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The main themes of Sword Art Online are that any strengths gained in the VRMMOs doesn't really translate into the real world, as Kirito finds out; virtual reality isn't as real as 'real' reality so the relevant corollaries that you can't use game logic or meta-logic to get by in a VRMMO; and in Aincrad, death is final, meaning that anyone who dies will die for real so problems are solved by negotiation, planning, foresight, and flexibility, not hitting things until they submit.

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  • It's a key theme in the Fairy Dance arc (Vol. 3 & 4) that the strength that Kirito gained in SAO doesn't really translate to the real world, because it's just a game.
  • The other main theme is that virtual reality is just as real as "real" reality. The relevant corollary is that you can't use game logic or meta-logic to get by in a VRMMO. Problems are solved by negotiation, planning, foresight, and flexibility, not hitting things until they submit.
  • The initial arc ends with a duel between Kirito and the avatar of Kayaba, with Kirito's Love Interest Asuna Taking the Bullet for an attack that would have killed him and dying in his arms. After she dies, he picks up her fallen sword and stands to attack Kayaba, so Roaring Rampage of Revenge right? Nope. He proceeds to swing his sword vaguely in Kayaba's direction, not even looking at him, mentally broken and incapable of continuing the fight in a meaningful fashion.
  • The SAO incident was scandalous to the point that Argus goes bankrupt and sells off its assets to another company; likewise, news of Nobuyuki Sugou's experiments are leaked and results in RECT Progress Inc. collapsing due to the lawsuits and poor publicity from said news, selling their assets to another company themselves.
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    • Seijirou Kikuoka implies that had the authorities not intervened, the SAO incident would have blown up into an even more massive scandal and that the survivors would be constantly hounded by the media. Which would plausibly happen if something like the show happened in real life.
    • At the end of the ALFheim Online arc, it's revealed that the VRMMO market was basically annihilated after two high-profile controversies where innocent people were used for experiments or to satisfy someone's god-complex, which is indeed what would happen if thousands of people died in two years in one MMO because they weren't allowed to leave, and three hundred people were kept in their comas and used for brain experiments in the other. If it weren't for Kayaba giving Kirito a data seed to create new worlds, the market would have completely died.
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    • In the Aincrad arc, Nishida, who worked on Sword Art Online, notes that he's in no hurry to leave Aincrad because since he's in a technical occupation, his skills are completely outdated after two years trapped inside. Similarly, once they leave Aincrad, the survivors are behind in various ways (when Kirito's sister notes that he was a good student, he says that was before he went into SAO), and so apply to a special school for survivors, which the government establishes in part as a means of monitoring them for antisocial tendencies.
    • During his Last Villain Stand against Kirito, Sugou smugly brushes off Kirito's insistence that he's lost, stating that countless organizations would take an interest in his work and thus shelter him from the law. When Kirito overpowers him in real life and leaves him to the mercy of the cops, he's proven wrong: not only is he arrested and incarcerated for his crimes, but his actions result in RECT Inc. getting hit with a massive public scandal that forces Asuna's father, who put Sugou in charge of the company's research institute in the first place, to step down as CEO in shame.
    • Adding to the above, while it isn't explicitly mentioned, no company would ever take in Sugou. RECT Inc. was ruined by the bad press and no company would ever trust anything he made after the SAO incident, no matter how impressive, because he proved he would trap and kill people for his amusement.
  • Shino's situation as a Minor Living Alone is far from ideal. She has trouble making ends meet, to the point at which she, despite being unwilling to sell Hecate (a weapon in GGO that is very powerful and of great personal significance to her), has to admit that it would go a long way toward paying her expenses. Several unscrupulous classmates take advantage of her to host parties at her apartment. Worst of all, Shino gets targeted by a serial killer because she lives alone and is a vulnerable target.
  • While Kirito is an accomplished warrior in virtual reality, he's also accustomed to the systems reducing if not eliminating the sense of pain. When he gets cut with a knife in the fight with Sugou in real life, and with a machete while facing the goblin leader in the Underworld (which doesn't have the system in place), he's left helpless from the extreme pain that he isn't used to feeling.
  • When Kirito and Eugeo intervene to save their pages, Ronie and Tiese, from Raios and Humbert, their attacks result in Humbert losing a hand and Raios losing his life. As a result, Kirito and Eugeo are expelled from the academy and handed over to the Integrity Knights, the world's authorities.
  • When Quinella and Cardinal fight, eventually, the two reach the point in which they're unable to use Sacred Arts against each other, and must instead fight with a sword and a staff, respectively. This would seem like a fair fight, but since Cardinal is currently in the body of a child and Quinella has an adult's body, Cardinal's forced to flee from a fight she can't possibly win.
  • During the War of the Underworld, Critter and Vassago/PoH recruit thousands of foreign players by tricking them into thinking the Underworld is the beta for a hot new VRMMO without the censorship found in other games, and they'll be protecting it against the so-called Japanese terrorists(i.e. the heroes). In response, Lisbeth tries to recruit some ALO players to fight back by telling them the truth, only to realize that many players are unwilling to dive into the server and possibly risk losing their characters (an extension of themselves), even without knowing that the Pain Absorber has been deactivated.
  • At the end of the Alicization arc, PoH has the brilliant idea to insult, threaten and gloat to Kirito, who just wiped the floor with him, that he's never going to stop coming after him until he brutally murders him in real life, expecting him to just sit there and cry about it. Instead, his threats are met with retaliation and efforts to make sure he never comes after anyone again, as can be expected when one threatens someone who can and will fight back, especially since Kirito is fully aware of what PoH is capable of and will spell nothing but bad news wherever he goes.
  • Although not as significant as the others, part of the reason Gabriel Miller/Subtilizer easily beats other GGO players is because he's an experienced soldier and thus can apply his skills to GGO, while virtually everyone else has never faced a gunfight in real life.

