The context of the SAO incident
In 2022 the Japanese scientist and game developer Akihiko Kayaba* developed the so called “NerveGear”, the second generation of the FullDive technology.
This technology allowed the user to completely immerse into a virtual reality by stimulating all senses. Mister Kayaba also developed the first software for his new invention – the VRMMORPG “Sword Art Online”.
VRMMORPG stands for “Virtual Reality Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game”. MMORPG became very popular in the age of the internet and with their widespread usage some of these games even became worldwide phenomena.
Even before its release SAO was considered to be the next step for video games. Detailed presentation of an entire virtual world was possible because of the “Cardinal System”, an artificial intelligence which could access the internet to collect myths, legends, actual news, etc. and create original content for the game on its own.
*hereby using Western name stating each characters
After a successful beta test with 1.000 players the game was released in November 2022. On the first day 10.000 players logged into the world of “Sword Art Online”.
After the game’s start people started to notice that there was no way to log out or contact the game master. Everyone was teleported to the beginning of the game and was informed, by the developer, Mister Kayaba, that they couldn’t leave the game until it was completely cleared. Players who died in the game would also be killed in real life by an overload of the NerveGear, frying their brain with high power microwaves.
The world of SAO, Aincrad, was a giant, floating tower made of 100 floors. With each floor the monsters and bosses grew in strength, killing more and more players as they progressed through the tower. Some players couldn’t cope with the stress of the situation and the losses and took their own lives.
The players were entrapped inside the game for two long years and in the end only a little more than 6.000 players survived this ordeal.
On November 7th , 2024 the game was cleared prematurely by the player Kirito and his friends. Finally, the survivors could return home. It was the end of the tragedy that became known as SAO incident but at the same time the beginning of a series of other incidents.
It was only possible to keep the players alive for two years due to the cooperation between hospitals and the company RECT Progress. RECT Progress bought the rights to the NerveGear-Technology from the now bankrupt company Argus, as well as all the servers used for the game. With this purchase they could manage the servers and guarantee the safety of the players.
RECT Progress also developed the “AmuSphere”, a safer alternative to the NerveGear. The first game for their new hardware was called “ALfheim Online”.
However, this game served as a smokescreen for illegal experiments on some survivors of the SAO incident who were kept prisoner inside the virtual reality of “ALfheim Online”.
After this scandal also became public the future of full immersive VRMMORPG looked bleak, but shortly after the scandal a new developer pack was released by an unknown source. It was called “The Seed” and this free program package allowed programming of countless new VRMMORPG.
At the same time the FullDive technology was introduced to other fields than just the entertainment industry. The “Medicuboid” for example was developed to let terminally ill patients enjoy a virtual life.
However, another incident occurred: In 2025 a player made a riot in the American First-Person-Shooter “Gun Gale Online“. He called himself “Death Gun” and the players he executed in the game died in the real world, too. GGO made use of the AmuSphere which, with the new safety mechanism in place, should actually prevent such a thing from happening. These murders were not related to the technology but were committed by survivors of the SAO incident and brought the psychological devastation of the imprisonment to the forefront.
On a side note there is something else that connects all these cases with the SAO incident – the player Kirito. The ALfheim incident as well as the Death Gun incident could both be resolved with the help of the above mentioned player who also, as I mentioned before, was crucial to ending the imprisonment in the SAO incident.
Even now, one year after the end of the SAO incident, the ramifications can still be seen and felt. The FullDive technology was always a controversial topic and even before it became possible the fear of losing oneself in a virtual world was widely discussed in many movies and other media. The recent incidents did not help to calm these fears. Still, there are people who wish to leave our reality behind and immerse themselves in the fantastic worlds offered by virtual reality.
What could fill this gap? An answer could be the new Augmented Reality Type Information Terminal “Augma”. It was recently developed by Doctor Tetsuhiro Shigemura and similar to the NerveGear it will be released with its own game “Ordinal Scale”. Maybe you have already read the first reviews.
I will continue my discourse about Augma and Ordinal Scale and on why so many consider it to become the next SAO game in another paper.
If you are interested in further research I recommend the following materials:
1. The Light Novel series by Reki Kawahara. Its main focus is the SAO incident and the resulting consequences from the perspective of player Kirito (yes, that one!) and it also contains several reports of other witnesses. 17 novels have been published in Japan.
2. A short introduction and a first glimpse of the incident can be found in the manga series “Sword Art Online – Aincrad” by Tamako Nakamura. The two volumes deal with the core of the events during the SAO incident.
3. Moreover, there is the documentary anime “Sword Art Online” by animation studio A-1 Pictures. An in-depth research of the incident and the not so well-known facts is presented in an understandable format and has made the events and the fate of the victims known around the world.
Our next post, we will be introducing each characters from SAO. Stay tuned!
If you are interested in signing up for our SAO official Japan tour 2017, click here for more information.