What is it about virtual reality that brings out the masochism of people? We’ve already seen VR mods that can make the wearer feel pain and constrict breathing to ‘enhance’ the experience, but the latest one has the power to actually kill a player if they die in game. Literally kill.

This isn’t a plotline discarded by some Saw fanfiction writer who wanted to keep things believable, but rather something made by Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey. Unless he’s trolling on a disturbing scale.

“The idea of tying your real life to your virtual avatar has always fascinated me,” Luckey wrote in a blog post explaining the grim project, first spotted by Vice. “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.” 

For most people, the need to finish a level before the battery runs out is quite enough excitement, thankyouverymuch. But for Luckey, modding what looks like an Oculus Quest Pro with three explosive charges takes the excitement to a whole new level. They’re attached to a narrowband photo sensor that can be triggered by a certain shade of red — the kind you might see on a ‘Game Over’ screen.

He’s christened the potentially murderous device “NerveGear” — a name which comes from its inspiration — an anime series called Sword Art Online where characters have to deal with the works of a mad scientist who has ensured that if you die in game, you die in real life. 

Luckey says that “literally thousands” of people have asked “variations of” the question “when will you make the NerveGear real?” Though, to be fair, they probably weren’t expecting the answer of “November 2022.”

Luckey hasn’t tried the headset himself yet, but not for the obvious reason that would prevent you or I putting it on. “There are a huge variety of failures that could occur and kill the user at the wrong time,” Luckey wrote, reassuringly. 

“This is why I have not worked up the balls to actually use it myself, and also why I am convinced that, like in SAO, the final triggering should really be tied to a high-intelligence agent that can readily determine if conditions for termination are actually correct.”

Until that time comes, NerveGear is “just a piece of office art” and “a thought-provoking reminder of unexplored avenues in game design.”

For me, it’s more of a reminder that some avenues are unexplored for a reason. Someone, somewhere will be stupid enough to want a go.