Despite the attention and popularity it has gained in recent years, VR headsets can´t quite finish taking off in the mainstream. One of the biggest obstacles that the technology faces is that it can quite literally make you sick when you play it. Nausea, dizziness, and headaches are some of the afflictions you can get when you try out Virtual Reality goggles for the first time.
As we mentioned before, what you are experiencing is motion sickness, like the kind you can get on cars, boats, and trains. Your brain can´t handle that your eyes are telling it that you are moving while your body remains immobile. This confusion creates all the nasty side effects of motion sickness.
According to the University of Minnesota, some 40-70% of users experience some form of VR sickness after fifteen minutes of use. The percentages change depending on the game or app, with a few going lower than the average and others almost managing to make afflict everyone who uses them.
Like we explained in our previous post, you can prevent motion sickness with good game design. Making sure the movement is smooth, allowing users to teleport around, among others, are ways games avoid giving nausea to their players. Not all titles do this, however. Chances are, one of the games you want to play is one of the poorly optimized ones. In that case, can you get used to the motion sickness? Is there way a to prevent VR motion sickness?
How to avoid getting sick when playing VR
Take breaks while you play and start with short sessions.
Probably not what you wanted to learn, but yes, you can avoid motion sickness by playing VR repeatedly. Eventually, most people will get used to it, although some unlucky few will sadly be unable to do so.
Therefore, it is recommended that you ease into VR by starting with short sessions and then playing longer and longer as your stomach and head allow you to. Don´t try to power through the nausea, that will only make it worse. If you are feeling sick, take a five-minute break and rest. That didn't work? Still feeling nauseous? Then it´s best to call it a day.
A good trick to push motion sickness away when you are taking a break is to stare at a fixed point without moving your eyes for a minute (or more). You should begin to feel a little better shortly thereafter.
You can also try "easing into it" by playing games that don´t cause motion sickness. These are titles where you remain stationary and don´t walk around or do anything of the sort. Some examples are Beat Saber or Superhot. When you are reasonably comfortable with the headset, try some of the more complex games.
(As an small aside, the Oculus Store does have a comfort rating in each game and app. Games with a rating of "Comfortable" are ideal for beginners.)
If possible, try to use the teleport move option before trying to walk. Avoid fast, sweeping movements of your eyes and neck. Try to be as smooth and deliberate as you can when looking around in the virtual world.
Avoid janky, buggy, or low FPS games.
VR sickness is caused by your brain being confused, and there is nothing more confusing than seeing a literal tear in ground when you play a VR game. Similarly, your mind does not handle well when reality becomes a slideshow because the game is chugging or you have lag.
As such, it´s best to avoid playing buggy and unoptimized games before you are truly accustomed to VR.
Low FPS in particular can have a devastating effect on your stomach. If your computer can barely handle a game and is not able to stream a smooth experience to your VR headset, then is best to skip that game altogether. Struggling framerates and low latency will kill the VR experience.
Make sure the VR headset is correctly strapped and set-up
This might seem a bit obvious, after all, how can you play VR if your headset is not properly in place? Well, while you can still play so long as the goggles are strapped to your face, you can still have problems with the lenses or the configuration of the device.
Each headset has different ways to adjust its lenses (for example, here are the Vive instructions, compared to the Oculus Rift instructions), so I can´t quite give blanket instructions aside from read the manual and make sure everything looks clear. The process is similar to trying out new glasses, make sure you are 100% satisfied with how everything looks before you are done calibrating.
Don´t forget to change the brightness of the headset to a level you are comfortable with, and remember to adjust the graphics settings of each game you play if the experience is starting to get nauseating.
Use motion controls if possible and start out sitting on the couch.
While it might seem intuitive to stand around when playing VR games, at the beginning at least, is best if you remain on your seat. This will somewhat limit your movements and prevent your brain from getting more confused at the discrepancy between its perception and reality.
Of course, the gist of VR is to be immersed in the game world, and not every game is best-experienced sitting still. Some even count on you leaning and dodging around what´s happening on the virtual world. In that case, the best thing you can do is ditch the gamepad and grab your headset´s motion controls.
Why? Again, this is to avoid the most dissonance between mind and body. If you are already standing up, but your hands are glued to a classic controller, then something might seem wrong to your brain. If, on the other hand, you are swinging your hands around just like it´s happening in the game, then there is less disconnect between your senses and actions, and therefore, less motion sickness.
If you are still on the fence, don´t be hesitant about motion controls. The technology has advanced a lot since the Wii, and they are not as bad as their reputation implies.
Here are a few other small tips that can help you get used to your VR headset.
Play VR with the AC or a fan blowing.
Some people say that playing in a cool, ventilated environment helps them fight nausea. Others say that playing with the "wind" blowing on their skin makes them more aware of their body and therefore helps fight motion sickness. Either way, it´s an easy fix that you can try with no downsides.
Don´t eat before playing
Have you ever heard to not eat before going for a swim? Well, this tip follows the same logic. It´s harder to get nausea on an empty stomach.
Try chewing some ginger gum or drinking some ginger tea
Ginger has been used to fight nausea for a long time around the world. As VR sickness is nothing more than motion sickness, trying some ginger herbal remedies ought to help you fight the symptoms. It doesn´t matter so much what you eat/drink/chew as long as it´s based mainly on ginger.
This holds true for any traditional motion sickness or nausea remedy. You can even take pills to help you, but that´s a last resort. You really should not be getting routinely drugged to be able to play videogames.
And that´s it! Hopefully, this article will help you enjoy your VR experience without having your head spinning and your stomach rumbling. If you want to check out more VR accessories and games, take a look at our page here where we list all the major platforms and their add-ons.
If you are still undecided about which headset to buy, we made a handy comparison graphic between the Valve Index and the Oculus Quest 2.