Oculus co-founder unveils VR headset that kills its wearer if they die in a game

It sounds as if Palmer Luckey, the co-founder of Oculus, might be spending too much time at Anduril Industries, the defense technology company he founded after leaving Facebook. The VR luminary has created a new headset, though it’s unlikely to be something you’d want to try: if a user dies in the virtual world, the device kills them in the real world using explosives.

The Matrix is one of several pieces of sci-if media in which those who die inside a virtual world also die in real life, a trope Luckey discusses in his blog post. He references an incident from Sword Art Online (SAO), a mid-2000s series of Japanese novels that spawned anime, video games, and more. According to the fiction, an “SAO Incident” took place on November 6, 2022, in which 10,000 players were trapped in a VRMMORPG, 4,000 of whom died in real life after their characters perished in the game.

To mark the date’s arrival, Luckey announced the creation of a headset that can perform the same function as the NerveGear headset from SAO—kill its wearer. Rather than using high-intensity bursts of microwaves to end a player’s (real) life, Luckey’s version does the job with three embedded explosive charges positioned in front of a wearer’s forehead.

The explosives are triggered when a “narrow-band photosensor” detects a particular shade of red that appears on an integrated game-over screen. Luckey said the charges instantly “destroy the brain of the user” upon firing, which is comforting to know. He also has plans to add an anti-tamper mechanism so the headset can’t be removed or destroyed while someone is wearing it.

The good news for those who already feel like they’re living in a dystopian hellscape is that the kill-helmet, which looks like a modified Meta Quest Pro, is “at this point” just a piece of office art. He did add, however, that triggering the device “should really be tied to a high-intelligence agent that can readily determine if conditions for termination are actually correct,” a statement that could link it to Anduril. Luckey also noted that he normally uses the explosive charge modules for a different project.

Luckey admitted that he hasn’t dared try the device out himself and that right now, it is just “a thought-provoking reminder of unexplored avenues in game design.” He signed off with the ominous warning that although this is the first VR helmet able to kill a user, it won’t be the last.

While the headset could be compared to an extreme version of the haptic vests that recreate in-game bullet impacts and punches, its nature brings to mind the porn-detection helmet developed in China. Perhaps the two could be combined into a headset that explodes a wearer’s brain upon viewing adult material.