Palmer Luckey, the founder of Oculus, needs to stop watching so much anime. Luckey wants to develop a real-life VR headset that can actually kill its users. Maybe he’s seen too much “Sword Art Online.” The VR headset creator isn’t satisfied with video game stakes as they are. Die and you lose lives, items, progress, etc.. Luckey wants to take it up a notch by literally putting your life on the line.
In the “SAO” anime, VR gamers find themselves trapped within the virtual world by the headset’s creator. If they die in game, they die in real life. The headsets basically liquify their brains with microwave radiation. Luckey seems to think there’s something to that. A post to his blog detailed his thoughts on VR gaming and sees this as a future avenue to pursue. “Pumped up graphics might make a game look more real, but only the threat of serious consequences can make a game feel real…This is an area of videogame mechanics that has never been explored, despite the long history of real-world sports revolving around similar stakes.”
A lot of technology is science fiction made real. Jules Verne wrote about the science of space travel long before it was possible. The cadets in “Ender’s Game” were all basically using iPads before they were around. And even the highly-advanced technology in shows like “Star Trek” are becoming more possible by the day. But these are all advances that don’t risk a person’s life to be possible.
Games Should Be Fun, Not Fatal
“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.”
As gamers ourselves, we’re pretty happy with the stakes as they currently are. Luckey argues that real-world sports carry fatal risk. But tons of safety technologies are in place to prevent them. What Luckey is suggesting sounds a lot more like a super villain than someone who enjoys games as entertainment. Especially since discovering that the technology for causing brain death like in the anime isn’t currently possible. Instead, Luckey found an alternative.
“In lieu of this, 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.”
This bizarre pursuit seems less and less like a good idea. Especially since Luckey wants to implement technologies that keep the headset from being removed while in use. And that a high-intelligence agent will be what dictates what kills you in lieu of failures, bugs, or mistakes. Moral and ethical red flags aside, this headset is hopefully a long, long way from any measure of success.
“At this point, it is just a piece of office art, a thought-provoking reminder of unexplored avenues in game design. It is also…the first non-fiction example of a VR device that can actually kill the user. It won’t be the last.” Sure thing, Luckey. You can try it out first.