Sword Art Online and the Testing Point of All Virtues

I’m a big fan of the anime series Sword Art Online, and think the first season is one of the most satisfying narrative arcs I’ve ever experienced. The premise is simple: 10,000 players get trapped in a virtual reality game, and if they die in the game, they die in real life.

The only way for everyone to escape? Someone has to beat the game. This changes the implicit contract of a video game. Usually, you get the adventure with no real danger, the thrill of the fight without the need for true courage.

When this contract is broken and reality is thrust upon them, people react in different ways. Some panic. Some become “civilians” and open shops to avoid the danger, but offer what support they can. Some become villains, getting a thrill from shedding actual blood through a virtual world.

And, of course, you have some who are willing to put themselves on the front lines of battle, risking life and limb in order free everyone from their shared prison.

The main protagonist of the series is Kirito, and he is one of the latter, protecting the weak and pushing the limits of the game.

The thing I most appreciated about the arc, however, is that towards the end, in order to save the woman he loves, Kirito must perform an act of courage in the real world, outside of the context of any game. If he fails to act courageously here, all of his previous efforts, despite his many previous heroic acts, will have been for nothing.

This reminded me of an idea that has been expounded by many minds throughout the centuries: that courage is the testing point of all other virtues. If you don’t have courage, all of your other virtues are worthless. You might as well not have them.

Courage is the greatest of all virtues, because if you haven’t courage, you may not have an opportunity to use any of the others.

Samuel Johnson

Courage is the mother of all virtues because without it, you cannot consistently perform the others.

Aristotle

Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality. 

C.S. Lewis

There is a reason why the Bible relegates cowards to the second death (Rev. 21:8). By definition, cowards lack any true virtue.

May we all have true courage.

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