Oculus’s founder, who was subsequently terminated from his position at Facebook, claimed to develop a virtual reality (VR) headset that has the capability of bringing gamers’ deaths into the real world.
In a blog post published November 6, Palmer Luckey, one of the original founders of the Oculus VR who sold his company to Facebook and now acts as the foundation for Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse ambitions, claimed that he had modified a virtual reality headset so that it would explode if the wearer lost in a video game, killing them in real life as well.
According to Luckey’s blog post titled “If you die in the game, you die in real life,” the fictional virtual reality headset “NerveGear” from the Sword Art Online anime series served as inspiration for his deadly gaming gear.
Sword Art Online (SAO) is a Japanese light novel series written by Reki Kawahara. The anime has been released where players control their avatars with their bodies using a piece of technology called: Nerve Gear. One day, players discover they cannot log out, as the game creator is holding them captive unless they reach the 100th floor of the game’s tower and defeat the final boss. However, if they die in the game, they die in real life, according to Crunchyroll.
“You want NerveGear, the incredible device that perfectly recreates reality using a direct neural interface that is also capable of killing the user,” Luckey wrote.
“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. 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,” he continued.
“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.”
“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. 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, and also why I am convinced that, like in SAO, the final triggering should really be tied to a high-intelligence agent that can readily determine if conditions for termination are actually correct.”
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. See you in the metaverse,” he said.
Murderous video games are a longtime pursuit for Luckey, who talked about this over a year ago:
The concept of videogames with physical consequences as severe as death are a sci-fi staple, but seen as beyond the pale in real life. Given the popularity of motorsports, extreme athletics, etc: Why?
— Palmer Luckey (@PalmerLuckey) March 9, 2021
It is also notable that Luckey claims to have built weaponized gaming tech like this given his jump from VR to founding Anduril Industries, his company which makes AI-based surveillance and defense systems for the U.S. military. They recently landed a $1 billion contract to lead counter-unmanned systems to work for the United States Special Operations Command.
Given that VR tech is still trying to break past a niche to get people to play games that are actually fun, the idea that we are barreling toward some sort of Sword Art dystopia where users are signing up to play games that have the potential to kill you does…not seem plausible. Even Sword Art Online had to trick its players into being trapped with NerveGear, it’s not like they were going around selling VR headsets with murder potential written up as a feature.
As ever, Palmer Luckey is…something else. I look forward to him hosting his first Bloodsport tournament on a private island or whatever weird thing emerges next from his brain.