6 Ways to Deal With Simulation Sickness While Gaming

Dark Souls

Lately, I’ve been playing a lot of Dark Souls. I’ve also been trying to play Ether One, and while you might think there isn’t too much crossover between those two games, there are two huge ones that I’ve noticed. The first? Both of them have a free camera, which gives the user a lot of control over where they are looking with environments that require you to use that camera strategically. The second thing they both have in common is that I get terrible motion sickness when I play them.

For those of you who may not have any problems with motion sickness, it can get pretty nasty. People who have it have complained of eye strain, headaches, inability to stand up, vertigo, nausea, dizziness, disorientation, vomiting, and generally just feeling icky. It’s not something that just goes away when the game is turned off, either. If I get hit with a bout of motion sickness, that pretty much kills any ability I have to play games for the rest of the day (even games that wouldn’t normally make me feel sick).

Motion sickness is a pretty common problem for gamers to have. According to an article from The Guardian, somewhere between 10% to 50% of gamers may suffer from motion sickness while playing. Why? Because we’re suffering from something particular to games called simulation sickness.

The general theory is that when you are playing a game, the game simulates movement, and since your body isn’t actually moving, you get sick. To put it in fancier terms, The Guardian suggests that when your mind feels like you should be moving, but your inner ear doesn’t have any feedback that would suggest motion, your brain “infers that this disconnect is as a result of hallucinations, and as this may be caused by poisoning, attempts to get the body to purge itself by vomiting.”

This is why pilots often get sick when they’re using flight simulators or why some people can’t read while they’re in the car (although for opposite reasons). For the flight simulators, they’re focused on a moving image while their bodies are still. When people get sick in the car from reading, it’s because they’re focused on a relatively still image while their bodies are moving.

So the more immersive a game is, the harder it is for me to play it. You can imaging that this makes any FPS game a real trial to play. Any first-person game or one with a free camera can cause motion sickness. It doesn’t matter if the graphics are realistic or clunky. Golden Eye for the N64 wasn’t all that realistic, but it would make me nauseous and give me headaches. According to Extra Credits’ episode on simulation sickness, it happens most often with first-person games or third-person games with close cameras.

And while most people can acclimate to the motion sickness that games can cause, there are a percentage of us (like me) who will never be able to. Should that stop you from playing a game? I don’t think so. While there are some games that I had to give up on like Mirror’s Edge, there are other games like BioShock that I was able to work my way through without feeling too nauseated. For me, it was worth pushing my way through my sickness to continue playing. For others, it might not be, but if you want to keep pushing, here are some things that I found helpful.

Dark Souls

1. Keep your play time short.

This might seem like the most obvious thing in the world, but when I say short, I mean very short. There are some games like Dark Souls where I can play for over an hour before I start feeling really sick. Others, like Left for Dead, I can only play for 40 minutes. Some games are only able to be played in 15 to 20 minute intervals. You’ll have to find what times work best for you, but don’t be afraid to limit your play sessions to avoid feeling sick. I even have a habit of setting my phone alarm for a certain amount of time when I start gaming so I don’t get too immersed and end up making myself throw up.

2. Play in the dark.

Don’t have your screen too bright either, but since light is often a cause of headaches, it seems to help me to keep the lights dim. If my screen is too bright, then it completely cancels out the effect, but playing during the day when I can use natural, softer light tends to work a lot better than when I play at night and have to rely on bright lamps to keep my room lit.

3. Don’t eat immediately before gaming.

Remember how they said not to eat before going in the water? I think that was actually debunked as a myth, but not eating before gaming when you know you’re going to be playing a high-risk game is just a safe bet. I’ve noticed that I tend to feel sick a lot sooner if I have a full stomach. However, you’re going to want to find a balance since a completely empty stomach can be just as troublesome.

4. Keep in mind the speed of the games that you’re playing.

Speed matters. If you’re playing a game like Dark Souls that allows you to slow down and take things at your own pace, you might be able to play it longer even if you have a lot of trouble with motion sickness. The faster the game is, though, the more likely you are to get sick. Games like Mirror’s Edge and Cloud Built are incredibly fast first-person free running games that require you to look around a lot, so those will be much harder to play. If you are playing a game where you’re moving more slowly, you’ll be able to play longer. Keep this in mind when you set times for your play sessions.

