207: Wired Differently

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Wired Differently

Plenty of developers talk about promoting more visceral reactions in their audience, but they probably didn't have headaches and nausea in mind. Nova Barlow explains the plight of gamers who suffer from Virtual Simulator Sickness.

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A very interesting article about a subject that I wasn't acquainted with. It makes sense hearing about it, though.

I can think of a recent game which would be hell for people with VSS. ArmA 2, the third military simulator released by Bohemia Interactive, presents the player with a simulation of the soldier in great detail, including simulation of head and body movements. Even I, a veteran of the first-person genre, able to take games like Quake 3 in my stride, and a player of Bohemia Interactive's other games, felt queasy the first time I was presented with the head bobbing. Now, I think it was more the motion blur than anything else, and I soon got over it, but it happened to be one of only two games that has ever made me feel unwell, even for a moment.

The other game wasn't even an FPS, or indeed, any sort of high-speed game at all. It was the first Breath of Fire game, and I still haven't been able to pin down why I felt unwell. I think it was something to do with a specific detail of the battle interface, but it seems a strange game to feel unwell with.

An enlightening article. My friend and I have had the occasional bout of something that at least resembles this. I gave him a go at Portal one night he came over while I played on the PC. As soon as he got control over both portals he shot one at the ceiling, the other at the floor and let out a scream as he went into constant free-fall, and expressed a desire not to play any more.

A similar thing happened in Crackdown when he turned on all the cheats and found himself running faster than the cars. I found myself with an uneasy feeling when flying over open water in Grand Theft Auto. Not having anything in the distance to relate my distance to overwhelmed me with dizziness and a little bit of panic, though I suppose this could be more akin to Agoraphobia than VSS.

I'm a traditionalist when it comes to FPS games, so I don't like motion blur or head bobbing, I like my fps nice and clean.

As RAK said, an interesting topic, and also something I haven't heard of until now.

I can understand how it could be linked to motion sickness, as they are based (In theory) on conflict cues, as you have said, where senses oppose each other and as a result you get various things including headaches and even sickness, such as reading a book in a car. Your eyes think you're not moving, but other senses like your ears think you are and if the car is accellerating you can feel the motion as well. The result being your brain is recieving information that contradicts itself.

This could however become a problem in the future as games are more and more becoming first person and companies are getting more and more obsessed with making their games more realistic, to the point where people have complained at "Mirror's Edge" for not having the head bobb as you move. And for the VSS rate to drop, you're either asking the people who experience VSS to be more patient and tolerant and take longer to become a master at a game, or you're asking everyone else to tolerate with less realistic games. And no matter which option you pick, there will always be people who disagree with it.

I think one thing that they could possibly do is have a VSS option in the menu, so that you could have a realistic gaming experience or go to the options menu and change the settings so that you experience less VSS as a result. Because games are designed as part of the entertainment industry, they are meant to entertain, and having headaches isn't really that entertaining, and neither is just being told to deal with it. Mind you, whether or not the masses of videogame industries out there would listen to just one 16 year old boy (aka me) ranting about VSS isn't very likely.

Nonetheless, good article and very informing.

Wow, I used to think I was the only person who got sick playing first person games. I can't play FPSs at all--I get this awful nausea and crawling sensation and pain from the back of my head. Seeing the gun at the bottom of the screen for some reason makes it worse. What am I doing, running around with a gun glued to my nose? It's sad, because I've had friends want me to play Halo and Bioshock and Half-Life, but they just make me too ill to persevere.

I play Fallout 3 almost entirely in 3rd person, switching to 1st only when I need to grab a hard to reach item. Otherwise I feel like someone's crammed me inside a giant hamster ball and started pushing me around in it. But at least in that game you have a choice of perspective. I wish more games did that. I realize full-on FPSs won't because that defeats that whole "FP" parts, but other action and hybrid games could.

Glad to hear some devs are addressing this--I avoided Mirror's Edge like the plague because of the first person perspective, but if they've done things like put POV from the eyes rather than the head (DUH! Why doesn't everyone do that??) I might be able to stomach it.

