Virtual reality has reached an entirely new level of immersion as Oculus founder Palmer Luckey has created a VR headset that could impose mortal consequences on its user. If you die in the game, you die in real life. Thus, bringing the poetic symmetry of gaming and reality that no one had asked for.
Luckey designed the headset to commemorate “Sword Art Online,” an anime and novel in which players must battle their way through a multi-layered dungeon in order to escape a mad scientist’s virtual world. The headset is designed so that if the player in the game dies, the user of the headset dies, too, Vice’s Motherboard reported.
The device is equipped with three explosives placed above the screen with the user’s forebrain as their target. One fatal misstep in one of the 100 floors of the dungeon and the charges would be detonated – annihilating the head of its wearer.
“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 on a blog post. “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. This is an area of videogame mechanics that has never been explored, despite the long history of real-world sports revolving around similar stakes.”
Luckey is also the founder of Anduril, a defense contractor for the United States government, so this likely wasn’t his first foray into deadly technology.
In the narrative of “Sword Art Online,” gamers put on the state-of-the-art headset known as NerveGear, “the incredible device that perfectly recreates reality using a direct neural interface that is also capable of killing the user.” The ill-fated individuals in question think they’re getting to play a new game only to find out they’ve been trapped inside the madman’s lair, and if they die inside the game, the headset that contained a “microwave emitter that could be overdriven to lethal levels” would be enacted.
“This might be a game, but it is not something you play.”
To commemorate the Sword Art Online Incident of November 6th 2022, I made the OQPNVG, the first virtual reality device capable of killing the user – if you die in the game, you die in real life.https://t.co/F3nkP5EU61
— Palmer Luckey (@PalmerLuckey) November 6, 2022
Lamenting that he couldn’t produce an exact replica, Luckey had to settle for a mechanism he was more familiar with. “I used three of the explosive charge modules I usually use for a different project, tying them to a narrow-band photosensor that can detect when the screen flashes red at a specific frequency, making game-over integration on the part of the developer very easy,” he wrote. No word as to what that ‘different project’ is.
“The good news is that we are halfway to making a true NerveGear. 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, ” Luckey wrote regretfully.
The Oculus founder, who has been openly critical of Facebook – the company that purchased Oculus for $2 billion – and its metaverse, doesn’t have any plans of trying the device himself.
“This isn’t a perfect system, of course. I have plans for an anti-tamper mechanism that, like the NerveGear, will make it impossible to remove or destroy the headset,” wrote Luckey. “Even so, there are a huge variety of failures that could occur and kill the user at the wrong time. This is why I have not worked up the balls to actually use it myself.”
Luckey said that the deadly piece of gaming history will be used, for now, as a decoration at the office. “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.”
While, thankfully, there are currently no plans for implementing such mechanisms in virtual reality, the integration of real-world consequences in gaming begs the question of whether art imitates reality or the other way around.
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