5. Move when you’re taking breaks.

This might not work for everyone, but when you’re worried about feeling sick, sometimes you can stave off motion sickness by actually moving. When you’re taking a break from a game, you can get up and walk around. Your inner ear will thank you! Sometimes it will allow me to play longer than I would be able to normally.

6. Watch out for indie games.

The sad truth of the matter is that a lot of games with smaller budgets just don’t have the money or the man power to properly optimize their games. Not that I’m saying that AAA games are perfect, but I’ve tended to have a lot less trouble with them. This might be why I can play BioShock far longer than I can play some indie games. The worst example of this for me was a game called Only If, which was problematic in many ways, but it has a free camera that moved far too quickly and gameplay that had you running around in circles as fast as you could. Needless to say, I was so sick from this game that I had to take an entire weekend away from the computer.

Dying Light

There are other things you can try, but the folks at Extra Credits said everything a lot more eloquently than I could, so I would recommend checking out their video on simulation sickness when you get the chance.

For those of you who have problems with simulation sickness, there is some good news on the horizon. Developers are trying to find ways to limit simulation sickness for their players and have created some options that can make games more accessible to people who have issues. In Dying Light, for example, developers made adjustments to the way that characters moved in-game and also “compared field of view, the saturation of colors and changing perspective—mostly the parallel lines of the buildings and architectural order in general.”

So at the very least, there’s some hope for the future, but I’m still sure that simulation sickness will remain a big problem. Games are more widely played than ever, and with that comes more people who are going to get sick from playing games. While people like me may never be able to strap on an Oculus Rift and immerse ourselves in a virtual world to that extent, it’s heartening to know that developers are not only aware of the problems that many gamers face, but are trying to fix it.

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38 Comments on “6 Ways to Deal With Simulation Sickness While Gaming

  1. Ah, glad to know I’m not the only one! I feel like the only person in the world who isn’t freaking out about Fallout 4 – Bethesda’s games give me horrendous motion-sickness every time. First-person view is a real problem too, as my brain can’t handle the lack of peripheral vision, or the fact that my body’s not actually doing what my eyes tell it I am. So frustrating!

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    • You’re definitely not the only one! I didn’t know that about the Bethesda games, but I’ll be sure to play them carefully if I decide to give them a try. I used to think there was something wrong with me since no one else I played with got sick, but I’m starting to realize that it’s a much bigger problem. If you do try any of the tips that were mentioned in this article or the video that we linked, please let me know if they helped you! I’d be really interested to know.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Changing the camera to third-person helps a little with Bethesda games, tho not enough for me to have finished any of them 😦

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    • Just wasted my money on Fallout 4 seems like a good game but I can’t go more than 15 mins before feeling nausea…. SUCKs!

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  2. I play minecraft, and some of my friends do, too, but I can never stand to have the settings that make the sceen shake and stuff while moving and other similar settings off, it feels weird when I do that. I can play video games in a car all I want and not get sick. The reason I guess is that my brain somehow knows and labels the games as simulations of real life so that the information is not used for determining motion.

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    • It’s probably like that. It’s hard to understand why some people are more sensitive than others, but a lot of video games are thankfully including the ability to toggle some of those motion settings on/off.

      Does Minecraft have that option? I’ve never played it.

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      • You can set it so that the simulation of motion is turned off.

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  3. I’m glad you talk about this, because it’s a major problem for me but most gamers I talk to don’t understand! I had to give up on Mirror’s Edge, too — that’s actually the worst for me, I think. FPS games make me feel ill after an hour or two, so I can only do short stints.

    These are great tips, I will definitely try some of them. Playing in the dark, taking breaks to move around… those are things I haven’t really tried or paid attention to yet!

