Feel Your Head Roll With This Virtual Reality Guillotine Simulator

Through a combination if sight and touch, virtual reality can actually be incredibly realistic

So long, World War II shooters! Hello, French Revolution simulator. Meet Disunion, a virtual-reality guillotine simulator—a goofy project built in just a couple days by three game developers.

In the video gaming world, virtual reality is set for a resurgence. With technology improving to the point where quality virtual reality is increasingly feasible, developers such as Oculus are hoping you’ll peer into a pair of goggles instead of a widescreen TV.

But the idea of being virtually beheaded, while strange, doesn’t seem like it would be all that scary, right? Like, how different would this even be than just watching a movie? In a feature story by science journalist Ed Yong for Nature a while back, we meet Henrik Ehrsson, a neuroscientist whose work with virtual reality is showing just how lifelike these experiences can be.

Today, using little more than a video camera, goggles and two sticks, he has convinced me that I am floating a few metres behind my own body. As I see a knife plunging towards my virtual chest, I flinch. Two electrodes on my fingers record the sweat that automatically erupts on my skin, and a nearby laptop plots my spiking fear on a graph.

In the video above we see people playing Disunion watch their own beheading while a friend sharply thwaps them on the neck. Using that same combination of visual and tactile prodding, says Yong, Ehrsson can convince people of all sorts of things.

Out-of-body experiences are just part of Ehrsson’s repertoire. He has convinced people that they have swapped bodies with another person, gained a third arm, shrunk to the size of a doll or grown to giant proportions.

Ehrsson is trying to study how your brain understands its own body, but out of his work comes a tangential understanding of how virtual reality could work in video gaming—and a deeper understand of what people watching their virtual heads roll may be feeling.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Jaron Lanier’s Virtual Reality Future
Jane McGonigal on How Computer Games Make You Smarter

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