I still remember the day my sister asked me to teach her how to play an MMO. I had always been the gamer in the family, and up until this point I had always stood alone in my interest. My classmates at high school were only interested in sports and celebrities. My family was worse. They always thought of gaming as a waste of time and danger to society. But to me, gaming was fascinating.
And not just playing games either. I loved studying the design of video games. Trying to figure out what made them tick. Thinking about what sort of play styles would emerge because of different game mechanics. Gaming was more than a hobby for me. It was a deep look into the human psyche. A passion of mine that I had spent years delving deeply into. That was why, when Miku started showing an interest in gaming, I was more than happy to support her.
We kind of broke the stereotypical tropes of gendered gamers. My sister loved being on the front lines in the middle of all the action. As such she quickly became enthralled with playing the role of a tank. Myself; I preferred manipulating the battlefield from a distance. Healing allies, or ailing enemies with numerous debuffs and roots. As such, I tended to play a DPS/Support hybrid. We were never the strongest party in any game we played, and we could probably have been more efficient if we had used more traditional tactics, or invited more players to join us, but for me, it was the most fun I had had in gaming in all my life.
Everjourney, Planet of Pandamonium, Devil’s Gate, Ultimatum Online; we played through every MMORPG we could find. When Kayaba Akihiko, the creator of the Full Dive Technology, NerveGear; announced the launch of the first ever Virtual Reality MMORPG (VRMMORPG for short) we knew we HAD to have it!
We had both failed to get into the closed Beta (to be fair, even we knew that our chances were slim beforehand) but our failure only made us more determined to get our hands on the final release form of the product!
I must have worn out the F5 key on my computer as I relentlessly refreshed SAO’s website, waiting for preorders to go on sale. Much like the Beta, there were a limited amount of copies available. Unlike the beta however, there would be no random draw from applicants. This time it came down entirely to speed.
One final refresh and my heart raced as the preorder button had been added to the site. I sent a silent prayer to our internet bandwidth as I clicked in. The race was on.
Name: Tano Makoto, Residence: Osaka Japan, Birth date to Prove You’re Over 13: February 2nd 2005.
Never before had I managed to fill out a form so quickly. I hit the “submit order” button with pride but then noticed something alarming in my peripheral vision. My payment info had been off by one digit! Normally this would mean restarting the purchase from the start, but that was time I couldn’t spare to waste! With the high traffic on the site chugging down their servers, there was just an ever so slight chance for me to get away with a drastic maneuver.
With the high dexterity that came only after years of playing video games, I hit the “Stop” button on my browser with all my might as if putting my mouse through further torment raised my chances of success. To my relief, the form remained open for me to edit. With lightning fingers I adjusted the offending digit and hit “Purchase Order” again.
Time seemed to stand still as the tiny circle struggled to spin telling me my order was being processed along with over a thousand others fighting to squeeze into this preorder opportunity. Finally after what seemed like an eternity, the “Payment Successful” screen popped up allowing breath to once again flow naturally from my lungs.
Curiosity getting the better of me, I went back to the sales page.
“Sold Out” the website said. I felt my face grow cold as the shock of how close I had been to failure set in. Within a matter of seconds, all 1000 copies of Sword Art Online’s preorder had been sold out, and thanks to a typo I had almost missed out!
Of course, the rest of the copies would be sold in stores in a few months. But even then, only 10,000 copies of the game would ever be released meaning the shopping mall would have been a whole different kind of battle. Being a touch on the smaller side, under 165 cm tall and hardly what one would call athletic; I much preferred my chances in an online battle than a physical one.
“Did she get it?” The thought shot into my head as I saved a screenshot of my receipt to my computer to show to my future grandchildren.
Jumping out of my seat, I ran out the door towards My sister’s bedroom. It was her first preorder battle and I wasn’t sure how she would handle the pressure.
As I turned the corner, my progress was halted by a fast moving figure which collided into me. With a pained groan I found myself lying on my back looking up at the ceiling.
“Ow… what the… MAKOTO!” I heard my sister call out rubbing her arm.