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    • I hope they help! I was so excited for Mirror’s Edge and then just couldn’t bring myself to play it through that much. Small breaks have been a god send for me, allowing me to play much longer than I would have been able to otherwise.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I got this problem with First person games, specially Portal, that was the worst, but at the same time, so good, that I just keep playing. For some people (like me) it works don’t stop playing, I mean play short amount of time, then rest (some kind of tea works for the symptoms) and keep playing in a long time, sometimes it’s get better, you get more use to it. When I don’t play this kind of game in a long time and then I started one, is all over again. I don’t know if it’s work for everyone, but I read about this and it’s kinda works for me

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  5. Interesting – I get motion sick on transport at the drop of a hat, but never get it playing games. I can definitely understand how awful it would be though. Great suggestions.

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    • You might be more resistant to video games since transportation motion sickness has the opposite trigger. I don’t tend to get motion sickness in cars or boats, but games can lay me low. Thanks for reading!

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  7. This is a great article. I’ve had this problem since the days of DOOM and games of the like. Sometimes I can play for hours and hours, other games I’m done for in a matter of minutes. For example, Borderlands 1, I have hardly any issues with. Borderlands 2, mostly of, but have to seriously limit it as I get irritable and queasy. Borderlands Presequel, I cannot handle at all and gave up the first time I played for 20 minutes. Do you have issues when trying to watch others playing? That gets me even worse than when I am. Thanks for the article, it’s great to know I’m not just weird and alone. Also nice to know developers are aware and trying.

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    • Hi Tina,

      I definitely have this problem while watching other people playing too. Recently I watched a let’s play of Kholat which is a first person horror exploration game and while the game was beautiful, I had to watch the videos very slowly. While watching it really depends on the game, but sometimes it’s much much worse simply because I have no control of what they’re going to do. So I don’t know if I’m going to watch the player spin around wildly or move the camera frequently.

      You’re definitely not alone in this! While some people gradually can work past their motion sickness, others will never get past it. For me, these tips allow me to keep playing much longer than I would have been able to otherwise.

      Thanks for reading!

      Like

    • Same here! Borderlands 1 gives me no issues, Borderlands 2 I’m only able to play for about 20 minutes before it starts to give me a headache. Any longer than 20 minutes and I’m unable to do anything but lie down on the couch in pain for the next few hours.

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  9. Borderlands, Skyrim, even games like Battlefield are impossible for me to play for more than 15 minutes. I find that playing in the dark REALLY helps.

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  10. It’s funny you mentioned Only If because it’s the exact game that made me look this up.

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  11. I have motion sickness playing any first person shooter…

    But I found out that if I limit the framerate to 24FPS or 30FPS I can play almost any game for hours without problem.

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  12. I’ve dealt with motion sickness and gaming for most of my life. I’ve never had car sickness or anything else, but gaming always set me off. Doom, Super Mario Kart, Goldeneye, Turok, I remember all of those games causing me problems. However, I’ve been lucky in that I can always beat it over time. I just have to expose myself to the game little-by-little, forcing myself to take a break after 20 minutes or so. Eventually I get myself acclimated to it and can play any of these games for as long as I want. Yesterday I played the new Doom game for about 4-5 hours straight and didn’t feel a thing, aside from a little disorientation when I finally stood up and the desire to break things. If I go for a while without playing those sorts of games, I lose my acclimation and have to start over again.

    HOWEVER, there is one thing I have never been able to accustom myself to, and that is watching someone else play an FPS or other first-person type game. Going back to the new Doom, a couple days ago I was trying to show a friend how to find one of the secret classic Doom levels, and watching him spinning around and ineptly humping walls and getting stuck behind crates had me literally breaking out in cold sweats and trembling before long. Watching him just play like normal, shooting demons and wondering around and stuff didn’t bother me, but the fast motion of him looking around, trying to find what I was pointing out to him, trying to have him go one way, but seeing him go the other way, somehow all that combined really disoriented me and I basically had to stop watching him play for a while until I got over it. The only way I can really think to fix that would be to watch more Let’s Plays and try and do the same thing I do to get myself over my own sickness while playing.

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  13. very satisfied to know that I am not the only one to have this sicknesses.

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  14. I suffered badly with any camera movement in games, it started at an early age with the likes of doom… even watching games did it. I tried every remedy with no joy until i went to the local pharmacy and brought some standard over the counter travel sickness pills. ( Non drowsy of course) Take one a short while before gaming. I played fallout 4 for 6hrs with no issue at all. Cant recommend them enough. I have had no issues on any games since.

