February 27, 2023

Motion Sickness and Virtual Reality: Tips and Games for a Better Experience

I am about to admit something embarrassing: I suffer from crazy motion sickness. If I spin in a circle, I immediately want to throw up. As a kid, I was the one who barfed after riding the teacups, screamed to pull over on car trips, and hated riding on ferries. As I’ve gotten older, it’s only gotten worse. I can’t ride carnival rides or even a merry-go-round without disastrous consequences, and I take Dramamine any time I need to fly or travel long distances.

I also love new technology and any sort of 3D effects. When my kids begged for a virtual reality device, we decided to get one for the whole family to share. Naturally, I bought a few games I thought I’d enjoy but quickly realized that I literally couldn’t stomach a lot of virtual reality.

Motion sickness happens when there’s a disconnect in the brain between our vestibular and other senses. The vestibular sense is based in the inner ear and helps us keep balanced and detect changes in motion. However, if the vestibular sense tells the brain that you are standing still, but your eyes sense that you're moving through space, this disconnect can make you feel dizzy. This disjoint experience is why watching action scenes on a big screen can make you feel dizzy, or seeing the ground far below barely move through an airplane window while traveling hundreds of miles an hour makes you queasy. Likewise, moving through a virtual world on a VR set while lounging on the sofa can make your stomach roll.

After learning that VR makes me want to lose my lunch, what was I supposed to do? Thankfully, I’m not the only person who struggles with motion sickness, so many VR games have settings to help reduce the chance of dizziness.

The first setting which I’ve found helps is teleporting. Instead of traveling through the game world, some games let you hop from place-to-place. The sudden jump skips the motion of moving through space and eliminates the disconnect between the travel you feel and the transition you see. Although this does help, I don’t teleport in ten feet hops in real life, so I still find this way of navigating disorienting.

My favorite games eliminate the need to move around by having the game take place in a single spot. For example, in Office Simulator, you mostly stay at your desk and can cause all sorts of shenanigans while remaining in your seat.

Another setting that mitigates motion sickness is discrete turning. Instead of using the control to turn in a circle fluidly, the game can have you instantaneously rotate in 15-degree increments. As with teleportation, this helps, but I still find it incredibly disorienting.

Instead of leaning back on a recliner to play VR games, I prefer to sit on my office chair that swivels. If I need to turn directions in the game, I can physically turn myself in my chair instead of turning the camera in-game. Of course, I have to make sure my VR is fully charged before I start playing, otherwise I run the risk of getting tied up by the power cord.

For me, the best games allow me to sit in one place, moving as little as possible. I know that takes a lot of the excitement out of VR, but it’s better than getting sick. Plus, you can still be transported to other worlds and enjoy cool puzzles and action sequences without running around or spinning in circles. Some of my favorite games that allow me to do this are I Expect You to Die and The Room.

Other strategies that help alleviate motion sickness in general also help with VR-related motion sickness. Stay hydrated, and never play on an empty stomach or after a heavy meal. Take lots of breaks and remember: if it ever becomes too much, you can always just close your eyes.

I’m hopeful that one day, we’ll have entire environments we can use for playing virtual reality games so that all of our senses work together, allowing us to enjoy a seamless, other-world gaming experience. Until then, I’ll enjoy VR in small doses, seated firmly in my office chair.

No comments: