Five years have passed since the first consumer VR glasses (comparison) hit the market. The industry has learned to deal with motion sickness, but it has not yet been able to eliminate the problem.
This is proven by a new study under 4.500 German VR users, where motion sickness emerged as the biggest problem with the young medium. According to the survey, two-thirds of all respondents have already experienced the phenomenon, one-third occasionally, often or always.
This shows that motion sickness is still an issue and will remain so until a technical solution to the problem is found. Until then, a combination of suitable VR glasses (comparison), careful app choice, software tricks and informed handling of VR will have to suffice for a complaint-free VR experience.
What is Motion Sickness?
Motion sickness (also known as cybersickness, VR nausea or motion sickness) is a phenomenon that can occur during forms of passive locomotion. Many people know the symptoms from traveling, such as by boat or as a passenger in a car.
So-called motion sickness is a sudden or gradual feeling of discomfort that can increase significantly depending on its duration and susceptibility. The most common symptoms are dizziness, headache, nausea and vomiting.
Motion sickness bothers VR players more than other technical factors, says a recent survey of German VR users. | Image: University of Cologne / TH Cologne
Motion sickness has not been fully researched, but the causes are known: The phenomenon occurs when the eye perceives something other than the vestibular system in the inner ear.
Let’s take the above examples to illustrate the problem: During a boat or car ride, the inner ear perceives motion, but the eye registers a certain amount of stillness unless it is focused on the sea or road – for example, when reading a book. This sensory contradiction alerts the brain, which suspects poisoning and triggers defensive reactions – for example, nausea to remove the suspected harmful substance from the stomach.
Motion sickness is therefore a natural physical reaction that subsides on its own.
Why does motion sickness occur in virtual reality??
Virtual Reality may cause Motion Sickness, because a sensory contradiction may occur here as well.
This usually happens when VR users Artificial locomotionInstead of traversing a game world with their own body, they move purely virtually, i.e. passively, for example by pressing the analog stick, a button or a key. The first time, it feels like rolling through the world on a skateboard, scooter or Segway. It’s clear why VR gamers rely on artificial locomotion: It’s the only way to go beyond the physical confines of your own four walls and freely explore virtual worlds – similar to monitor games.
Smooth locomotion at the push of a button. This is still the most natural type of artificial locomotion for most VR players, but it can lead to motion sickness because you’re physically stuck in place. | Image: Facebook
When you move in this way, your eye perceives motion but your inner ear does not, because you are actually standing or sitting in place. So we have the reverse case as with the ship and car ride. The result, on the other hand, is the same for susceptible people: Discomfort.
The more real the sensory input and the more violent the artificial locomotion, the more the body may react to this sensory contradiction. Motion sickness is not limited to virtual reality because of this: Particularly sensitive people can get sick even from playing a first-person shooter on a monitor.
Does motion sickness always occur for everyone??
No. There are two main factors for the development of motion sickness during VR use: first, the VR content and second, one’s own sensitivity to artificial locomotion.
The variety of VR content is large and many VR apps do not use artificial locomotion. In practice, this means that every virtual movement corresponds to a physical movement, just like in real life. The most successful VR game to date, Beat Saber, is the best example.
In addition, the VR industry developed a lot of tricks in recent years to reduce the risk of motion sickness. Some VR games like Half-Life: Alyx (review) or Skyrim VR (review) use teleportation or artificial tunnel vision, as these prevent or at least mitigate discomfort. More than a hundred such techniques have been identified by a group of scientists and compiled into an online catalog of VR motion to help guide users, developers and researchers.
Most VR games offer different and adaptable types of artificial locomotion, at. As a VR user, you can decide for yourself what to expose yourself to. | Image: Half-Life : Alyx / Valve
The only way to find out how sensitive you are to artificial motion is through trial and error. Motion sickness is a highly individual matter. Some people get sick from the smallest dose of artificial locomotion, while others feel no side effects even from virtual roller coaster rides. Science has not yet been able to answer why this is the case.
How can I prevent motion sickness?
Choose the right hardware
First of all, the choice of hardware is important. Cheap cardboard solutions with smartphone VR are not recommended as an introduction to virtual reality, even if they are the cheapest option. It is often a form of VR that does not allow for complete movement in space. Complete and realistic movement in space requires so-called 6DOF, i.e. Six Degrees of Freedom: In addition to tilting, panning and turning, one can move into the depth of the virtual space, i.e. forward and backward, right and left as well as up and down.
On the other hand, many Cardboard VR or other cheap solutions for VR only offer 3DOF, so-called "head-turning VR". Here, the 360-degree environment sticks to the user’s head, so to speak. If you move forward, the 360-degree environment moves forward with you. It’s almost logical that not everyone will tolerate this well. 3DOF-VR is one of the most common reasons for poor first VR experiences and VR nausea.
Exception: High-quality produced 360-degree experiences or images can also do without motion sickness risk in 3DOF, since you act as a pure viewer and just look around.
