VR Sickness & It’s Impact On Your Virtual Experience

virtual reality sickness vs spatial reality projection rooms

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The era of virtual reality is here…and it’s exciting. We are now witnessing the birth of a new wave of entertainment, education, sports and storytelling: a wave where you, the audience, are at the very heart of a captivating experience.

But there’s one thing that you’re perhaps not looking forward to as much: VR sickness.

Why does it happen?

Our understanding of the exact cause of cybersickness is currently quite limited, but what we do know is that it seems to be very closely linked to motion sickness. The primary cause of this distinctive discomfort is a mismatch between what you see and what your body feels. This contradiction causes confusion for your mixed-up brain, so it reacts to it in the best way it knows: the nausea that we all know too well (and wish we didn’t!)

If ever you’ve felt a bit queasy in a car or a boat, what’s happened is your inner ear has been sensitive to the sudden repeated movements of the vehicle you’re in (like going over speed bumps, turning left or right). But your eyes can only tell you’re moving by looking out of the window; your view of the vehicle you’re in itself doesn’t change.

How come we can get VR sickness even if we’re not prone to travel sickness?

The moving visuals of the display (and to a lesser extent, spatial audio) can createwhat we know as vection (a.k.a. Illusions of self motion). If you’ve ever watched a video of a roller coaster filmed from a first-person perspective and felt your stomach twist and turn slightly, that’s exactly what that sensation is. As far as your eyes are concerned, you’re moving and looping all over the place, but your vestibular system knows you’re completely still.

Your vestibular system consists of three semicircular canals; these are small tubes in the inner ear lined with tiny sensitive hairs and filled with a liquid called endolymph. Each canal detects movement and rotation across a different plane: yaw, pitch and roll. When your head moves, the endolymph trickles through inside the canals and triggers the hairs, sending signals to your brain of the direction you’re moving in and the speed you’re moving at.

Thanks to our vestibulo-ocular reflex, our eyes move in the opposite direction to the stimulated canal. So if your eyes point to the direction they’re expecting you to move in, but as far as your vestibular system you’re not moving at all, your brain gets confused with mixed signals.

How can we prevent it?

With the popularity of immersive media rising, it’s important that we address the issue of cybersickness; we can’t bury our heads in the sand and pretend it’s not a threat to the future of this otherwise wonderful technology.

Fortunately, however, we’ve discovered a few tips to help you go on the best virtual adventure possible without having to reach for the sick bucket!

For users

Don’t use a VR headset if you feel unwell

If you have a cold or any other infection affecting your nose, ears or sinus, going on a journey into a virtual world may not be the haven you need. In fact, it can make you feel worse and increase your likelihood of feeling extra unpleasant side effects.

Also, if you have a chronic health condition that affects your ears or vestibular system, you should consult a doctor before trying out a VR headset just to stay on the safe side.

Start off small

If you’re completely new to the world of virtual reality, it may all feel alien to you. If your eyes and your head aren’t used to it, you’re much more likely to feel it, take your headset off and think to yourself, “Stuff it. VR is not for me.” But that doesn’t mean it isn’t necessarily!

Start off with some short sessions of low-intensity applications, and work your way to delving deeper into the medium once you feel more ready. If you’re prone to finding yourself nauseated by leaning back or forth at all, sit yourself down with your headset on as if you’re watching TV…just 360 degrees and through special glasses.

Take frequent breaks

A lot of the time, you might not experience discomfort while wearing the headset, but then you lift it off from over your eyes and…BAM! It all hits you at once: the nausea, the faint head, the dizziness.

Even if you don’t often experience cybersickness, many headset manufacturers nonetheless advise you to take breaks of around 10-15 minutes for each 30-minute session of VR time. It’s also worth noting this advice isn’t just to curtail motion sickness; just like with computers and mobile phones, using a virtual reality headset for too long can cause eye strain and muscle cramps.

During your breaks, it’s a good idea to have a little walk around and get some fresh air, or do anything gentle-paced that doesn’t involve you looking at a screen.

For developers

Consider anti-sickness software

This solution isn’t researched or practised quite as much as we think it should be yet, but a handful of companies have developed software intended to mitigate the risk of developing unpleasant side effects from movement.

GingerVR is an open-source Unity software toolkit comprising several techniques for reducing simulator sickness in the users of virtual reality applications.

Be very careful when designing how visuals adapt to motion

You want to make a virtual reality application? Super, go for it! Want to make everything move as your user’s head does? Think again.

It’s not just good enough to respond to head movements by ‘making everything move.’ If you’re going to go for a virtual world they can navigate with their eyes, make sure the visual motion actually matches up to what it would be in real life! Any kind of lag, inconsistent motion or weird angles will have your users’ eyes spinning and their heads rattling around.

Avoid latency

A sluggish computer is frustrating. Watching a film where the sound doesn’t quite match up in time with the video is infuriating. A virtual reality application with a lag between the environment and your movements is both…as well as, of course, disorienting.

Motion to photon latency is another major culprit of virtual nausea: the amount of delay between your head movement and the events on screen has a knock-on effect on how your body reacts.


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