More Than a Game: Death by Virtual Reality


On November 6, Oculus founder Palmer Luckey wrote in his personal blog about the new invention he was recently working on – a headset that, according to the creator, is able to kill people. The new NerveGear gadget was designed so that if the player dies in-game, they also die in real life. Palmer Luckey’s announcement received a lot of attention and revitalized the virtual reality trend. 

Palmer Luckey is an American entrepreneur who founded Oculus VR in 2012 and sold it to Facebook in 2014. The technology he created is the same one that was used by Mark Zuckerberg as a base for Meta. Virtual reality has been Luckey’s passion since his childhood, mainly because of his interest in video games. At the age of 17, he started building the first prototype of Oculus in his parents’ garage and later managed to successfully launch the project. After selling his startup to Facebook for $2 billion, Luckey mostly worked on national defense tech. However, he did not leave the VR world completely, as recently he made his new “killing” device public. So what is this new virtual reality headset?  

Palmer revealed that his new headset was inspired by Sword Art Online, a Japanese novel series-turned-anime, in which when online players die in the game, they also die in real life. Players using the VR wear “NerveGear” which kills them. 

Luckey’s killer headset looks similar to Meta Quest Pro, a mixed-reality headset released by Reality Labs, although his version has some added unique features. Luckey’s main idea was to add a special function to the standard Quest headset, which Oculus is developing for mass sale. 

The headset has three explosive charge modules that are connected to a narrow-band photo sensor. This sensor can detect when the screen flashes red at a certain frequency. When appropriate, “the end game screen is displayed, the charges fire, and this instantly destroys the user’s brain,” according to Luckey. 

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Luckey’s modified Quest Pro headset, November 6.
Image courtesy of Luckey Palmer.

The creator believes that the new concept of the headset immediately “raises stakes to the maximum level and forces people to fundamentally rethink how they interact with the virtual world and the players inside it.”

Luckey has previously stated that his invention is not ideal yet. This is the precise reason why he is not trying to use the headset himself. He explained that “it’s not a perfect system, of course… [and that he] ha[s] plans for an anti-tamper mechanism that, like NerveGear, will make it impossible to remove or destroy the headset.” He believes that there are still many glitches present in the device that could trigger the accidental death of the user. “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,” he noted. Nevertheless, it is crucial to include that the “killing headset” is a creative project. Oculus is not planning wholesale. 

There are examples of ultra-niche games in the industry that have relatively serious consequences, such as Lose/Lose, which is not only deleted from your computer when you lose but also deletes random files every time you kill enemies. This proves that such projects can go beyond just V Rand and might continue to develop into an actual reality for future generations. 

Luckey’s project raises an important question: how realistic is the device for the creator himself? If Palmer Luckey strives for realism, then when the final sample appears shouldn’t he be the one to use the headset first? 

Featured image by: Stock Images

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