There’s been a trend in fiction these days that centers on escaping reality. It’s been around for awhile, but it definitely seems more relevant with virtual reality technology just around the corner and the fact that the internet has given everyone a chance to have an alter ego and another life. Take the recent craze about zombies that is just not slowing down.
Most of us are not sociopathic serial killers who dream about shooting people in the face all day, but basically everyone has a zombie apocalypse plan. You know…just in case. Hell, I could ask my 7 year old nephew and he would most likely tell me about his foolproof plan of shooting zombies from atop a jungle gym. Does that make us psychotic? No. This entire fantasy, this fiction, is established on romanticizing about a world not like our own. Our day-to-day lives are challenging and complicated, and monotonous at times. As a result, we fantasize about having experiences outside of our everyday lives. That’s basically what vacations are all about; they’re meant to break the routine and offer new experience.
We can find the things we like to do in life and do them consistently but there is something romantic about being whisked away to another world. And the other world doesn’t have to be all sunshine, beaches, and nudity; it can actually be zombies and danger too. Having a zombie apocalypse plan is about us being whisked away to another world where we don’t have to deal with taxes or overtime. That’s not to say that being in a zombie apocalypse wouldn’t have its challenges, but the gratification is more instant. You shoot a zombie in the head, it dies, and you have solved your problem. Or you run away and your problem is solved. Or you get bit. Zombies are scary and dangerous, but they’re amazingly simple too.
The same model and concept can be applied to the genre cyberpunk, which encompasses stories based on virtual realities. Cyberpunk usually centres around delving deeper into a system, like a video game, and that concept allows us to escape, like zombie fiction. I just finished watching Log Horizon, which is an anime about people being transported and trapped into a game world of a hit MMORPG called Elder Tale. By no means is Log Horizon the first to broach this translocation of mind into a game world and it certainly won’t be the last; this idea has been in a number of animes, like Sword Art Online and .hack, and a ton of books and movies that have shared very similar concepts. In fact, I think cyberpunk is about to really have its day in the sun. Now, Log Horizon isn’t virtual reality, the game Elder Tale is just a classic PC game, but nevertheless, it still holds the characteristics of cyberpunk.
As I said before, virtual reality and creating completely immersive experiences is a very relevant topic in our day and age. A number of companies are throwing tons of money and manpower into unlocking an immersive, and non-nauseating, form of VR gaming. The key word being immersive. I think at this point basically every gamer has fantasized or at least thought of how cool and immersive it would be to play games in virtual reality. Personally, I want a full VR experience of a Dynasty Warriors game; just me and maybe a friend cutting through a sea of enemies, like a kid with a badminton racket standing outside a wasp nest, feeling like great and terrible gods as we laugh maniacally at our fallen foes. MWAHAHAHAHA.
However, I will concede that experience would pale in comparison to a fully realized VR MMORPG. That’s essentially my childhood dream. Between campaigns of D&D in my friend’s basement, we would go down to Fish Creek and pretend we were battling hordes of orcs and demons. I would be so giddy if there was a VR version of that, I would probably pee my pants a little. Joy pee.
In a way, games, books, movies, and basically any form of entertainment can be classified as trying to whisk us away to another world, but the thing that anime, like Log Horizon, does more than any other is that it tries to provide a voice and a commonality of listless youth. We have so many options these days. The world is so big, and the problems seem so new ever day, it can be disheartening and overwhelming. Young adults are going to college or university, which seems very important to subsist in this world of ours, but when people get out, there’s nothing there. We’re seeing it more and more that there is a bunch of hyper educated people without a place in the markets. No role to play. That’s why anime has focused so heavily on this topic of how people should find their resolve. Now that’s not to say that young adults are only age group that can feel this dilemma by any means, you can be of any age, gender, or station.
Cyberpunk, especially in something like Log Horizon, gives us a visual representation of a world with more instant gratification and somewhere we can have a clearly defined roles, like in an MMORPG. In our day-to-day it can be hard to see the fruits of your labour. However, when you are whisked away, like if you were in Log Horizon, you have monsters right in front of you, or you have zombies right in front of you in the zombie apocalypse, and you are instantly rewarded for your hard work. You go out, you fight something, you gain a level. Cole wrote about Is it Wrong to Pick up a Girl in a Dungeon?, which is another anime that has RPG elements but without the cyberpunk, and he was saying wouldn’t it be nice if we could see this instant gratification? It isn’t often that the real world offers instant gratification, and even when we do succeed in something, the gratification often has no flourish and is most likely something subtle. The thing about animes like Log Horizon, or SAO, or Is it Wrong or .hack is that the system in place shows a direct correlation of hard work producing positive results. It’s one of the reasons why games are so great. I could grind for a couple of hours on an RPG and probably get a level or a new skill or something like that, but there isn’t a lot in this world that I could do for two hours that offers that feeling of accomplishment. However, that’s a topic for another post.
The reason these fantasies are so prevalent in media and discussion is because we’re highlighting that we are looking for ways to escape, which is why virtual reality is so relevant. It has the chance to immerse ourselves so heavily that we are whisked away. It may be ten or twenty years away but we are quite close all things considered. I don’t know if that means we’re all going to get plugged in Matrix-style, but I’m excited to see what comes out of it and if people are happier because they can relieve their fantasies of escaping, even if it’s just for a short time.