What's weird is I used to be able to play first-person-perspective games... before graphics got good. Stuff like the old Might and Magic games I could do fine in (from simple VGA 1 to the more deep but still "oldskool" environments of 6 and 7). I'm not sure what was the difference... did it look unreal enough that I didn't get sensory confusion? Was it a wider frame of view? Was it the walk-beat (a slight bump when you took a move... I think they take the bumpiness out of movement these days, but I think that's part of what gives me "hamster-ball-syndrome"--we don't roll smoothly along the ground, we walk.)? Most likely it's the first--just that it was sort of cartoony so my senses weren't disoriented, but I wonder what other aspects work into it as well.

I am sure it takes some time and patience to get over it, but it makes me so uncomfortable I don't have the tolerance to put up with the pain in the meantime.

Ah, so now I know the name for it... My sister suffers from this rather severely, which really pissed her off, she loved the game Drakkan: Order of the Flame, but she couldn't play it more then ten minutes at a time without getting near-migraine level headaches. I have the same problem with last-gen graphics engines. If I go play, say Unreal Tournament 2004-UT3, then I start getting queasy playing the original UT.

I can't even get CLOSE to the first couple of Doom and Quake games. Just glancing at the screen makes me sick.

VSS? That's cool. Oddly, Mirror's Edge didn't and doesn't effect me in the least. O_o

I remember a thread about this long time ago on some other gaming forum, and was surprised how many members replied they had VSS or something like it. Some couldn't play flying simulators, while others were horrified of FPS games. But I remember someone saying some natural ginger pills helped: http://www.mothernature.com/Library/bookshelf/Books/23/37.cfm
From what I recall, someone (or their doctor) made a connection between VSS and motion sickness and tried various motion sickness meds (which helped a lot), but in the end decided on ginger pills, since they are natural unlike artificial motion sickness medication, meaning you can ingest them on a regular basis. So yeah, you could try that. I'm surprised you didn't check for medication first. In fact, I'm quite interested if it works.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motion_sickness#Simulation_sickness

I noticed I was starting to develop VSS when I finally decided to revisit half-life a few months ago, and HL2 after that. Although, with you listing confusion as a symptom, perhaps I've had a minor case of VSS all along. I'm terrible at online shooters because when I'm running away from being shot at from every direction, it's difficult for me to calm down and think of what the best course of action is, and nearly impossible for me to aim correctly.

One factor I notice that drastically affects the amount of nausea I experience, though, is the height and angle of the monitor I'm looking at.

So that's what I have. Funny, because I actually like FPSs.

This article is totally right about different games being more or less nauseating. Call of Duty 4 for six hours, no problem. Original Doom 2, Doom 3, or Half-life2 for an hour? In bed for four hours wondering if it was something I ate. In my experience, how one plays can help. Moving at a breakneck pace swiveling the mouse around like your feverishly waxing a car can really compound the symptoms if the game isn't good for your brain. Moving very deliberately for awhile can help adjustment (which may be why Might and Magic would be easier to play for people like us). I suggest many very short exposure periods as opposed to a few long ones. Never tried ginger infusions.

My experience with Doom 2 makes me wonder if realism and better technology really has anything to do with the problem. In the end, it really is just colors flying by. I used to get sick watching audio programs' psychedelic video-thingies for too long. The first-person perspective is certainly a link, but maybe it has more to do with third-person games having something, a third-person character, to focus on amidst the chaos than how visceral the graphics and experience is.

I've never really had a problem with this. I didn't know so many were. The only times that I ever had any problems are when the game takes control in first person. I guess maybe because I'm not the one doing the moving? That and when the frame rate drops to a crawl. The screen jumping all over the place makes me dizzy.

I used to have a problem with the old Descent for the PS 1, but I kind of enjoyed the experience. And it just wore off.