“Miku?” I replied. Groggily I tried to pick myself off the floor.
A strong grip reached down pulling me back to my feet so quickly that I almost lost my balance again. Unlike me, Miku had always been more favourable towards athletics. Being nearly 180 cm tall, I had long since swallowed my pride about her ability to knock me flat.
Miku’s eyes lit up excitedly. “Did you get it?!!?” She cried out, nearly jumping up and down with anticipation.
For a moment, I attempted to feign defeat, but the ruse lasted less than ten seconds before I returned a successful thumbs up to her with a giant grin plastered on my face.
“YES!” we both cheered as we hugged each other jumping up and down. It was the game of the century… a game that would set a precedent for all future games to come. A game that was unlike anything anyone had ever tried before. And we would both get to experience it together.
The next few days were murder as we waited for our copies to be delivered. I had a window with the tracking status open within viewing range of me at all times just in case my copy might be sent early. There were a few days when we almost chased our mail man down; A sight which had become extra scarring for him given that Miku had joined her University’s kendo club in order to prepare for the game. Finally the day came when a package addressed to me arrived.
“No fair!” Miku whined as I excitedly opened the envelope.
“It’s really here!” I gasped as I pulled the tiny disk out from the package. I examined it in my hands turning it over time and time again, almost as if I could find some way to psychically run the game just by holding it.
“I’m gonna download it!” I replied with a grin.
“It doesn’t launch for another week!” Miku retorted falling back on the couch, but by that point I had already ran to my room.
Throwing the disk into the console I watched as a progress bar popped up indicating the game had slowly begun to download. There was no music, or amazing graphics save for a tiny title above the bar, but somehow I just couldn’t take my eyes off of it. After a while, Miku joined me as we huddled to watch the download bar’s slow progression together.
“It really is a huge game…” Miku marveled after the first hour.
“Well it’s something that’s never even been attempted before.” I retorted, “And from what I heard from the Beta leaks, the graphics and features were pretty extensive! I imagine immersing all five of the senses takes quite a lot of memory space!”
After several more hours, the game finally revealed a “Download Complete” message.
“Well, what are you going to do now?” Miku asked spinning the disc case in her hands.
“I’m gonna try it!” I replied with a grin.
“But it’s not even released yet!” Miku retorted again. “What could you possibly do in it?”
“Dunno.” I shrugged, “But sometimes game companies let you create your avatar before release so at least then I’d get a taste of what options are available!”
“You’re so desperate.” Miku rolled her eyes as I pulled the NerveGear over my head.
“LINK START!” I shouted louder than necessary as instantaneously my consciousness was pulled out of the physical world. The NerveGear had successfully intercepted all my senses simultaneously.
The darkness lasted only for a split second before I was suddenly surrounded by the coloured flashing lights of the NerveGear starting screen. Several calibration checks appeared in quick succession as the sounds blared in my digital ears.
NerveGear was advertised as an interface which used all of your senses, but this was only half true. Though in the digital world you might feel like you could smell, touch, taste, see, or hear things, the truth was that all these sensations were all in your mind.
The NerveGear would override the users brainwaves using low scale radiation, overriding their sensory regions as well as their muscle control regions. While it might feel like you were actually experiencing things in the game, the truth was your real body was lying motionless in bed as if you were asleep. This was an amazing advancement for gamers as it meant you could play for hours without the fear of eye strain, hearing loss, or anything else health boards had berated video games for in the past.
Kayaba Akihiko’s announcement of this technology shook the world with its potential, and now the creator of the interface had finally released a game that pushed the technology to its limits!
“Error: The Game Sword Art Online’s Servers are Offline. They will be Down for Maintenance Until November 6th 2022. Thank you For Your Patience.”
The computer generated voice rang off the warning in a monotone manner as I was given the option to either switch games or log out.
“I guess it wouldn’t be that easy…” I thought to myself as I pressed the logout button. The digital world around me vanished as quickly as it had appeared. As it vanished I slowly became aware of the sounds of my room as well as the bulky helmet on my head. It always felt like waking up.
