Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey has come up with an innovative and incredibly dangerous crossing between VR and real life. A VR headset that can kill you if you die in a game. The headset is not a real product though; it’s more like something of a thought experiment made into cosplay.
“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 said.
The device is based on an anime with similar themes called Sword Art Online. In the series, people who wear this type of headset will suffer microwave-induced brain melt if they fail to escape a mad scientist’s trap within a game world. the real headset that Luckey claims to have made? It blows up a person’s head using charge modules.
In some contexts, VR is already in use in situations where the stakes are life and death. Drone warfare that employs VR to triangulate and attack “enemies” is a form of bloodless warfare that experts have accused powerful countries of engaging in, given that the bloodlessness is on the side that has the drones.
With that, the lines between video games and warfare have begun to blur. A former United States defense secretary, Robert Gates, predicted as much when he warned that drones are turning war into video games. So far, then, game-like scenarios have been translated into real violence. Now, real violence threatens to be brought into game-like scenarios—a situation that normalizes the use of weaponry in entertainment, rather than vice versa, like never before.
We’re still a ways from perfecting the headset. “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 said. But asking questions about the overlap between war and gaming helps unpack what’s at stake beyond just a curiosity-satiating project.