Virtual Reality Motion Sickness: Five Ways to Prevent The Puking

There is no question that virtual reality gaming is simply amazing; it is immersive, emotion-eliciting and a fresh experience where the entertainment medium has faltered in recent times. Unfortunately, even for the well-initiated, it can elicit another response; mild to severe motion sickness. Here are five ways you can enjoy VR gaming while avoiding a trip to the porcelain gods. Note: This is mostly aimed at Oculus Quest owners, but other VR users may definitely benefit from the information within.

Don’t end up like this woman …

Whether you’re brand new to VR or are a long time purveyor of alternative reality gaming there is a good chance that you suffer from motion sickness.

Some are able to adapt to the environment while others continue to suffer no matter how long they try to get their “VR legs” (named after the concept of getting your “sea legs” when you’re spending extended periods of time on a boat).

We are here to help. We’ve got five concepts that can help the “very susceptible” and the “occasional queasiness” player alike.

Before the list, if you don’t fully understand how motion sickness works, I would recommend you watch this short video first.

Solution #1: Choosing the “Right” Games

For me, there are some types of games that are 100% guaranteed to make me motion sick and that is the typical FPS (first person shooter). These are games that not only trigger common motion sickness properties (your eyes seeing movement but your ear not agreeing; did you watch that video above?) but adds an additional layer.

Looking in one direction while consciously “moving” in another will always make me sick.

Since that is the cornerstone of the VR FPS genre and in virtual reality, your instinct to move your head instead of moving your body takes over.

For some reason, rail shooters don’t seem to make me suffer as much. Take Pistol Whip. You are moving (but only forward and in a consistent manner) while constantly looking and moving around. This doesn’t make me sick. But a game like Sairento? Coaster Combat? Pavlov? Path of the Warrior (if not played right — see Solution #3)? I’m ready to vomit inside of five minutes.

Just seeing a still image of this game gives me motion sickness flashbacks.

I personally have a theory that your brain interprets things differently with rail shooters as you remove the brain’s processing of “I am intentionally moving this way” while your eyes are seeing you looking another. Games where you’re pushing the analog stick in one direction while looking around for enemies — the key to FPS gaming — these always take a terrible toll on me.

If you are in the same boat with me, then recognize that games with “free locomotion” are going to make this problem far worse. Some games offer no choice of conveyance control; but for those that do, Solution #2 is for you.

Solution #2: The Right Means of Conveyance

If you’re susceptible to motion sickness, you need to rid yourself of the idea that “if it isn’t free locomotion, it isn’t immersive”. That’s rubbish. You are not less of a person if you get sick because of free locomotion. Nor is a game “crap” because it doesn’t offer “free locomotion” — it is possible the game was developed specifically for the teleport conveyance.

Now that we have the shame out of the way, let’s talk about how using teleport movement can save your stomach.

If you watched the video, you know that motion sickness comes from a disparity between what your eyes are seeing and your inner ear is telling you.

Teleportation removes a crucial piece of that mismatch; acceleration.

Instead of your eyes saying “I’m running forward” and your ear saying “dude, you SO aren’t running” you are instantly appearing in a new location.

For many of my fellow sufferers, this little change can make all the difference. This is why almost every game out there that has “free locomotion” also has “teleportation” or “blink” (as Half-Life: Alyx calls it)

Fascinating look at Alyx’s conveyances

Along with the direct action of locomotion, there is another motion related action that can help; snap turning.

Since the mismatched signals of eyes and ear pertain to the act of “looking around” or even “turning”, super sensitive people may even need to add an additional layer of control over simply changing directions.

In many games, you’re offered the option change from free turning with the right analog stick to “incremental” turns; such as 90 degrees or 45 degrees. In games where you’re frequently making direction changes in rapid succession, this can really be a savior. I find 90 degrees more natural — but it all depends on the game; for example — Phantom Covert Ops I prefer 90 degrees; for most others, 45 works great.

For me, I can handle most smooth turning (again, depends on the game).

If a particular title is making you sick, turning on teleportation and snap turning is very likely to solve your illness. Just remember, if you’re already sick, this won’t help. Try it again when you feel better.

Solution #3: Alter the Way You Play

A lot of people really love “getting into” the game. This means having a big play area, standing up and doing all those cool moves we love to watch in virtual reality videos.

It really isn’t that funny if you’re the dude that took a nose dive .. but you get the idea.

We keep talking about mismatched signals from your eyes and ears causing the issues. Since “movement” is the catalyst, why not try limiting your movement?

While it is true, some games simply cannot be played seated, you would be surprised at how many games work just fine if you’re in a seated position; relying on your traditional controls to handle movement while you use your head in a more 180–220 degree limited way.

