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MY ENCOUNTER WITH THE OTHER WORLD PROJECT

"Gaynn Online, the 'ultimate VRMMO experience'. It might be cliché to start this story here, but sometimes clichés exist for a reason."

It was April 7th.

I hope you won't hold it against me that I held the date in no significant fervor.

Certainly, I respected the fact that today would hold special value in other's hearts. I wasn't so cruel as to dismiss the worldly concerns of the thousands of high schoolers-to-be.

The school year had just started—it was more than enough reason for some people to be excited.

I'm sure many students, filled with youthful optimism, were preparing for their "high school debut". Outfits were being chosen, breakfasts were being had, and front doors were being opened. It was a time of majesty and wonder for a high schooler-to-be.

Er, I guess it's a little late for that, actually. It was already noon.

I overslept a lot.

Of course, there's also those individuals who couldn't care less for debuts and rearranging themselves. For better or for worse, they are either confident in themselves, or care little as to their appearance. I would be the latter—not that I'm attending high school of course.

Thinking on it, actually, this would be my second year. What was I going on about earlier?

Miyahara Asami. Sixteen years old. NEET. Currently dressed in somewhat overly-cutesy pajamas, curled up in her bed due to the intense cold. The AC tended to run amok whenever the cherry blossom season began. He wasn't happy being overused during the conflicting seasons, I suppose. I would have to do battle with him shortly.

But I'm still tired, so I'll wait a bit longer.

Actually, I wasn't going to school because I caught a rather serious disease.

It's called "hikikomori".

—...It was a joke, but I guess it wasn't that funny, huh?

Unlike most NEETs, my castle of solitude was not a one room apartment with a failing ceiling light. Instead, it was a massive complex. Easier to call it a "mansion" and be done with it, I guess. It was the Miyaharas vacation home, although it was rarely used.

It was trash, in their words.

What was a house without a fully-employed maid staff? Soundproof theater rooms? A balcony in which to overlook my seas of money? Thus, it was normally vacant.

You might ask why they didn't overturn the house for a profit, but in my parent's words, it was simply too much trouble. Surely, they would have sold off the house eventually, but after I began taking up residence, I suppose they decided to leave it alone.

My hikikomori first began three years ago. Naturally, my parents were distraught, but they were never ones to worry about my wellbeing. They were merely disappointed that an expectant Miyahara was out of commission. I had a few sisters and brothers, but due to our differing positions, I thought of them more as acquaintances than family. As such, my reclass into the NEET archetype went unreproached.

So, that's why I'm staying here, I guess. It's quiet, and it has everything I'd ever need. I only ever really use three out of the million rooms in this house, anyway.

Long ago, I was once referred to as the "princess of the Miyaharas". My brief flirt with social politics, though, was dispelled very quickly. Within the span of ten minutes, I had become disillusioned with high society life. The event, somewhat relatedly, led to a mild case of androphobia as well. It was a vexing scenario. Despite my complete awareness of the situation, my natural instinct had become "stay clear of men".

I doubt my tragedy is as bad as you're thinking. In fact, I would hesitate personally to refer to it as even "moderate". It was a slight infraction, but it still left a permanent scar in my mind.

Moving on, then.

This goes without saying, but throwing a decent amount of pocket change their daughter's way wasn't much of a problem for my parents. I had more than enough to support my living costs, leaving me with a pool of excess money each month. As I was adverse to leaving the house, I had somewhat naturally become extremely bored.

Money and boredom tend to lead to interesting consequences, in my experience.

I spent my first bit of money on books. I was still technically enrolled in the Phrontistery, a governmentally-funded school for Japan's intellectual elite, so my drive for learning was still rather high. Even being locked up in my family's massive mansion, I felt an almost carnal pressure to pursue knowledge.

I purchased books I remembered from my childhood, and the upcoming pieces from novelists I had long awaited. Still, I began to feel something; a need for escapism that I couldn't find in my real life. It was a desire I felt more instinctively than consciously.

This was the moment I took the full dive into light novels, introducing me for the first time to otaku culture.

Stories of other worlds. Strong maidens, charming men, and power fantasies. These works fell into my hands like a moth to a candle's flame. I ravenously devoured book after book, soon adding manga to my collection. In short, I suppose you could say light novels were my gateway into anime culture as well.

From anime, I delved into games.

VRMMO technology had taken off a handful of years ago, but I never maintained any long term interest in them. However, with my recent inception of a new illness, otakudom, I felt an unnatural craving begin to well up in my body. The desire to become the protagonists in the books I loved so much.

I searched for the most "otaku-like" VRMMO on the market, eventually landing my sights on Gaynn Online. Marketed as the "pinnacle VRMMO experience", it was heavily catered to a Japanese audience, including many otaku references and culture. It was an anime game, essentially, and I was hooked.

For the first few weeks, I don't think I slept much. Sleeping took time away from Gaynn Online, after all. However, I suppose those tacky game time warnings that companies placed on games eventually got to me, and I started sleeping regularly. Sleep was a good thing, after all.

Even still, within those first few weeks, I had quickly begun to make a name for myself.

