How you can combat VR sickness

(c)iStock.com/mikkelwilliam

VR sickness is an issue within VR that's yet to be rectified. But it's not all that scary, and there are things you can do to stop yourself from feeling ill. 

Here's some more information on the experience: 

Why people get ill in VR

VR sickness is quite similar to motion or sea sickness. Scientists are not yet sure about all the details, but most probably all those sicknesses have something in common: What your eyes tell your brain doesn’t really match the information your body is sending to it.

For example, in a car you see the world flash by with your eyes, but your body is perfectly motionless in its seat.

You're better off taking a swim with dolphins or exploring another planet— something static or only slowly moving — as your first experience

With VR sickness it’s the same: Many experiences let you walk, teleport or even fly around, although you never get off your couch. You see a lot of movement, but feel none. This is pretty similar to what makes you motion sick in a car.

But VR offers even more possibilities for conflicting sense data than car or boat rides: Firstly, there is often a latency. That means when you turn your head the world inside your headset moves with a slight time delay.

As a result, the movement of your head and the movement of the world you’re seeing are not fully synched. 

Secondly, there cannot only be mismatches between what you see and what you feel, but also between what you expect to see and what you really see. Your brain is used to fully realistic graphics with a high depth of focus — that’s what the real world looks like. If instead, your VR world gives you blurry pixels, this can cause conflict in your brain.

And mismatches about sense data   make you sick.

But why do these mismatches cause nausea, at all? Scientists are actually still not sure. One interesting hypothesis is that your brain takes the mismatching sense data as a sign that you’ve been poisoned.

After all, some toxins make your senses run riot. In the case of poisoning, nausea comes in handy: It can help you to throw up and get rid of the toxic.

It’s just too bad that your brain can’t always distinguish between a snake bite and a VR roller coaster ride.

What you can do 

VR companies are already putting a lot of effort in tackling this by improving graphics, reducing latency and — no joke! — even adding a virtual nose to the field of vision.

Many improvements are being made in this field. So if you tried VR some time ago and got sick, you might have a perfectly normal experience today.

Nevertheless, there are a few things you can do to prevent VR sickness when trying out VR, especially for the first time:

  • Feel fit: Being tired, in bad health or drunk can increase the likelihood of VR sickness. It’s better to get your first VR experience when you’re feeling fit
  • Start at a leisurely pace: It might not be the best idea to start off with a VR rollercoaster. Here the difference between the seen and the felt motion is very high, which also increases the possible sickness. You're better off taking a swim with dolphins or exploring another planet— something static or only slowly moving — as your first experience
  • Sit down: If you’ll find out that VR makes you dizzy, it’s best to be already sitting. This applies especially if you use a form of VR that doesn’t track the movements of your whole body
  • Give yourself some time to adapt: Most people get used to the VR system they’re using. You might feel dizzy after the first 360 degree video you’ve watched with your cardboard but perfectly fine after the fifth one a few days later. In order to adapt, it makes sense to try smaller pieces. So don’t throw yourself into a whole VR game straight away, but dip a toe into virtual reality with a 360° nature video or a small virtual environment. For that, it’s ideal to use VR glasses that you don’t have to strap to your head but just hold in front of your nose. That makes it easy to switch between virtual and reality quickly to check how you’re feeling
  • Watch out for the enthusiasm of youth: The same advice goes for kids trying out VR — only that, of course, they tend to be deaf to well-meant advice. Kids are usually very excited about their first VR experience — which is understandable. Which child doesn’t want to dive into other worlds, explore the deep sea and outer space? Here, it makes sense to curb their youthful enthusiasm. Have them enjoy small VR bits with pauses in between as a start. If it’s fun, kids will beware of telling you it’s making them feel queasy

The full version of this article first appeared on Meduim. 

What are your experiences with VR sickness - and what has helped you?

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