Very interesting article, thanks for putting it together.

retro himself:

From what I recall, someone (or their doctor) made a connection between VSS and motion sickness and tried various motion sickness meds (which helped a lot), but in the end decided on ginger pills, since they are natural unlike artificial motion sickness medication, meaning you can ingest them on a regular basis. So yeah, you could try that. I'm surprised you didn't check for medication first. In fact, I'm quite interested if it works.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motion_sickness#Simulation_sickness

It never really occurred to me as an option, back then or now. I feel like there's something wrong with me if I have to push myself to the point of medicating myself to play, y'know? Then again I don't even like taking cold medicine... I can be stubborn in my gaming habits.

A lot of these comments have been great to read - not only in the "hey this is not just a me thing" way, but in a clear indication that for all we know and have learned about it, there needs to be more gamer focused studies. There are so many different variables to work with, and as we start having multiple generations of gamers perhaps more data will become available to work with.

I'm mostly just pleased by the opportunity to raise general awareness, get people talking, and I admit it, I am also hoping this will result in yes, more VSS friendly options in games (like Zombie_Fish suggests) - because really, games are supposed to be fun. :)

very interesting... that would explain why my parents/sister doesn't like my fast-paced racing games like Wipeout... fortunately I don't suffer from it but... it can hit anyone... at anytime? can I be affected by it in the future? if I can... meeeeeeep >_<

wow that's funny i get this all the time and never really thought anything about it
i mean i just think of video games as the same as reading a book in a car or being dehydrated, it's no biggy i just can't play upwards of an hour at a time - totally reasonable

While I don't doubt this is debilitating for gamers and happens to many people, I wonder, do we really need another name for this?

Firstly, Virtual Simulator Sickness is redundant (simulations are always virtual, in that they aren't real -- they're simulations). It's a nit pick, but really, the TLAs get annoying after awhile.

Secondly, I can't help but wonder if this is really some new phenomena or not. I know a lot of people that get motion sickness from everything from driving, to boating, to watching TV, and they too suffer from even seeing games played from a fast-moving first-person perspective. Motion sickness, VSS -- call it what you will, but isn't this just one and the same?

Without any clear indication that this is somehow different from what we already call motion sickness, it seems like a waste of effort to persue it as a separate disorder. Much of the research already shows that VSS is and can be treated similarly to motion sickness.

On a separate note, I'm not sure that I follow the desire for game developers to make video games more approachable to people who experience VSS. If it's just the argument that too many games are shown from the first-person and not enough are or provide a third-person perspective, then fair enough, but for many games, it's not as simple as just using a different camera angle. For example, an FPS generally can't be played form a third-person perspective -- how would you aim?

I don't mean any offense, but perhaps people who experience VSS just need to avoid those situations. If you can change the game to prevent it, then great, but you can't expect to change the nature of the world. Some things only make sense from a first-person perspective.

Chimaera:
It never really occurred to me as an option, back then or now. I feel like there's something wrong with me if I have to push myself to the point of medicating myself to play, y'know? Then again I don't even like taking cold medicine... I can be stubborn in my gaming habits.

A lot of these comments have been great to read - not only in the "hey this is not just a me thing" way, but in a clear indication that for all we know and have learned about it, there needs to be more gamer focused studies. There are so many different variables to work with, and as we start having multiple generations of gamers perhaps more data will become available to work with.

I'm mostly just pleased by the opportunity to raise general awareness, get people talking, and I admit it, I am also hoping this will result in yes, more VSS friendly options in games (like Zombie_Fish suggests) - because really, games are supposed to be fun. :)

Huh, well I guess it's healthier to think in that sorta way, but you're still pushing yourself to the point of being sick just for an ounce of fun. Though ginger was never really considered a "medicine", you could suck on a root or crystallized ginger (it's actually considered a candy :D), and many people use them when they get motion sickness on boats or when driving.

And comments on The Escapist are almost always fun to read :D I like the whole general idea where everyone and their mother can write articles, be it about their specific experiences or just something we know in general. I'm surprised this hasn't reached enough recognition, since it's been five years since I've seen a big thread on a well-visited forum about VSS, though I haven't seen anything about it anywhere since.

