I recently watched through all of the available episodes of Sword Art Online, and I really enjoyed it. I've been trying to pin down exactly why. It is not a particularly original premise. Being trapped inside a computer system is a fairly common science fiction plot. What fascinates me, I think, is the phenomenon of science fiction and technology feeding on each other. We used to just have SF stories about virtual reality, but now there is an entire genre of SF stories about MMOs specifically. Where Second Life was an attempt to create a virtual world like we've had in science fiction, MMOs in general are the sort of virtual world which people actually use. I find it delightful that now we have science fiction stories about virtual worlds which are more grounded in reality. Think about that! A fictional virtual world which is more grounded in reality. We are living in the future. SAO doesn't just use an MMO for its setting. By forcing the trapped characters to actually play the game, it gets to explore the mental state of MMO players, and play with the actual social dynamics that emerge in a real MMO. It makes it dramatic with the obvious and somewhat obligatory device of making it a literal life-and-death game. How interesting MMO guild dynamics are will probably depend on the viewer, but if you don't care about MMOs you probably aren't going to bother in the first place. I gather that SAO is frequently compared to .hack, which is an entire franchise based on a similar premise and released at roughly the same time. However, I've had no exposure to it, and cannot comment on the comparison. I do find it interesting to draw a parallel to Neal Stephenson's novel Reamde. Again we have this theme of science fiction and reality feeding on each other. In many ways, Reamde is highly similar to his older novel Snow Crash, except where Snow Crash is a science fiction novel about the futuristic and wild technology of virtual reality, Reamde is a contemporary techno-thriller centering on an MMO. What was once wild speculation is now relatively mundane. The comparison to SAO is that the game in Reamde is not, itself, central to the plot. The MMO is relevant to the story because it is made economically significant. SAO derives its drama from a life-and-death struggle, where Reamde is ultimately about money. I suppose this just means that this relatively new premise of MMO-as-science-fiction is already as diverse as any other subgenre. Of course, to get really general, the plot of a hero being trapped in another world (or even just very far away) and going on a journey to get home is as old as fiction. But deconstructing a story to this degree is rarely that useful or interesting. (Merely writing the words "The Odyssey in a computer!" makes me cringe so hard, nor is it necessarily a very good comparison.) The interesting part is the drama between the characters, the greater context in which the story is told, and what it says about that society. In that sense, SAO is a fairly unflinching look at people being completely obsessed with MMOs. I could probably write a fairly strained essay on that thesis alone, but I don't think deconstructing the series to that extent is called for. I prefer to take it as it is.