Game over: Oculus creator designs VR headset that ‘destroys the brain of the user’

Three terrifying ‘explosive-charge modules’ are pointed at the player’s head, to ‘detonate’ when they virtually die  (Palmer Luckey)
Three terrifying ‘explosive-charge modules’ are pointed at the player’s head, to ‘detonate’ when they virtually die (Palmer Luckey)

The premise of having skin in the game has gone up a level with the invention of a virtual reality headset that contains ‘’explosives’’ rigged to ‘’explode’’ if the person who wears it loses during a video game.

Palmer Luckey, the creator of Oculus who sold his VR firm to Facebook in 2014 for $3 billion, has shown off a concept headset, dubbed NerveGear, that mimics the black comedy of Squid Game, the hit Netflix show where contestants play games to survive, and cult hit Battle Royale, arguably the film that started it all, based on the late 20th century novel, which features exploding head braces.

The 30-year-old inventor claims this device is currently just a piece of “office art” but also describes it as a “thought-provoking reminder of unexplored avenues in game design”.

In a blog post, Luckey says the device is actually inspired from a mid-2000s Japanese web comic called Sword Art Online, the animated adaptation of which is available on Netflix. In it, users wear a device called NerveGear that transports them to an alternative reality, with lethal pitfalls.

Luckey shared a picture of his vision for the lethal hardware, which bears a resemblance to the Meta Quest Pro, plus a brief explainer on how he envisaged it to work.

The VR headset is armed with three explosive charges that ‘’destroy the brain of the user’’. The principle is that, if your character dies during the game, this will activate a signal, such as a flashing red light in the game-over sequence, that then triggers the explosive charge.

The Painstation art installation meted out real ‘heat, punches, and ‘electroshocks’ (Tilman Reiff/Volker Morawe)
The Painstation art installation meted out real ‘heat, punches, and ‘electroshocks’ (Tilman Reiff/Volker Morawe)

While this new invention is plainly a piece of dystopian fantasy, there are real-life parallels in gaming. As Ars Technica wryly points out, a number of video-game experiments have meted out physical pain as a key aspect of player participation.

These include the PainStation art installation in 2014, which punished Pong players who lost points during each match with “heat, punches and electroshocks of varying duration”.

The Tekken Torture Tournament, which was held in the same year, put a further spin on the whole premise of competitive esports by providing each gamer with “non-lethal electrical shocks in correspondence to the injuries sustained by their onscreen avatars”.

Unsurprisingly, the concept of risk versus physical jeopardy does not appear to have caught on. Unless, of course, you include repetitive-strain injuries – or the vicarious thrill that teens seem to enjoy, of playing games too long prior to discovery by furious parents.