Original Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey has created a VR headset he claims can actually kill its user if they die in a game.
Don't worry though, this product isn't coming to market anytime soon from the sound of it and, hopefully, it never does. It would be pretty bad for business to kill off your entire consumer base, right?
Where Did This Idea Come From?
It's a concept that sounds plucked from a cult classic sci-fi/horror film (ever see the 2006 flick Stay Alive?), but gained traction through Sword Art Online, a popular Japanese novel series that helped drive consumer interest in the Oculus Rift headset. It's premise? VR users can control avatars with their brain using a "NerveGear" helmet, but once they enter the game, they learn they can only exit via completion… and if you die in the game, you die in real life.
"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," says Luckey in a blog post where he announced his newly developed piece of technology.
"Pumped up graphics might make a game look more real," he continues, "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 video game mechanics that has never been explored, despite the long history of real-world sports revolving around similar stakes."
How the VR Headset Actually Kills You
Rather than trying to fry the brain with "extraordinarily powerful microwaves" like the fictional NerveGear does, Luckey rigged this headset with explosive charges that go straight to your noggin.
"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. When an appropriate game-over screen is displayed, the charges fire, instantly destroying the brain of the user," he explains.
We Have the Headset, Where's the Game?
The headset itself isn't perfect yet, much less developing a game to properly deploy this sort of experience (if it would even be legal).
"I have plans for an anti-tamper mechanism that, like the NerveGear, will make it impossible to remove or destroy the headset," Luckey adds, "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 least he's thinking this through. Or is trying to.
What Does This Thing Look Like?!
Click here to take a look!
So, What Next?
Luckey concludes his blog post noting that although the physical device exists, "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."
That was comforting right up until the last sentence. For now, enjoy your gaming experience without the immediate risk of having your brain penetrated by explosive charges.