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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.