The inventor of Oculus headsets Palmer Luckey has just published a rather terrifying and uncomfortable post (we’ll let you judge for yourselves) on one of the possible futures of VR that fascinates him the most: What if VR gamers who die in virtual reality also die in real life? The idea is not new: in popular culture, it is obviously present through the plot of the Matrix film saga.
But also in a work of dystopian science fiction which seems to particularly fascinate the entrepreneur: Sword Art Online from the Japanese Kawahara Reki – which has since been adapted into series and various games. The first part of the work in question was released in Japan in 2009 (the latest opus SAO volume 27 has just been released in the archipelago on October 7).
But what has stung the founder of Oculus helmets?
The story of the former begins in the then near future. On November 6, 2022, which just happened, in real life, a few days ago, a “massively multiplayer online role-playing game” baptized Sword Art Online (SAO) is launched. The game comes with a new kind of VR headset, the NerveGear, which allows players to control and feel their character’s 5 senses via a brain-machine interface.
On November 6, 2022, 10,000 players enter for the first time in Sword Art Online. But there is a problem: everyone quickly realizes that it is no longer possible for them to leave the game. The creator of this universe, also at the origin of the NerveGear then appears and explains to them that they must defeat each of the 100 level of Aincrad, an iron castle, if they wish to regain their freedom.
While adding that those who die in the game will also die in real life… and that if by misfortune someone removes the helmet from them, they will die too. The somewhat terrifying idea could have remained science fiction. Except that it really fascinates the founder of Oculus headsets Palmer Luckey to the point that the latter built the first real headset of its kind. He explains why he sees in this kind of concept the true future of virtual worlds.
Palmer Luckey is fascinated by the most dystopian future for VR
“Ultra-detailed graphics may make a game feel more real, but only the threat of serious consequences can make it feel real to you or other players. This is an area of video game mechanics that has never been explored, despite the long history of real-life sports that revolve around similar issues.believes Palmer Luckey.
And to add: “The good news is that we’re halfway to creating a real NerveGear. The bad news is that so far I’ve only been able to find the half that causes your death. The other half of the equation that would make VR perfect is still many years away from us”.
And to present the first lethal helmet of its kind, equipped with three explosive cartridges (??????). We’ll spare you the details of what happens if the three charges are triggered… The rest of the post seems more and more lunar as you continue reading. He revisits the history of SAO to talk about how the helmet designer hid the NerveGear’s lethal device before its release from both “its employees, regulators, and contractors”.
Which is immediately super reassuring for Palmer Luckey’s future projects. While specifying: “I’m quite a smart guy but I haven’t been able to find anything like this that will work […] instead I used three explosive charges linked to a photodiode that can detect when the screen flashes red at a specific frequency which simplifies implementation on the developer side”.
And Palmer Luckey doesn’t stop there…
A little further on, he continues: “It’s not a perfect system, of course. I also have ideas to implement an anti-cheat mechanism that would make the headset impossible to remove or destroy. But obviously there are many risks of bugs that could unfold and kill the user at the wrong time. That’s why I haven’t had the courage to use the helmet myself yet, and why I’m also convinced that, like in SAO, the real final trigger should be determined by a highly intelligent agent”.
While we already feel very uncomfortable towards the end of the post, Palmer Luckey nevertheless specifies that he does not intend to market the helmet in question: “at this point, it’s just a piece of art on display in the office, a provocative, thought-provoking reminder of yet unexplored directions in video game design”. But the last three sentences leave us after a short lull with an even faster heartbeat and cold sweats thinking about the future:
“This is, as far as I know, the first example of a VR device capable of truly killing its user out of science fiction. It won’t be the last of its kind. See you soon in the Metaverse. Palmer”. On our side, we rather hope that this idea will serve to illustrate the absurdity and the deadly side of such concepts, so that they never come true. Note for all intents and purposes that Palmer Luckey no longer works for Facebook / Meta since March 31, 2017. Which still seems to be rather a big relief after reading such a post…