Unfortunately, I guess it'll be a long time since they make a VSS-friendly option in games, since it's hard enough to make a game for people with diminished vision or for deaf people or otherwise handicapped people (one-handed people still don't have official peripherals on the market), it would be harder to think of a way that VSS people wouldn't suffer from gameplay. Though in some instances (like WoW), I think a bit of tinkering with the camera would suffice, for example the camera would be at a fixed place, but enabling you to see both your mount and the boss. There might even be some unoficcial plugins dealing with that.

On a sidenote, I found an interesting article about developers dealing with VSS in Mirrors Edge: http://www.joystiq.com/2008/07/17/how-mirrors-edge-fights-simulation-sickness/
looks like a great start.

I used to feel ill with any first person games. I haven't experienced the feeling in a long time though - perhaps I'm over it? I'm glad I am though, I doubt I'd just be able to put up with it.

I cop this very occasionally. The worst was some free indie RPG I once downloaded, but I was also put off buying Alien versus Predator 2 when the demo made me nauseated. I get it a little from Half-Life 2, but not badly.

I was surprised when I didn't feel motion sick playing Mirror's Edge, so I'm interested to hear DICE went out of their way to combat the issue. The more I hear about that game the more I like it, even if it is flawed.

I've heard a few times that this motion sickness is more common in Asians, which is part of the reason FPS games are less popular in Asian countries. I wonder if there's any official data on this? I'm 1/8th Chinese, so it would make sense that I'd get sick only a small part of the time. :)

Very interesting article, but for me it went beyond the gaming realm. As people become more wired, I wonder what steps will need to be taken to navigate virtual worlds without us feeling physically sick while in them.

Wow, there are a lot of replies to this thread. I had no idea this was so widespread. Too bad it's not widespread enough (apparently) for games to aknowledge it. Maybe it is, and people who suffer from it just shy away from games... in which case, as games become more widespread, more options benefitting people suffering from it will show up.

One of my friends said he'd start feeling nausea and dizziness... on one specific part of one specific game, only. (If you're curious: 007 Nightfire on the GameCube, on that level in a Japanese house, right after the second checkpoint.) I can defenitively relate, as I recently discovered I suffer from labyrinthitis, which grows worse as I age and can give a gamer quite similar symptoms (except for migraine, as far as I know).

This is exactly the reason I turned off the head bobbing in FEAR. Too much unnecessary movement makes me feel nauseous. When it comes to videogames for entertainment, I always felt that there should be a threshold for realism. Because, if you think about it, being realistic for the sake of realism will compromise gameplay at one point (unless you're gunning for an all-out simulation, then by all means be as realistic as you want). Luckily for FEAR, there was an option, however, take a game like MGS3, which has "forest survival" as one of its main features. As good as that game was, the survival aspect of eating, resting and treating injuries just broke the flow all too often. Granted, it might be a limit of the technology to not be able to implement it in a better way, but still.

Oh, and this is probably the reason why I don't feel nauseous when I play Prototype, even if it is a faster-moving game. Even if the game goes all chaotic on you from time to time, you can easily keep your orientation on everything that's going on around you. I do feel my stomach sinking when I take Alex atop a very high building, then jump off it. Though that happens to me in a lot of games where falling from high places is a normal occurrence.

I'm shocked so many people were oblivious to this.

I get this real bad. I used to get it even with GTA4. I think it had to do with how the camera moved.

This is an interesting discussion.. thank you for sharing.

pret auto

A excellent article about a topic not many are familar with. While I don't suffer from VSS, I'm not a huge fan of FPSs, but that's probably from liking to plan out my course of action, not charging in. Getting ninja snipered drives me crazy, though I do enjoy creeping up behind a sniper and shooting them in the head or their digital nads. I do have to imagine playing shooters might induce motion sickness, because you often have to move fast in them, and you often have to make quick shots. Plus, the first-person view can get incredibly disorienting when you're in the thick of simulated battle. I've also heard of VSS in a few places, I hadn't seen a good article like this. Thanks for the great article.

I've got a small touch of this as well. It's sort of weird - it only happens sometimes when playing engines that have a certain kind of approach. Painkiller was one of those games. I get flu-like symptoms.

