The Reality Is Virtual, But the Motion Sickness Is Real
VR experiences make some people — especially women — feel nauseous and ill. Here’s how the industry is trying to fix that.
I was just settling in to a feeling of invincibility, gliding through fluffy clouds wearing a colorful wingsuit. But it didn’t last long. A little over a minute later the nausea began, my head started to sweat and throb, and I panicked as my virtual reality headset steamed up.
I knew this feeling from amusement park rides and ferry crossings — it’s the effects of motion sickness. Nausea within virtual reality has been a problem since the early days of the technology, though as VR has improved, thanks to screens that refresh more quickly and rely on more sophisticated movement sensors, users have felt more comfortable — and less likely to vomit.
Yet, despite these improvements, VR-induced motion sickness remains an obstacle for many players, regardless of whether they’re using an Oculus Quest, PlayStation VR, HTC Vive or any other major headset. Developers want us to embrace VR as an increasingly useful and powerful tool, offering the possibility of everything from precise and effective surgical procedures to powerful educational experiences for students of all ages. But if that’s going to happen, the technology needs to be easier to use, more comfortable — and it can’t make players ill.
There are several reasons why people might experience symptoms of motion sickness when using VR. “The sensory conflict is between what your eyes are telling you is happening — moving in a virtual space, and what your inner ear and joints are telling you is happening — you’re still,” says John F. Golding, a professor of social science at the University of Westminster in London who has studied this type of motion sickness and spatial disorientation. “That’s when there’s a mismatch.”
VR-induced eye strain can lead to headaches, fatigue, and dizziness, which happens when lenses haven’t been correctly aligned.
Sensory conflict tends to be the main cause of classic motion sickness, but cybersickness is also caused by phase lag. “If you move your…