When you look into Abraheim’s cluttered, chaotic library of a room, you never quite know what you are going to see, and you find that this has become somewhat comforting. You enjoy wondering about what the loony old man might be doing to pass the time between your visits. Today is no different.
From down the corridor of the ship you hear yelling coming from Abraheim’s room. You pick up the pace as you walk towards his door. Had it been coming from anyone else’s quarters, you might be alarmed. But now, you are intrigued.
You turn to see the old man in his chair, waving his hands wildly in front of and above his face. You see that he is wearing a large, antique virtual-reality headset. Hands become fists as his exclamations continue.
He stands up, steadies his hands and enters a fighting stance. He begins to awkwardly bob and weave, throwing frail jab after frail jab. Then, in a spark of youthful energy, he feigns a punch and then delivers a masterful uppercut to the virtual opponent.
“AH! Knock out! Haha!” Abraheim begins dancing around in celebration, surprisingly light on his feet. You stifle a laugh, but it is enough for the old man to hear you. He turns in your direction, cocks his head, and smiles.
“Is it you?” He removes the headset. “Ah, yes. Did you see that fight?!”
He looks down at the headset in his wrinkled, sweaty hand. You see the smile fade for a moment. “Oh, I suppose you didn’t.”
“This is my new toy! Or, well, it’s not new, but it is new to me. I was boxing.” Abraheim puts an arm up and flexes it. “Believe it or not, I was quite the contender in my younger days. It was nice to feel like I was reliving some of it.”
The old man returns to his seat, visibly tired from the last few moves of his virtual match.
“ Welcome back!” He smiles up at you. “Last week, when we were discussing the companions of Dragonlance, I mentioned something about players engaging in a shared imaginary world, and how that the emotional connection with people and events within brought a piece of that world into their reality.”
Abraheim begins to shuffle through the papers on his desk.
“That thought in itself led me down another rabbit hole, and allowed me to see some connections between some books and other forms of media that weren’t apparent to me before.”
You watch as he puts the papers into some form of order, and then sets them back on the desk.
“I’m exploring the idea of when a game becomes reality. I wanted to take that idea of being so immersed in a game that parts of it feel real, and explore stories that make it so. Or, at least in a sense, as you will see. I also want to see how these stories help us test the idea of what constitutes ‘reality’.”
“I began this adventure with some of the more blatant and obvious examples of a game becoming reality that I have encountered. It seems to be somewhat of a subgenre of anime. Take these three for example.”
The old man motions towards his projector and images of three titles appear on the screen. They read: Log Horizon, .Hack, and Sword Art Online. Minutes pass as he shows you clips from the shows, in particular ones when certain characters were in danger and friends came to their aid, and others where that highlighted the bonds between the main characters of each series.
“While I have not watched all of these in their entirety, all three of these anime have stories that are catalyzed by characters being ‘stuck’ in a game. They have their differences, respectively; but the core idea is the same. What once was a game, is now their reality.”
“Without getting too metaphysical, for the connections within this particular rabbit hole to be their strongest, we must entertain an idea of reality that allows for subjective experience of something to be considered that person’s ‘reality’.”
“Look at Sword Art Online. In this anime, the only escape from the game in which they are trapped is the character’s death, which unfortunately also results in the death of the player in the real world. That makes an in game death seem pretty real, right? Could it not be considered that person’s reality, if they are trapped? The game is now the only thing they can truly experience. Seems pretty real to me.”
“It is almost an inversion of fantasy and reality.” The old man leans back in his chair a little. “Think about this: one of the allures of games is escapism, they let us escape reality. A game could be another world, a fantasy, that we are mentally transported to.”
“In a way, it makes the problems or the stress we feel in reality have a little less sting, or feel a little less important, even if just for a few minutes. If life is the trap, then the game is an escape. This is assuming that a person experiences these things. Your life might be awesome. So when you have a situation like the one presented in SAO, where the escape has become the trap, there is an inversion of reality. What was once a fantasy is a fantasy no longer. And as is explored in these series, that is not always a good thing.”
“Once again, I will argue that the emotional connection felt by a player or character in a game is an important part of helping to make it a reality. The bonds formed by characters in a game might have real emotions behind them, such as they do in the examples I have given you here. Why then, should they be considered any less real than relationships in ‘the real world’.”
“But we can discuss this in more depth later. I know you are busy, I just wanted to introduce this idea to you.”
Abraheim gets up from his seat and walks you towards the door.
“I hope that you return soon. We have only just scratched the surface of this topic. Have you ever read Ender’s Game? Ready Player One? Or have you ever watched The Matrix?! These things and more are what awaits us in this rabbithole.”
“Until next time, my friend.”