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whatminjacodes [she/they]
whatminjacodes [she/they]

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Developing Virtual Reality applications while suffering from motion sickness

I have always easily gotten motion sick: if I read in a moving car or even with some video games that I play. Because of that it's a bit silly that I have been developing Virtual Reality software the past few years. But at the same time it's perfect: I'm good at testing the software I have created.

Here are my thoughts about how it has affected me developing these applications and how I've noticed the symptoms can be reduced.

I've also listed a few games that I have been able to play even long periods of time and also games that instantly gave me nausea.

What is motion sickness?

Motion sickness occurs when there's a difference between the actual motion and the expected motion. For example, if a virtual reality game uses thumbsticks for moving, I start getting the nauseating feeling after only couple minutes of playing. My brain is expecting my body to move when I see my surroundings move in a virtual reality environment.

Another common reason for me to get motion sick is when the headset loses its tracking. That usually causes the enviroment to suddenly jump.

There are many different types of symptoms when experiencing motion sickness, but I usually just get a nauseating feeling and my head feels like it's spinning so much that I have to lay down for a while.

It's funny how many people have told me I just haven't spent enough time playing Virtual Reality games and that's why I still get nauseous. If developing, teaching and playing VR applications the past 5 years is not enough, then I don't know what is :D To be fair, some people do get rid of the nausea if they just play in VR enough, but you shouldn't assume that's the case for everyone.

What can be done to help?

It depends of a person how easily they get motion sick. Some people get instantly nauseous and some people never experience any symptoms. However, there has been lots of research done about the subject and there's best practises for how to build the software, making it a better experience for everyone.

First of all, you should never block the camera movement: always let players to look around! It's common in "normal" video games to lock the camera while watching an event or something that's important, but in VR that needs to be done differently. It's really disorienting when you rotate your head but the vision you see is not moving. (You could for example use some sound and/or lights to get the attention of the player.)

Another important thing is to maintain a good framerate. If the frames per second drops significantly, it can cause nausea very quickly. Maintaining at least 60 fps at all times is recommended.

It might be a good idea to get used to virtual reality by trying seated experiences at first, especially if you are new to the technology. That way you naturally restrict your movement and are not as probably disoriented.

Also if you are new to VR, it's good to first spend less time on it and slowly increase the time spent there. Remember to stop playing immediately if you feel nauseous and don't continue before the feeling has gone away.

Interesting tests done to reduce motion sickness

I've been gathering some interesting ideas different developers have tried for reducing motion sickness and decided to list them here. I haven't tried them all myself but I see potential in them and definitely want to either test them myself or hope to read more studies made from these innovative ideas!

Walking on stilts

This one sounds really interesting approach and I laughed at first when I read this, but after looking into it more, I'm definitely interested to test this out!

"Players hold two long sticks in their hands and must physically pull themselves forward by staking them into the ground. Think of it like a skier using their ski poles to pull themselves across the snow. Trebuchet says that those big, physical movements have led to a decrease in motion sickness."

Digitaltrends - PS VR game Winds & Leaves has an unusual cure for motion sickness

Static frame of reference

One option to reduce nausea is to attach a static frame of reference in the vision of the player, like being inside a car or wearing a mech suit.

VR treadmill

I tested Virtuix Omni "Virtual Reality treadmill" few years ago, which allows you to physically move in Virtual Reality. It wasn't the best experience, because the device was clearly designed for someone who is taller than me, but it was fun to try it! The tech still needed some further development but maybe this could be better in the future.

VR treadmill

Virtuix Omni One Virtual Reality treadmill

Zero gravity gameplay

I tested Downward spiral at IGDA event some years ago and was surprised how the zero gravity movement didn't cause me motion sickness. The movement was done so that you push or pull yourself forward using the structures build around a space ship.

EXTRA - Using VR underwater

This is definitely an extreme case but I wanted to add it here as an extra because I think this is an interesting test! BallastVR tested what will it feel like when using VR underwater. Testing different things could help in unexpected ways when trying to find ways to reduce motion sickness in "normal" gaming situations.

Games I've been able to play

Here's a few games that I've been able to play even for a longer period. So I recommend you to start from these if you experience motion sickness!

Star Trek Bridge Crew

  • A seated experience where the players control U.S.S Aegis and explore space

Fruit Ninja

  • A game where you stand in one place and just cut the fruit that's thrown around you

Beat Saber

  • Similar setting as Fruit Ninja but here the goal is to slash the blocks coming towards you in a correct rhythm

Job Simulator

  • Requires moving around but only in a small contained space. Mostly the player just needs to crouch or move their hands

Games that have caused me nausea

And here's couple games that have almost immediately caused me nausea and have prevented me to play them any further.

Astro Bot Rescue Mission

  • This is a cute platformer game where the camera moves forward wherever the player moves the character far enough in the platform
  • It feels very disorienting for me and I'm unable to play it though I definitely wish I could since it's actually a really good game otherwise!

Robinson: The Journey

  • One of the first VR games I bought for my PS VR
  • Unfortunately the movement is controlled using thumbstick so I'm not able to play it

Basically any other game that uses thumbstick for moving

  • I just nowadays skip these games


I hope this small introduction to motion sickness in Virtual Reality gave you some idea what it's like to play games in VR as someone who is sensitive to movement!

Remember that these are just my own notes and what has worked for me doesn't mean it would work for someone else. Any time you are developing a game or experience, you should test it with different people to know if it will cause nausea or not.

Give me a follow if you want to see more blog posts from me! You can also follow my Instagram whatminjaplays if you are interested to see more about my days as a software developer and a gaming enthusiast!

Top comments (5)

perty profile image
Per Lundholm

Very interesting read since I do not get motion sickness myself and would like to write some VR when I get the chance.

If you try Darth Vader Immortal (Oculus), there's climbing, which is similar to what you describe. You put one hand above the other. It can be on a ladder or a rock.

They also have different settings in the game to mitigate some issues people may have. No idea if they're any good though.

However, there's some thumbstick movement too.

whatminjacodes profile image
whatminjacodes [she/they]

Thanks for the tip! I haven't tried that game myself, so I'll look it up! Interested to see what options they offer :)

dsaghliani profile image

I get motion-sick easily, too, but for whatever reason VR doesn't trigger it for me. There was that one time I tried Blade & Sorcery with smooth turning, and I felt sick the whole day, but otherwise, it's not problematic.

I thought it would be when I tried a VR parkour game, but even that was easy. I did find that even just imitating a running motion—bouncing on the balls of my feet, without actually hopping up—eliminated the little motion sickness that I did feel.

whatminjacodes profile image
whatminjacodes [she/they]

Glad to hear you have been able to use VR! It's so much fun :) And great observation!

grigorirena profile image
Irena Grigor

Your topic is quite interesting for me, as I myself have experienced a similar condition and feeling during some games. So we decided to develop a game with the company, which would not cause a feeling of nausea.