This Detailed Virtual Reality AR-15 Rifle Is a Little Creepy

Just wait until someone puts technology like this into an actual game.

by Leif Johnson
Mar 21 2016, 9:00am

Image: Anton Hand

Game designer Anton Hand holds an AR-15 assault rifle, looking through an optical sight after having discarded the old-fashioned topsight for the moment. The red dot wobbles over the target constantly as Anton tries to steady his hand. No good. He turns the rifle on its side and unfolds the foregrip, clutches it with his left hand, and tries again. He misses. Twice. But it's steadier now, and the next two shots make their mark as the echoes reverberate throughout the room.

It's not a real AR-15, but it sure looks and handles much like one. Anton created it for the HTC Vive virtual reality headset using custom-made parts by his friend Nightfrontier, and he uses the Vive's motion tracking controllers to handle it much as someone would handle a real weapon. The main differences are concessions allowed for interactive feedback, such as the way the rifle makes an audible "click" when you try to fire it with the safety on. As Hand admits in the Reddit thread announcing the rifle, real one wouldn't.

In his playful tinkering, it's possible to see what first-person shooters like Call of Duty and Battlefield could eventually become if they successfully make the jump to virtual reality. It's possible even to imagine this technology being used for military combat simulators, thus imparting the very basics before tossing a weapon into a inexperienced soldier's hands.

It's also potentially controversial territory, particularly since the AR-15 has been the weapon of choice in the numerous mass shootings of recent years. Gunmen used it to kill 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary and a dozen at the Colorado theater shooting in 2012, 14 people in San Bernardino, and nine people just last October in Umpqua, Oregon. Just last Thursday, an editorial went up in The Washington Post from Mark and Jackie Barden, whose son Daniel died at Sandy Hook, arguing that the sale of AR-15 rifles should be banned in the United States.

As such, it presages future debates over the meaning of violence in video games if this kind of thing ever makes it to the big-name shooters. Even the NRA got in on the blame-video-games act in 2012, just a month before releasing its own mobile game featuring an AR-15. It's hardly a dormant debate. Last August, more than 200 academics criticized a report from the American Psychological Association that argued that violence in games does contribute to aggression in the world beyond. As impressive as it is, a gun like Hand's seems like the perfect kindling for reigniting the debate.