When someone told me to check out Gun Gale Online, I winced at the title “Sword Art Online” in front of it. I don’t care much for the original, even if I believe that the hate that swirls around it might be a little overblown. I started to pull back resentment for the show because I began to realize that this was the first anime for plenty of people. After speaking with some of my friends who are not as deep into the anime viewership as myself, this became abundantly clear. While my friends were not contributing towards the naive nature of people posting about Kirito and friends, I can understand the frustration behind it still. Heck, I even look twice before crossing the street with anything related to this franchise because of it.
When I began watching Gun Gale Online, I did not anticipate getting something that I could reflect upon as greatly as I did. The story of Karen Kohiruimaki finding somewhere to relax and have fun with a VR game hits home in a way I’m sure plenty of gamers could relate to. For me, however, I don’t think it would have had the same impact on me. You see, I was looking for something to catch my attention and keep me occupied. Video games were never all that great for me because...well, I got a little too into them. I would have never anticipated that a first-person shooter would be the right choice for me.
Lieu and behold, during my hiatus from writing
and two breakups around this time last year, I found a fantastic little game called Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege. Now, I know what you are thinking- isn’t the single most toxic community in FPS games a really bad choice to get into gaming with? Yeah, you’re absolutely right. I had a lot of growing pains there. To make matters worse? I have to use a controller due to a hand injury. So it took me a while to figure out how to play, and, to be honest, I’m still rotten at it.
So why do I keep coming back? I sort of met some people by playing it. They had been in our AniTAY circle forever, but I ended up getting to know them and play with them almost daily at times when we were at the height of activity. This squad consisted of a few of our writers, Stranger and Cheroro, as well as a former writer we had in one Messy. We picked up some new faces along the way, and I even broke bread with some old friends from different stages of my life. I’m absolute garbage at the game, but I find myself drawn to it if not just to play with my friends and relax for a few hours.
My abilities aren’t entirely a slot wasted on a team, however, as I like to select a support role for my teammates. When Karen made the tiny and spry Llen, she used the character to help her with her complex about being too tall. As someone who is on a long path of becoming a mental health official and who loves to support people, I have an affinity for “support” characters in games like Siege. I’m notorious for religiously selecting Rook- a defender who gives additional armor protection to the entire team. I think there is a cathartic allure of being able to fulfill this sort of role playing that games give, and Gun Gale Online nails that between Karen and another character (which I won’t spoil).
As Llen, Karen makes a friend who she forms a great bond with over their game, and I believe this accurately captures the appeal that games offer players socially. Before I played Siege with Stranger, ‘Roro, Messy and the others, I don’t think I liked socializing with people online as much as people may believe. What is more, I don’t think you can get the same bond with people like you can from playing a game several times a week for a few hours at a time. It is like playing cards or golfing- you are bound to start talking with someone. I’ve been told I’m righteous in how I carry myself(something I try really hard to work on), but I never feel like I have to worry about that with my friends. If anything comes up, we can take some time to talk about it, or just share funny memes related to Donkey Kong (OK). The most glorious part of this all? It is all happening while we are fighting against an enemy team. Us talking and laughing reminds me of Llen and her friend laughing and socializing as they encountered random players/enemies.
Another aspect I think that they nailed was how Karen used this VR game to be able to spend time with her “irl” friend she knew before moving for college. The entire second half of the show has her teaming up with this friend, so we see quite a bit of their bonding in the process. As someone who has had to travel for work frequently, it is really hard to keep up on my relationships with people I meet because I’m never physically at the same place often. Similar to how I play Siege with the others, I often stream games privately for the friends I’ve made so we can talk and catch up while something is playing in the background. Gaming can attract...toxic people, but when utilized properly, they really bring people together.
Indeed, I walked away from Gun Gale Online very moved by how accurately it captured such a wonderful dynamic to many interpersonal relationships in this era. It might be hard to detach the “Sword Art Online” title from this one, but it is well worth giving a whirl without the preconceived notion that it is going to be more of the same SAO. The gunfights are really satisfying, and the characters are simply delightful. This was one of my favorite endings in an anime recently as well.