As this was a game based heavily on otaku culture, many of the thought processes I had begun to develop were ridiculously helpful. Multiplied by my massive amounts of free time, and it was expected that I would climb quicker than the average. I looked up guides, watched videos, scoured internet forms—anything to increase my proficiency in-game.

Going outside?

Did going outside fill my stomach?

Making friends?

Did friends give me more time to play games?

It was with these "toxic" thoughts that I fully immersed myself in the VRMMO experience. Some people might call this "unhealthy", but their reasons for saying so were placed on subjective experience. Friends made some individuals happy, and escapism made me happy. We were both happy with our own experiences, so what was the point in complaining?

Today, a back-to-school event was going on, and several school uniform outfits were added to the cosmetic shop. I considered purchasing some, as I found a few designs extremely cute, but I eventually decided against it. I didn't want to pretend something that I was not.

I was perfectly fine being who I was.

Still, I was not someone who often topped the leaderboards in Gaynn Online. While it was one of my favorite VRMMOs, and my first experience into virtual reality, I had begun playing a multitude of games on my small "virtual visor". Kugatora, a competitive racing VRMMO. Asciel, a VRMMO set within a high fantasy locale with angelic creatures called "Watchers". And finally, Journal of Destria, a third-person shooter VRMMO.

I was into about nine games total, if you counted the non-MMO ones. In summary, I had become a full-blown otaku in the span of three years. A nice accomplishment, if I do say so myself.

If this were a game, I'm sure I would've gotten an "achievement unlocked" in the corner of my screen.

As I walked down the streets of Caeciles, one of the many high-level towns that inhabited Gaynn Online, a survey window appeared in front of my face, completely obscuring my vision. I would love to describe what Caeciles looked like to you, but my current predicament has rendered me unable to.

"Gayaah—..!"

I made such an incomprehensible noise, nearly tripping over myself as I grabbed a nearly lamppost. I mentally willed the survey to back up a bit, causing the box to retract in a way where I could see the landscape in front of me.

What kind of—..?

The survey box had only one question on screen:

"How are you liking Gaynn Online so far?"

There was a text box right below that I could type in. I tapped the box with my index finger, causing a holographic keyboard to appear in front of me.

Most menus in Gaynn Online were brought up via thought, almost like telepathy. However, each individual menu still had to be navigated with physical actions, except in the case of hotbars. If an item or action was located in your hotbar, you could bring it forth by imagining its corresponding number.

I sighed, starting to type into the presently empty box.

It would be better if you didn't scare the crap out of me. Upon finishing, I hit "accept".

"Sorry about that."

I blinked.

Am I talking to a moderator right now?

It was kind of strange. Was I personally chosen to give an evaluation of the game? I wasn't exactly the top player of Gaynn Online, nor was I in many of the game's "world events", so I wasn't directly influencing the story either. Still, another question appeared on screen:

"If you had to choose between reality and Gaynn Online, which would you choose?"

This question caused me to blink in surprise again.

In reality, I was a very average looking individual. Back when I was in line to inherit the Miyahara Estate, I was often remarked to look "beautiful", and one of my great aunts commented that I was "without equal comparison in the entire world". However, that was then. I rarely ever keep my hair in decent shape, and it was often covered in various amounts of ties to keep it from flying everywhere. I never went outside, so I found it useless to keep it kempt. Don't get me wrong—I kept a proper hygiene, but in regards to my outward appearance, I rarely gave it a second thought.

In Gaynn Online, I was a white haired girl with unfathomable wit. Her hair was cut short, as it made it easier for her to move, and her incandescently-blue eyes often made both players and NPCs stop in their tracks. Her skills with a katana were unmatched in comparison to her peers, and she had even gone on to earn the nickname "goddess of white" from the player populous. After all, she was a solo player, and often took down frightening world bosses with ease. Of course, said bosses were downscaled to make it possible for a single person to beat, but it was still seen as impossible due to a lack of heals or buffs.

In short, it wasn't even a question.

Gaynn Online.

Another question appeared on screen:

"What do you love about VRMMOs so much?"

I had to think about it for a while.

Escaping from the real world. It was true, after all.

The screen went black for a while, and for a moment, I thought it crashed.

"If you had the choice to get sent into another world to start anew, would you?"

My heart began to soar.

This is it! This is how it begins in all those stories!

My excitement quickly died down though—there was no way such a thing could happen in real life.

And in actuality, my answer would probably be no.

While I would love to go to another world and be someone else, being myself was...scary.

It was a really hard to describe.

I guess you could say I was more comfortable with roleplaying.

Especially since, as the question described, I would just be me. Myself. Without any special abilities.

Actually, I think being me in another world would be a negative.

If I were put into the position of any isekai protagonist, I would die.

Suddenly, the survey changed:

"—...Would you be okay if you were your character from Gaynn Online?"

Of course.

Aria would never be afraid of getting sent to another world. In fact, she would relish the challenge.

Wait.

Did the survey just read my mind?

"Answer accepted. Congratulations, Miyahara Asami. You have been chosen for the Other World Project."

The Other World Project?

What kind of light novel development is this?!

The world began to fracture around me, turning into physical representations of code. Numbers ran along the walls as it slowly melted into a white void. The walls shattered, and then—…