Game over man! Oculus Quest creator Palmer Luckey made a VR headset that can literally kill you

The NerveGear VR headset
(Image credit:

Most inventors and great thinkers who've created something amazing have to have a little bit of crazy in their system. 

The philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras believed fava beans contain the souls of the dead. Sherlock Holmes writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle believed fairies were real. During his time at Atari, Steve Jobs thought if he ate enough fruit, he didn't need to shower. 

That brings us to Palmer Luckey, the founder and original creator of the Oculus VR headsets and the defense start-up Anduril, who sold his VR startup to Facebook for $2 billion in 2014. He's created a new VR headset that should be called a "literal reality" headset because if a player dies in a virtual game, the headset will literally kill them. 

palmer luckey

(Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

VICE reported that the Oculus company founder is halfway to completing a prototype for a new headset called NerveGear. Luckey announced the grim device on his personal blog on Sunday to help celebrate the launch of the VRMMORPG game Sword Art Online (SAO) based on the anime series of the same name. A VR headset that can kill its core audience definitely wasn't in the game studio's marketing plan. 

The NerveGear comes from the SAO universe. The fictional NerveGear headset looks more like the Doomslayer's helmet and traps players inside it until they complete a virtual game where the only reward is survival. A special Blu-Ray collector's edition released to celebrate SAO's 10th anniversary features the deadly headset on the cover. Luckey's NerveGear prototype doesn't look quite the same but the execution, stylistically and literally, is the same.

Luckey's prototype looks like an incomplete Meta Quest Pro headset with three triceratops horns sticking out of the top of its base. Luckey claims on his blog that these horns are microwave emitters "that could be overdriven to lethal levels." 

"I used three of the explosive charge modules I usually use for a different project, tying them to a narrow-band photosensor that can detect when the screen flashes red at a specific frequency, making game-over integration on the part of the developer very easy," Luckey writes. "When an appropriate game-over screen is displayed, the charges fire, instantly destroying the brain of the user."

Luckey admits that his NerveGear isn't a complete recreation of the one from the SAO canon since it doesn't have a mechanism that can prevent players from removing the headset once they know their number is up and the microwave is about to scramble their brains. However, he's working on fixing that. 

He says he's not confident that the headset will only kill the player if they die in the SAO game, which explains "why I have not worked up the balls to actually use it myself."

He also came up with a great way to make the new Among US VR game on the Oculus Quest 2 WAY more intense — though killing off your user base may not be the most economically sound strategy! 

Danny Gallagher
Freelance Writer, VR/AR

Danny Gallagher is a freelance tech, game and comedy writer based out of Dallas, Tex. He's written features for places like CNET, Cracked, Maxim, Mandatory and The Onion AV Club. He's also written material for games produced by Jackbox Games and SnapFingerClick.