“I told you it wouldn’t work.” Miku smirked beside me as I removed the NerveGear. She looked so smug that I refused to give her this satisfaction.
“Oh man! I had to come back for a minute to tell you how amazing it all is!” I acted out of spite. “The graphics are amazing and there are so many options!”
“Wait… What?” Miku gasped, staring at the Nerve Gear in my hands longingly. “Was it really that good!? Can… Can I try it?”
“Sure thing!” I nodded with a smirk. “But you don’t need to borrow my NerveGear to try it out. I’m pretty certain the opening calibration screen is the same on every system!”
I sharp pain shot through my arm as Miku’s fist planted firmly into it. I deserved that, but I regretted nothing.
The next few days seemed to pass even slower. I never took the SAO disk out of my NerveGear, and Miku never stopped checking the mail. Each day that passed my excitement grew more and more, while Miku’s anxiety rose higher and higher. By the day of launch, it became clear to both of us what had happened.
“It’s lost in the mail…” Miku slumped down defeated. “All that work… and it’s not even gonna show.”
My own excitement for the impending launch had been severely watered down by my sister’s overwhelming despair. All the strategies we had worked out together had gone down the drain due to every online shopper’s greatest enemy; the national postal service!
“Umm listen…” I started… I really didn’t want to say it, but I also couldn’t stand seeing the kicked puppy expression on Miku’s face any longer.
My sister turned towards me looking as if she were using all her strength to hold back tears. I knew she got attached to things way too easily, but this was too much. Ugh, there was no way I could turn back now!
“I’m sure your copy is just late.” I continued. “But it DOES really stink that you don’t get to try out the game on launch day. I’ve got a ton of homework to catch up on anyways, so what do you say to playing my copy for a few hours until I’m done?”
Miku stared at me in stunned silence as my words sunk in.
“B-but it’s your copy!” she gasped. “Don’t you want to have first go at it!?”
It was true that I did want to jump into the game the second the servers went online. It was also true that I had wanted to get a good head start on leveling and experimenting with the mechanics before the game became too crowded… But that being said, the minute I started in SAO I wouldn’t want to stop. The thought of delaying my start of the game by a few more hours seemed a lot less painful than the thought of taking a break for the sake of homework just as I was starting to get a feel for the controls.
“It’s fine,” I shook my head. “You get a taste for it now, and that way you’ll be practiced and ready when your copy arrives. Then you can start and catch up with me all the faster!”
I was almost choked to death as the force from Miku’s hug knocked me over. Miku however was too overjoyed to notice my plight.
“THANK YOU MAKOTO!” Miku cried out near tears. “I knew I did a good job raising you as a proper little brother!”
I felt a slight tug at my heart as I took the Sword Art Online disc out of my console… but I quickly buried such feelings through my resolve and handed the game to Miku.
I could barely make out Miku’s cries of gratitude as she raced to her room to start the download.
“Well I guess I can be a good brother after all.” I sighed as I reluctantly turned back to my homework.
My studies were less than efficient as my eyes kept glancing towards the clock.
“I guess her download is finished now.” I thought to myself after the first few hours.
“I guess the servers just went online.” I pondered a few minutes later.
“I bet she hasn’t even reached level 2 yet.” I chuckled after another hour had passed. “In fact, I doubt she’s even left the character creator yet!”
I was just about to finish my assignment when my phone vibrated with a message from our mother.
“Makoto, I can’t reach your sister.” It said, “Please tell me you didn’t play that game!”
I stared at the text for a moment attempting to make sense of the cryptic message. Were the media outlets trying to make a scandal about violence again? But it was just your basic fantasy MMO… In fact, from what I read, it appeared far tamer than most titles we had played. It didn’t even show blood or guts of your enemies you defeated.
I was about to reply when more texts started coming in in quick succession.
“Makoto please reply!”
“Tell me you can read these!”
“I can’t lose you both like this!”
What is going on? I thought to myself as a breaking news alert appeared on my computer screen. The world seemed to stop around me as the I read the headline.
“Sword Art Online; Game of Death, Kills Dozens”