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online

  • M's portable shield, made of starship plating, might be able to stop a wide variety of ordinance, but since the whole things was meant to be carried in compacted form and then deployed when used, it's still composed of multiple sections of starship plating, and the hinges that link each piece to each other serve as weak points. One of PM 4's hired muscle learns this the hard way when Team SHINC specifically targets these joints and hinges with their PTRD-41 anti-tank rifle, when one of them eventually fails and the residual kinetic force from the 14.5mm round causes a section of the shield to fly off and strike him right in the face for an instant kill.
  • Firing a weapon without System Assist (thus not generating a Bullet Circle or Bullet Line) leaves players at the mercy of realistic ballistics in the game. This is really the only way a skilled gunfighter, in reality, could play GGO without putting their real-life skills at risk of atrophy from using the assist. Those that do master weapon use without relying on the assists... well just look at M (an experienced gunfighter in reality) and team KKHC and how effective they are in-game.
  • Played straight in a surprising way during the first Squad Jam; while it's true that in the real world, Team Narrows would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for one person to take down, but GGO is NOT the real world, and LLENN is easily able to take down four of them utilizing GGO's own game mechanics (her agility build means she runs far faster than any human could in real life, and corpses are immune to damage, unlike in the real world, which makes them good shields). The two survivors realize this and resign without firing a shot at her.
  • Fuka has much less luck in finding a melee weapon in GGO than Kirito did, with her favored swords, lances, and axes nowhere to be seen so she's forced to purchase firearms like everyone else. She does acquire a trench knife that she uses as a hair clip.
  • Since Squad Jam, like BoB, is a survival match, you don't win by getting the most kills, but by outlasting your opponents. The two aren't necessarily mutually exclusive, but the rule does allow Team T-S to go in and mop up LLENN and Fuka after their climactic fight with Pito, even though their cowardly tactics result in people concluding that they don't deserve to win.
  • Near the end of Squad Jam 3, Eva/"Boss" leaps over a railing several stories above the ground in order to shoot Fuka in the head while in midair. She succeeds... then falls to her death.
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