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Can ‘Sword Art Online’ Actually Happen?

Sword Art Online (SAO) is one of the relatively more realistic anime out there. In 2022, VR has been perfected and now sends and receives signals straight from the players’ brains. Sword Art Online was supposed to be the first VRMMO but its creator locked all the players into a death game. If they died in the game, their real brains died. The only way out was to beat the game. Think The Matrix crossed with Skyrim. We don’t exactly have that technology just yet but consider this: Kinect is already a thing of the past and VR is setting itself up to be the main attraction of the gaming world. Given enough time, will technology advance far enough for something like the currently fictional SAO to actually happen?

Back in February, rumors abounded about a project called Sword Art Online: The Beginning. Sponsored by IBM, The Beginning was supposedly their first step into creating a stable VRMMO. Using a few hundred lucky applicants at a single site, they hoped to run a limited alpha test of their hardware and software capabilities. Sadly this was mostly misinformation.

Due to difficulties with the language barrier and the plot of the Sword Art Online anime referencing “the real world” (Meaning the fictional world inside of which the game is run: real world -> anime world -> SAO inside the anime world) several documents were read as fact. Somehow, nobody quite caught on that Dr. Akihiko Kayaba (the fictional creator of the SAO game) meeting with IBM Researchers was a joke.

What actually happened during The Beginning was groups of four were all 3D mapped and entered into the game. Players would walk around the fictional Arc Sophia town and battle the ‘Gleam Eyes’ boss together. Using the VR headsets to view the game, Microsoft Kinect to monitor their body movements, Leap Motion and Overvision for hand movement and specially created footwear to detect feet movement, it appeared to the players that they actually were in the game. The bundle of hardware was labeled “Nervegear Prototype” after the fictional hardware and used IBM’s SoftLayer cloud technology and Watson computing power to coordinate the separate users in a single environment. You can see some gameplay footage in this video.

The Gleam Eyes boss

Although we do not yet have the technology to manage this in every household, there’s still six years left until the fictional deadline. Over the past six years, we’ve gone from bulky monitors to flat-screens. Tablet computers once thought to be exclusively for the rich are now going for prices nearly as low as pre-owned games. Wi-Fi is everywhere and everybody has a smartphone to use it. And our data storage is phenomenal. With most MMOs currently requiring the player to download maps to their console and coordinating their movements online, it’s not completely out of the realm of possibility that we could see an SAO world (even without the Nervegear).

The NerveGear from Sword Art Online

Currently, the main obstacles are processing power, storage capacity and the lack of an actual working Nervegear. Of the three, I’m least worried about the last one. According to several articles I’ve read online, DARPA (Defence Research Projects Agency) has been successfully testing a BMI (Brain-Machine Interface) that implants the stentrode interface through blood vessels. Human trials will be done in 2017, leaving five solid years to figure out how to avoid the minor surgery needed to implant the device.

Maybe we might not end up seeing Nervegear devices in every shop. Technology could end up swaying in the direction of Accel World, SAO’s future spin-off where everybody has minor implants to let them communicate with technology. Regardless, the future of gaming looks bigger and better than ever. Link Start!


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