection makes sense for physical attacks – it’s not going to be interesting to wave your hands in elaborate patterns repetitively. There’s likely a design that could make it work, maybe involving pattern randomization, but limiting the entire thing to monsters appears to be the most hassle-free method. Nobody’s going to enjoy undodgeable fire colums sprouting right under them in PvP, and there’s little point to motion detection if you’re barely getting any movement. I wonder if healing is accomplished with tourniquets only, but for me, when the line “no magic” popped up, I instantly connected the motion-detection nature of the game with it and thought “THAT’S AWESOME” (caps-sensitive thinking). YMMV, I guess?

        Reply
        1. E Minor Post author

          Even though the game is based on motion detection, I don’t really see why it couldn’t utilize some form of channeling that might require players to chant some complicated string of words combined with, say, a simple wand thrust. That would allow players to avoid repeating elaborate patterns but also prevent spellcasting from being too easy compared to physical attacks.

          Nobody’s going to enjoy undodgeable fire colums sprouting right under them in PvP,

          No need to be undodgeable. Plenty of MMOs now are action-oriented (e.g. Tera Online and Guild Wars 2) and will allow you to dodge spells.

          I mean, I guess I didn’t think much of the “no magic” thing because it’s called Sword Art Online. Even so, I don’t think that the show couldn’t have included magic if it really wanted to.

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