Virtual reality is becoming all too common in this day and age, before technology allowed the concept to become reality, they idea has been played out in film and TV. One show that captured the concept and executed the dangers VR might contain, was no other than the anime Sword Art Online.

The anime starts off with the release of the latest game available for the newest VR hardware. The hardware is a helmet which allows your consciousness to project into the game, and stops the signals from your brain which co-ordinates movement in the real -world and re-routes the signals into the VR engine.

Sword Art Online is created in a new VR engine created by the games antagonist who wanted to leave reality and enter the virtual world. His dream was to upload his entire consciousness into the VR engine and be the master of an entirely new world.

The Antagonist created Sword Art Online for one purpose, to realise his dream. One feature he removed in an attempt to create his own world was the ‘Log Out’ button in-game, so player couldn’t leave. Since the players couldn’t leave, once they died in the game, they would die in real life. This was possible with the VR helmet which had a device built in which would send an electrical impulse into the brain killing the user.

As you can imagine there was uproar everywhere, panic and mayhem as people tried to figure out what to do, those who were disconnected by family or by power failure died instantly. There was no escape unless the creator let them. He only gave them one way out which was by winning the game. 100 floors to beat, with beta players only getting around half-way if that prior to the games release, therefore there was no conceivable way out.

The ethical issues surrounding VR are numerous, gamers will want the best, but at what cost. In case you’re a bit confused, I’m on about full-dive VR, not what is currently on sale. The issues with replicating the infinite scenarios and movements people will make in game is overwhelming. Just think about a piece of hardware which allows the user to project their consciousness (temporarily) into games, and the multitude of options the game must have programmed to allow the user to move how they want and act how they want. Then you have what the developers will need to ban and censor and the issues surrounding game content.

I’m getting side tracked; back to the example of Sword Art Online. We have the hardware and game creator who has basically kidnapped thousands of people and is keeping them trapped in an unwinnable scenario. Bring in the show’s protagonist, who is a lone wolf, who doesn’t like to play in a team and prefers to do things by himself. But as you can imagine, during the game -especially since they are trapped for years- he makes profound friendships with fellow victims. These friendships help develop his character and provide companionship in the hopeless world. Some players give up trying to finish the game and begin to live a life in the game – they live as if it is their reality.

Then we have players who aim to kill other players, either through not believing dying in the game means dying in real life or enjoy killing and get a kick out of the fact that there aren’t consequences in-game.

The show explores the relationships people create, and how they learn to deal with the trauma of losing friends and loved ones. The problems that they create and solve to help the rest of those trapped to get home and live normal lives again open your eyes to the possibilities. As technology advances, so do the ethical, and moral dilemmas that show themselves.

Sword Art Online allows viewers to delve into the problems that arise and explore the possibilities surrounding the scenarios that may present themselves. The concept of full-dive VR intrigues me and the possibilities it may possess. Testing human influence on the environment, how certain cures and diseases may affect plants and animals. The algorithms that could be developed to let us see how specific scenarios can impact the world. It’s amazing, how much new technology can help advance and solve some of the world’s problems.

That’s only possible if we can resolve the problems new technology will create, and study how this can affect the mind and body. Once the multitude of issues can be resolved or overcome, only then can technology really move forward.

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