When I was still in college, I used to frequent cyber cafes around town with my mates almost every Saturday night. We will then have a session of hardcore gaming and we will play games like Counter Strike, Command & Conquer, DotA, FIFA and Need for Speed. We will play these games for hours end and we will normally end each session around dawn. It was in one of these sessions that I was introduced to the hit first-person shooter franchise, Activision’s Call of Duty series. At that time, COD: Modern Warfare was just released and it is so popular that almost everyone is playing it. Mind you, I have yet to experience any form of video game-related motion sickness back then. We do not want to be left out and so we join in the craze as well. I am pretty decent when it comes to FPS games so I thought that I should have no problem playing this game.
About an hour into the game, I started to feel dizzy and nauseous. My head was spinning and I was having trouble focusing on the game. Initially I thought it was caused by bad lighting coming from the monitor so I signaled to my friends that we should take a short break, maybe to freshen up a bit and rest my eyes. Unfortunately, it didn’t help and the dizziness and nausea became worse. A change to a less strenuous game didn’t help also so I have to cut short my session and leave for home early. At first I thought it was a one-off problem, maybe due to lack of sleep. But the problem persists at the next few gaming sessions and it always happen during Modern Warfare. It was then I realized that I have a serious problem whenever I play fast-paced FPS game. Thanks to COD:MW, I realized that I have something called Video Game-Related Motion Sickness, or VRMS.
According to Wikipedia, there are three types of motion sickness; motion that is felt but not seen, motion that is seen but not felt and motion that are seen and felt but do not correspond. VRMS is a form of motion sickness that is associated to or caused by video games and thus falls in the second category. This is because even though motion is detected by the visual system, no motion is detected by the vestibular system. To put it in layman’s term, even though the eyes are feeding information to the brain that they are sensing movements, the inner ear says otherwise and that the body is still. The brain will be tricked into thinking that the person is hallucinating and further conclude that the hallucination is caused by poison ingestion. The brain will then activate a defense mechanism i.e. vomiting to purge out the “poison”. A person suffering from VRMS usually exhibits symptoms similar to motion sickness such as dizziness, nausea, vomiting and sweating whenever he or she plays video games.
This problem is neither new nor rare. According to an article from The Guardian, somewhere between 10% to 50% of people may suffer from Video Game-Related Motion Sickness and that even old games such as GoldenEye for the Nintendo 64 tend to induce severe headaches and nausea. Call of Duty and GoldenEye, what do they have in common? Well they are both FPS games. This makes sense because reports suggest that gamers tend to suffer from VRMS whenever they play any first-person games. This is true in my case because I couldn’t play games such as Borderlands, Mirror’s Edge and even Fallout. FPS games or even games with free-moving camera are the biggest cause of VRMS because they are so immersive and that there so many fast paced 3D action scenes going about at one time that the eye couldn’t keep up with them and thus accelerates the symptoms. So if you are like me, do you think you should give up on FPS gaming in general? My answer is that you shouldn’t.
One of the games that I had trouble playing without feeling sick is Borderlands 2, unfortunately…
Different people have different reactions to game. In my case, there are some FPS games that I can play for hours without feeling sick such as Counter Strike, Left 4 Dead and BioShock. If you are suffering from VRMS but still want to play that favorite FPS game of yours, here are some tips that can help you have a nausea-free gaming session.
- Adjust FOV and Brightness
Wikipedia stated that the field of view or FOV of video games is the extent of the observable world that is seen on the display at any given moment. To put it simply, the amount of things that can be seen on screen at one time. Narrow FOV is one of the leading cause of VRMS and even though games made specifically for the PC usually have wide FOV, many recent games are console ports and they have narrow FOV. This is because developers figure that since console gamers normally play at a further distance from the television, console games should have a narrower FOV. An average person has a visual field of approximately 170°-180°. If you are sitting so close to the monitor and the game’s FOV is out of sync with your real world FOV, you can experience motion sickness. If you happened to find yourself exhibiting symptoms of motion sickness from a particular game, always check if it has any options to change its FOV settings and if so, increase its angle so that the FOV is wider. By widening the game’s FOV, you are putting the point of focus further away from the screen and thus giving the impression that you are viewing the game at the correct 170°-180° angle.
- Adjust Game Time or Keep Play Time Short
If unfortunately the game do not have any FOV settings, always try to keep your game time as short as possible. This involves a little bit of trial-and-error because you will need a couple of sessions to gauge how long you can play before you start getting nauseous. Once you figure out how long you can last, abide by it to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable gaming session. Another related tip is to adjust your game time, preferably right before bedtime. This is a good idea because once you start feeling dizzy, you can turn off the game and go straight to sleep. If for some reason you wish to extend your game time, maybe if you are playing with friends for example, you are encouraged to take short breaks in between sessions and you should move about during these breaks. This will help your eyes readjust themselves to real-world FOV and hopefully avoid any nasty motion sickness.
- Check Game Speed
Before you buy a game that may or may not make you sick, always check online for walkthroughs in order to gauge its overall game speed. Fast-paced FPS games like Mirror’s Edge and Dishonored are more likely to cause motion sickness as compared to relatively slow games like Left 4 Dead because the visual system couldn’t keep up with what’s happening on-screen and thus will cause disorientation. If you are still unsure about the speed, here’s a tip: watch any walkthrough videos of the game. If you starting to find yourself feeling dizzy from watching it then unfortunately that is not the game for you. That is why I mentioned earlier that I can still play FPS games like BioShock because the pace of the action on-screen is so slow that I have no trouble watching its videos and playing it for hours.
- Turn off Camera Bobbing Effect
The “camera bobbing” effect is a feature used by game developers to add realism to their games. This works by adding movement to the in-game camera so that it will look as though the camera is mounted on the head of the main character. To get a rough idea on how it looks like, try watching some vlogs where the vlogger mounts a GoPro on his or her forehead and move about. Even though it may look realistic, this feature can make people sick because the camera will move and shake a lot. By turning off the camera shake feature, the in-game camera will be stabilized and there won’t be any head bobbing effect when you are running about and thus minimize the risk of motion sickness.
- Chew on Something
A friend of mine suggested this as one of the ways to beat motion sickness. Although I have yet to try it, it may be a viable option from a scientific point of view so there is no harm in trying it. By sucking on a candy or constantly chewing a gum, you are producing more saliva. Saliva works as a stomach neutralizer and the more saliva produced the better because a neutralized stomach helps guard against nausea.
For those of you who like me are suffering from VRMS, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Many game developers are fully aware of the cause and effect of simulation sickness and are trying their best to minimize it. Options such as widening the game’s FOV and turning off camera shake effect are just some of the methods developers are using in their games to ensure that gamers have a comfortable time playing them. Even though extensive researches have been done on simulation sickness, there is unfortunately no definite way of fully eliminating it once and for all. For now though, try to apply some if not all of the steps stated above to minimize simulation sickness. Be sure to comment below whether or not they work and if you have any other suggestions on how to deal with VRMS, you are welcome to type them in the comments as well. Thank you so much for reading and have a great day ahead!