If you have ever suffered from motion sickness you know the symptoms: dizziness, headache, disorientation and various degrees of nausea that may create, let’s just say, an uncomfortable memory. But motion sickness through virtual reality, without the motions, how can that be? In short, it’s because your brain is being tricked: what your eyes see and what your vestibular system, located inside your inner ear and senses motion, perceives are in conflict.
So what’s VR sickness? Is it dangerous?
Virtual Reality Sickness – or VR sickness for short – is based on the sensory conflict theory and occurs when your eyes are receiving a stimulus that your vestibular system is not. It is like an inversion of motion sickness because in VR sickness the symptoms are brought up by visual stimuli, while motion sickness is triggered by, as the name says, movement. What these two have in common is that the body “rejects” the conflicting stimuli, which provokes the symptoms. VR sickness is a nervous and motor response to external catalysts and it is unlikely that the symptoms become severe enough to harm you or even cause death.
Some people report that the symptoms they get from VR experiences are even worse than those from motion sickness. This is probably due to the fact that since the eyes are covered there is no way to “anchor” the senses to avoid the discomfort. Thankfully, not everybody will suffer from it, and those who do might experience just some slight discomfort instead of the whole array of ailments.
Does that mean that Virtual Reality is doomed to disappear?
Definitely not! One of the most amazing abilities of humans is our adaptability, both physical and psychological, which means that exposure to VR technology will gradually make the symptoms disappear. With enough time you can teach your brain to get used to the different stimuli and notice the difference between real and not-real. It’s no different than therapy for a phobia; just work in small increments, avoid overloading your senses and you’ll soon become VR fitness-ready.
In these times of immersive gameplay experience and with all the new VR gadgets out in the market (popular ones are the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and the recent Playstation VR headset) there are new concerns about the effects of Virtual Reality in players, and a rising interest in which games are more compatible with this technology based on their capacity to cause VR sickness. That’s a challenge right there for game developers, to create engaging games that can blow your mind away without setting your stomach on a downward spiral of nausea. Thankfully, developers are finding new ways to fight this and the recent use of ‘virtual nose’ seems to do the trick for several users.
I’m a gamer, but I get dizzy easily. Should I invest in a VR gadget?
If you want to try it and see if VR is the thing for you, by all means, do it! There are several VR gadgets in the market and there is a good catalogue of games developed to take the juice out of this technology – and even more to come – so you will surely find some that suit your tastes. If you are hesitant to make the investment – as these gadgets can be quite costly – you can try them out at dedicated computer stores and you can easily find at any conference/event/convention as the tech is still ‘hot’.
If you are afraid of getting a game that might cause you discomfort, thankfully games are now reviewed on VR sickness level, where you can see other users’ game ratings and vote for their VR sickness trigger level. Quite useful if you have experienced VR sickness before and want to work up a resistance slowly, or you want to know how other players have experienced the same games
Virtual Reality technology is still an early, exciting technology, and there is a lot of space for it to evolve. With the leaps in R&D and the support of the gaming community – and other interested sectors – developers are bound to make advances, and hopefully we will soon see a day where VR sickness is a thing of the past. In the meantime, keep a bucket next to you when you play. Just kidding…