We have seen a lot of sci-fi movies where if the character’s VR avatar dies in the video game, they die in real life too. But what if the same happens in the outside world? Sounds scary, right?
Well, Palmer Luckey, the father of modern virtual reality (VR), a defense contractor, and founder of Oculus, has actually developed a prototype of the first-ever killer VR headset that will literally kill the user if they die in the game they are playing.
Luckey, who sold Oculus for $2 billion to Facebook in 2014, presented the idea of the headset in a blog post on November 6, 2022, to commemorate the anime and light novel Japanese series, Sword Art Online (SAO).
“The idea of tying your real life to your virtual avatar has always fascinated me—you instantly raise the stakes to the maximum level and force people to fundamentally rethink how they interact with the virtual world and the players inside it,” Luckey wrote in the blog post explaining the project.
“Pumped up graphics might make a game look more real, but only the threat of serious consequences can make a game feel real to you and every other person in the game.”
He associates his new VR headset with NerveGear, the fictional killer headset in SAO, which uses a microwave emitter to melt wearers’ brains if they fail to escape a mad scientist’s virtual world where they have been trapped. The players must fight their way through a 100-floor dungeon to escape the game.
If at any point, their hit points drop to zero, the headset bombards their brain with extraordinarily powerful microwaves, supposedly killing the user instantly.
“I used three burst charges that I typically use for various projects and tied their activation to readings from a photo sensor that can detect when the headset screen turns red at a certain frequency, making for a very easy integration with the Allowed end of game,” Luckey said.
Unable to imitate the device, Luckey opted for explosive modular charges instead, which he tied to a narrow-band photosensor that can detect when the screen flashes red at a specific frequency.
“When an appropriate game-over screen is displayed, the charges fire, instantly destroying the brain of the user,” he added.
Luckey continued that he used three explosive charges he usually uses for a “different project” but did not reveal specific details of the project.
When Luckey was asked by a fan if he would ever make the NerveGear, he replied with good news and bad news.
“The good news is that we are halfway to making a true NerveGear,” he wrote. “The bad news is that so far, I have only figured out the half that kills you. The perfect-VR half of the equation is still many years out.”
According to Luckey, the device’s creator “was able to hide from his employees, regulators, and contract manufacturing partners. I am a pretty smart guy, but I couldn’t come up with any way to make anything like this work, not without attaching the headset to gigantic pieces of equipment.”
He did admit that he hasn’t yet actually tried the headset, as the equipment is still too unstable, and testing that out could result in death.
“At this point, it is just a piece of office art, a thought-provoking reminder of unexplored avenues in game design. It is also, as far as I know, the first non-fiction example of a VR device that can actually kill the user. It won’t be the last,” Luckey said.
He then concludes the blog post with “See you in the metaverse.”