Ok, I have something I’d like recommendations for.
A long long time ago my brother’s friend let me borrow the .hack games, which I played quite a bit of, though definitely did not get through all 4. For whatever reason, I’ve been thinking about .hack a lot lately, but I don’t think I ever want to actually play through them again. They feel special to me primarily because of how they do their story telling: you’re constantly reading forum posts, emails, news articles, etc. Because of this premise that you’re playing an MMO, each of these characters has a sort of dual-identity: their online avatar, which you see and interact with, and their offline self, which you read about and imagine.
A moment that was very memorable for me was when one character emailed the protagonist to just talk about things that had nothing to do with the game. I think she said that she was a freshman in high school, and the protagonist replied that he was a second year junior-high student and played on his school’s soccer team. I also was in middle school and on my school’s soccer team! So reading that was a weird jolt for me. I was probably the exact target audience, because I started imagining my classmates being behind these in-game avatars, concluded that none of my classmates really fit, so then started imagining completely made-up people based on whatever scraps of evidence the game provided. As a result playing it felt very personal (and very specific to the age I was when I played it, which is partly why I don’t really want to replay the series).
A big reason why it could be so personal, I think, was how text-based it was – in a way almost being a visual novel. And of course there was also the multi-media aspect of it, which I also find very interesting. I watched the OVAs that came with the games, though I don’t remember much of them. I read a few of the light novels from my local public library, which I remember a lot more of and really enjoyed.
So I’m wondering if there are any games that do something similar, grafting onto the game itself a world completely left to your imagination – but a game that might be more appropriate to adult sensibilities? I suspect that maybe one of the Shin Megami Tensei games is like this. I’ve only really played IV all the way through though, which I wouldn’t say fits this description. A lot of franchises that seem conceptually related, like Sword Art Online, don’t really seem like they’d have the parts of .hack that I’d like. So I suspect that if there’s something that scratches a similar itch for me, it might have a very different premise.
As a side note, a non-game work that does something interesting with the same general setting as .hack (a world in the shadow of an internet that was destroyed by a computer virus) is one of the segments in Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Wheels of Fortune and Fantasy, which was very good. I want to at some point write about it and Happy Hour in the movie thread, since I saw them both after Drive My Car in December and was very impressed.