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  15. I never had problems gaming with my teenager but four years ago another gamer was born to our family. I was 20 when we had our first now I’m forty and get sick as hell playing lego batman almost to the point of a panic attack. Cold sweats, dizziness, heart pounding I feel bad cause he alway wants to play. And this was nice bonding time with my oldest.my wife suggest I’ve had a lot of head trauma throughout the years( I was a semi professional fighter for awhile many years ago) but why now and can it be stopped?

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  16. im glad im not the only one. I got motion sickness playing uncharted 4. cant believe this was the game that did it. first time I got it was when I played timesplitters many moons back. that was the worst I got motion sickness. I just eat any citrus or sour dried fruit for relief. it works for me.

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  17. I normally get a tight feeling in my throat/chest and I just feel terrible for about an hour after that. It’s normally relieved by a burp…

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  18. I’ve only just recently had what I can only explain as a bad trip off of playing games.
    I’ve always played video games ever since I was young. I never experienced this crazy disabling feeling of dizziness and de-realisation. It first started when I was playing destiny, I was doing a strike by myself while smoking a cigarette. Then out of nowhere I felt a shock like feeling in my brain then I realised I didn’t know where I was or what was going on. I was so scared that I had a family member drive me to the hospital. They said I had anxiety and gave me pills to take. I took the pills but those made me worse I then started to have out of body experiences. I felt like I was in the matrix or something like reality around me was falling apart so I quit taking the medication. I am now sitting here with a slight headache and feeling of dizziness and I am scared to play another video game . I love playing video games and I would hate for this to be the end.

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  19. I get terrible motion sickness on all FPS games.

    Apart from one: Counter Strike Go (on console and on PC). Why? Because it doesn’t have head bob. Gun bob only.

    I suggest you try it, because it is an awesome game and the most played FPS in the world by a long, long way.

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  20. This was a good read! The only games that really make me motion sick ever are the Borderlands games, and of those Borderlands 1 is the only one that reliably does it. Thank god there are .ini file tweaks for that that change the field of view and some other stuff, so it can be a little more bearable. And with those, it may be the outdoors locations that are mostly doing it; I can play Bioshock just fine, even though it’s also a first-person game. I can’t first-person in Skyrim when I’m outside, either, and have to limit my first-person view to when I’m in an interior and sneaking, because otherwise the camera is moving too fast and too close to the ground for me to be able to handle it.

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  21. you actually might be able to get away with oculus easier. since you are both moving and seeing things move in tune to it. your inner ear might feel the motions you are making in your game. its worth a test if you have the means before purchase.

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  22. You have shared some great points here. I have this simulation sickness whenever I play a game that is fast paced for a long time. I even consulted my house physician last week. I have stopped playing games since the last week. Will definitely keep these points in mind before I start playing again. Thank You 🙂

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  23. I have this problem severely with the Gears of War games and even the new Doom. I had it within 2 mins of Doom, no I’m not exaggerating. It doesn’t help that I also suffer from anxiety disorder. They claimed it was improved in Gears 4, but not for me, sighs.

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  24. Wait till your 53 .You won’t be able to stand computer games no matter what rig you have.
    Chances are you will feel sick and just as over the whole concept anyway
    Sad but true.
    But if you can keep going at this age then definitely go for it.It got to much got me.
    I did get through Doom recently and didn’t have too much trouble.
    But Resident evil bioshock made me very ill quick.Its a terrible game anyway.So repetitive in its game play ,and drawn out creeping around sometimes a monster attacks usually killing you until you find the right items to kill it which in itself is a trial of torture.
    I think my gaming days are through.

    and back tracking for items

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  25. I’m 55, and have gotten motion sickness from something as gentle as a swing since childhood. Here’s how I can play these games: Buy an inexpensive pair of “Sea Bands.” I just got a new set for about $7. They look like 2 skinny sweater cuffs, with a thick button on them. The button presses on an accupressure point on your wrists, and suppresses the motion sickness somehow. I’ve used them on boats,cars, and amusement part rides. (not so good with the rides).

    I also settle my stomach with candied ginger.

    Don’t let your inner ear spoil your fun!

    Like

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