Take the game Path of the Warrior. It isn’t exactly an FPS, but it is a game where you spend a lot of time running in one direction while looking in another. Your natural instinct is to turn your body — so now you’re moving one way, turning another and looking in another. No wonder it makes us sick.

If you can learn to not use your head to look around in large swoops, you may be able to reduce part of that nausea.

By sitting down and limiting just your body turning, it can greatly help with motion sickness. If you can keep your head focused straight and use the controller to look around — that helps too.

This is what I mean by altering how you play. Find a way to “remove” one of the nauseating-inducing movements and see how it goes.

This leads us to Solution #4; finding comfort options.

Solution #4: Using Comfort Options

We’ve already discussed that some games offer teleport, snap turning to help those of us afflicted with motion sickness — but you may be interested that developers have come up with some lesser-discussed and often ingenious means of helping us.

FOV Reduction is a technique used in The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners (and some others).

This essentially dims out part of your view into blackness, leaving the “center” area of the view visible.

FOV Reduction helps nausea inducing movements

This is very clever and works amazingly well. I won’t go into why it works (you can read more about it here) but I urge everyone with sensitivity to free locomotion to turn this feature on pronto — provided the game supports it.

This concept can also be found in Ultrawings — a popular flight simulator in virtual reality. Instead of fully reducing your view with a dim out as seen above, they simple “reconstruct” your plane so you can’t see as much “moving around” outside of it.

Ultrawings Comfort modes

By simply adding “sides” to your plane, it reduces the motion sickness. Brilliant.

The point is — a trip to the options of your uncomfortable game can indeed produce some fantastic options to help you enjoy the game more. Seems obvious, I know … but some folks just don’t think to look there.

Solution #5: Framerate Makes A Difference

Back in the early days of 3D gaming (I’m talking about 3D-in-2D, not 3D as in VR) when Duke Nuke’em 3D came out I had a relatively poor performing PC.

As a result, the first person shooter didn’t run great — and because of this, it actually caused motion sickness (I know, RIGHT?) and I couldn’t put my finger on it until later on.

There are two issues to consider; total frame rate and sustained frame rate.

Since the Quest screens run at 72hz each, whatever game you’re playing needs to meet (or exceed) that frame rate or you start seeing issues with playback. With modern video cards pumping out 144 fps on some games, 72 seems pretty easy to hit.

Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t remember that virtual reality requires every frame to be rendered twice; once per eye. So for a game to “keep up” the system driving it (Quest or the PC; depending on what the game is running on) must be able to reach essentially 144 fps.

‘Utah! Get me two!”

You would think, that the Quest essentially being a console, that anything published on it would hit that frame rate consistently for the best experience.

There is a reason why Oculus has a developer program and games must pass rigorous testing to be allowed in the Oculus Store.

In the Quest’s case, beta software or sideloaded software may not be able to produce that level of frame rate and even if it can, perhaps these games cannot sustain it in all use cases.

For Rift or Oculus Link users, your PC could have issues pumping out your requested graphic resolution with sustained frame rates necessary to avoid causing nausea.

My issue with Duke 3D was the fact that the framerate wasn’t a constant; even if it had held a steady 25 fps, I may have not gotten sick playing it.

The solution, of course, is to either reduce the requirements (lower graphics settings, only playing games your PC can run super effectively) for PC/Link gaming. Turn on frame rate displays and see if you’re getting total/sustained frame rates; if not, keep adjusting until you do.

If you’re playing sideloaded games on Quest, there isn’t much you can do — other than understand WHY these games could be making you sick and asking developers to add comfort modes that can help you.

Naturally, you could just not PLAY those games that make you nauseated too. :)

Bonus Solution

For those of us that are susceptible to motion sickness it probably reduces our quality of life in the Real World(tm) too. Car trips, carnival rides — theme park attractions (Transformers almost made me lose my lunch) all offer challenges to us.

This gives me unpleasant flashbacks .. the 4 hour wait to get on didn’t help.

There are other motion sickness remedies — ranging from pressure points, magic bands, over the counter drugs, herbs and pretty much anything else you can imagine.

If you’re desperate to play some of these games you simply don’t have the tolerance for then one of those remedies just may help you — although I can tell you that many do not work for me.

In Closing

For me personally, I simply stay away from the games I know will decimate me and work around those that simply impart some nausea by using one or more of the above solutions to get me through it.

As always, your mileage may vary. Void where prohibited. Batteries not included and the poor Canadians may have to solve a math problem.

What about you? How do you deal with motion sickness? Leave a comment below!

I write, blog, record and review anything that interests me — including humanity, parenting, gizmos & gadgets, video games and media.

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