Koeryn:
VSS? That's cool. Oddly, Mirror's Edge didn't and doesn't effect me in the least. O_o

That what Mirror's Edge is trying to do though. They didn't include things like head bobbing so that it seems less reaslistic, and VSS isn't experienced or reduced if it is as a result. It's certain scenes in WoW and Quake that cause the problem.

I myself have never actually experienced it, but I don't play many first person games.

Oh, boy! Isn't it funny, when a new condition or disease presents itself, suddenly everyone is sick, everyone is noticing symptoms and freaking out? "He sneezed! He fucking sneezed!! He has the Swine Flu! Ack, shoot him! SHOOT HIM!!!"

Seriously, we either have 40-60 percent Hypochondriacs, or people with Münchausen syndrome. Don't get me wrong, I really sympathize with the people who actually have this condition, but I think these people with VSS are either few in number or very good at denying their symptoms. I'm a gaming journalist, so I know many many people who play FPS and simulator games, but none of them have this thing. One of my friends used to get headaches and nausea when playing computer games, but as it turns out it was because of his monitor. Bad screen resolution and refresh rates can cause symptoms like this. He bought a new monitor, his symptoms are gone.

But yes, "do not underestimate stupid people in large groups" they say. This is more a social disorder than a physical one. I'm predicting a sudden increase in motion sickness patch and ginger sales, all bought by gamers who believe they have this condition, because it's the new "in" thing. I guess I wait and see.

On the other hand, I don't get why all the new patients all around the internet are suddenly complaining that game developers should make their games taking VSS people into consideration. Why? Gaming is a choice, if it makes you uncomfortable or sick, don't do it. There are many other pastime activities, that don't require you to be sick doing it, so there. I'm afraid of heights, so I don't go rock climbing, and I'm not bitching about people should make mountains smaller for me. It's in the article up there, and I'm not surprised about the reactions. Why should game developers spoil the fun of other people, just because some people can't hold their FPS? It's like killing all the cats in the world or taking peanuts out of everything, just because some people are allergic to them. I'm not saying "Screw people getting sick", I'm saying the real VSS people should take others into consideration when bitching about this, because they are minority here.

I played the entire campaign of Halo 3 in one sitting and never got motion sick once. The first time I played Half Life 2, I felt like I was going to throw up midway through the first level. Oddly though I didn't have this problem with episode one or episode two. Perhaps vValve changed something?

A lot of people have problems with this when they enter a zero gravity environment in a game. This is a common complaint when playing the zero gravity level in Crysis. Another common game back in the day with this problem was Descent. It was ALL zero gravity.

I feel sorry for people who have this problem. They can't enjoy a great FPS like Half Life 2. :(

I've never heard of this before.

Is it possible to have a weak case of this and be anaware, or do I just suck at FPS? I know the answer to that one.

That does suck. And it can strike at any time?! Jeeze. Other than the examples you gave, like flying segments, can it affect 3rd person and sidescrolling games?

I only feel ill when I play on a too small screen. Laptop, or lately Metroid Prime on my DS... Which is strange, considering the fact that half of the games on my PC are either FPS or just FPP.

I would hate to see things like vehicle sequences removed from games for the sake of people who can't handle them, because they actually add significantly to the playing experience.

Yes, I felt Wrath of the lich king's vehicle segments were some of the most fun the game offered.

Barlow has brought something to my attention that I have noticed in others. Being a near life-long gamer, this hasn't bothered me much, but my girlfriend could not play mount & blade due to the symptoms he describes. Asking high motion levels or scenes to be removed from games is a bit much to ask. It strikes me as early identity politics. Change these games because they are not perfect for me. I after all enjoy quick moving combat games or trying to stay in control and fight back in any dog-fight-esque simulator. I can see others expressing the same views.

Playbahnosh has some good and frank points which he makes. Any other hobby could be taken up, perhaps playing chess slowly?

I get this pretty badly, sometimes it even gives me a migraine. I first started noticing it when I was playing Doom years and years ago, and as the games become more realistic, the whole thing has gotten worse.

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