Also important are the resolution, latency and frame rate of the VR glasses. Poor textures, lousy performance and jerky image are factors that promote and exacerbate motion sickness. The higher the frame rate, for example, the better. The standalone VR goggles Oculus Quest came with about 75 Hz refresh rate, which didn’t suit every VR gamer well despite its success. The general consensus, on the other hand, is the gold standard of 90 Hz, which the Oculus Quest 2 (review) achieves and even surpasses. PCVR goggles like Valve Index (review) or HP Reverb G2 (review) also offer 90 Hz or even significantly more at partly high resolutions.
In our VR glasses comparison, you can find all current and upcoming relevant VR glasses with all the data, as well as recommendations from the editors.
- MIXED.de without advertising banner
- Access to more than 9.000 items
- Cancellation possible online at any time
Order Oculus Quest 2 from Germany
Oculus Quest 2 will not be sold in Germany for the time being. It is not known how long this sales stop will last.
You can buy the Oculus Quest 2 quite normally at Amazon France. Tip: Right-click on the web page and select "Translate".
Notice: You can order from Amazon France via your German account. The VR goggles support German language in the menus. A regional lock on the part of Facebook is currently not active – Quest 2 works quite normally. Amazon France delivers within a few days, in some cases the devices are even shipped from warehouses in Germany.
Choose the right software
To get started in VR, you should start slowly and with the right apps. If you jump right into virtual reality with a racing game or a virtual roller coaster ride, you could have an unpleasant experience. Some of the best starter apps include TheBlu (review), The Lab, Moss (review), or Astro Bot (review). Motion apps like Beat Saber (review) or Superhot VR (review) have hardly any motion sickness risk. Highly optimized VR hits like the aforementioned Half-Life: Alyx (review) bring enough comfort options to fully get used to VR.
What you get into in a VR game can be found out in tests and Youtube videos. Some platforms like the Oculus Store also offer a Comfort level orientation for each VR app, for example from "Pleasant" to "Moderate" to "Sophisticated".
Each app in the Oculus Store is marked with a comfort level icon so VR gamers know what to expect.
Good and modern VR games also have numerous setting options for artificial locomotion, with which you can adapt the gaming experience to your own needs. Beginners should look into these options and find out by trial and error what they feel most comfortable with.
Alternatively, there are also technical aids such as cybershoes or special walking machines (see article The fanciest devices for VR locomotion). However, such equipment is often expensive and laborious to use, not compatible with all VR games or does not have the desired effect.
For a complete overview of getting started with virtual reality, including hardware and app tips, check out the linked article.
Can I get used to artificial locomotion?
Many players like artificial locomotion because it is more immersive for them than, say, teleportation, or more comfortable because you don’t have to physically perform every movement. In addition, only artificial locomotion offers the possibility to explore virtual worlds in the way you know it from monitor games. This desire may give rise to a desire among motion sickness-prone VR players to "train" themselves for resistance.
Such an endeavor should be approached with extreme caution. Here it is recommended to experiment with the locomotion options in VR games and to approach VR titles with more sophisticated artificial locomotion step by step.
Artificially limiting the field of view when moving or turning can mitigate or even prevent motion sickness. | Image: Eagle Flight / Ubisoft
Absolutely essential: Stop immediately if a feeling of discomfort arises. Put the VR goggles aside and wait long enough before trying again. Don’t start a new attempt if you’re not fully fit.
Simply sitting out symptoms can have nasty consequences: In the worst case, you have symptoms for hours and your brain starts to associate virtual reality with motion sickness. So it can happen that symptoms occur even with regular VR use. The opposite effect occurs: You train your body to dislike VR in the first place.
I am prone to motion sickness – is VR over for me?
There is no guarantee that you can get used to any type of motion in VR. Resistance to motion sickness cannot be forced in principle.
This doesn’t mean that VR is not an option, just because you can’t tolerate smooth locomotion in VR. Many VR games and VR experiences manage without any locomotion and still convey the magic of VR quite excellently. Pay special attention to the comfort specifications for VR games and limit yourself to apps that are stationary or use teleportation at most.
Don’t be afraid to try out a game or appMotion sickness can sometimes be present in one game, but absent in a similar game. Again, the key is: as soon as you feel signs of discomfort, stop immediately. On Steam or the Oculus Store (Refund Policy), for example, you can return games that don’t work for you if you’ve spent less than two hours with them.
Beware of medications or similar aids: Ginger or specific medications can help combat the symptoms of motion sickness, but not eliminate the causes. Such means should therefore only be used in absolutely exceptional cases.
What solutions await us in the future?
There are a lot of research projects that want to solve the problem of motion sickness in a technical way. Mostly, these approaches involve artificially stimulating the inner ear to match locomotion, removing or mitigating the sensory contradiction that leads to discomfort. In technical language, this approach is called "Galvanic Vestibular Stimulation" (GVS).
In this context, various headbands and even headphones were developed, but they did not catch on. Even Oculus founder Palmer Luckey promised a "universal solution" in 2018, consisting of a combination of hardware and software. Since the announcement, however, nothing more was heard of the project.
The examples show: a simple technical solution that eliminates the problem once and for all is not likely to come on the market anytime soon. But these are not absolutely necessary, as long as VR users know the medium and themselves well enough and know exactly which types of virtual reality they can tolerate – and which they cannot.