Why do video games make some people feel sick?

It rises to the top of your throat, like a time-lapse shot of a vine climbing up a drain, sitting there gently-so quiet that you don’t usually notice it at first, until your head starts to feel hot and tingling. By then it’s too late-nausea makes you feel sick. No matter what game you wish to play, it will return to the library and may never be clicked again.

For some people, this is a familiar feeling-rare for others-and I have been wrestling with this feeling intermittently for many years as a first moving at 100 mph. Lovers of one-person games. The kind that Dave Oshry, the head of New Blood Interactive, is good at.

“Especially in our game, you move and collide very fast, so it’s important to make sure we have choices,” he said. “We try to provide as many mobile, camera and accessibility options as possible.”

Oshry has supervised the release of modern retro classics such as Dusk and Amid Evil, and his customers are very satisfied. “It’s been a long time since we received a complaint about motion sickness,” he said. However, he himself admitted that he did not understand the science behind the nausea in the game. To this end, I had a conversation with Séamas Weech, a postdoctoral researcher at the famous McGill University in Montreal.


Weech has spent many years researching perception and sensory stimulation. He is mainly engaged in VR work-part of his training is funded by Oculus, the purpose is to explore “blue ocean solutions to network diseases”-but most of his expertise is applicable to general 3D games. Once you have heard him explain the Internet sickness, you won’t want to know why the game sometimes makes us uncomfortable. You will wonder how we passed a single GoldenEye level without vomiting.

Imagine that you are walking through a corridor-for someone who has played FPS before, this is not a particularly laborious imagination. In the central part of your vision, almost nothing you see is moving fast. Instead, your brain relies on the visual elements passing around you to calculate how your body moves.

“This is how light flows on the retina-things at the edges move very fast,” Witch said. “So those parts of your vision are naturally very useful. There is a direct loop between visual input and body posture and estimation of the state of the world.”


The problem with video games—not only in VR, but also games played on TV screens or monitors—is that they introduce mismatches. They show you visual movements that stimulate a wide field of vision and make you believe that you are moving. However, because you are actually sitting or standing still, the game will not provide you with the inner ear feedback you would normally expect when walking or running. “You have no clues for inertial motion,” Weech explained. “The power within the vestibular system.”

The missing information combined with harsh visual input can trigger warning signals in the brain. “When things like this happen often in nature, it means you have ingested a certain toxin or your body is not functioning properly,” Weech said. “So it should have this vomiting response to solve this problem.”

Killer fans, relying on their understanding of poisons, know exactly what the emetic reaction looks like—a lot of vomiting. By making you feel sick, your body is actually trying to protect you from poisoning. It hardly knows that you just want to speed up E1M1 in Quake.


When the shooter introduces additional actions, such as shaking his head, the problem only gets worse. “This is an artificial stimulus and has nothing to do with your body’s true feelings,” Weech said. “If you see a head swinging up and down, your brain wants to interpret and integrate it. But it can’t, because it doesn’t match all other information. Processing this kind of thing is a total disaster for your brain. . It’s disgusting.”

Combine these factors with the amazing speed of movement, as seen in classic shooting games in the 90s, you are asking for trouble. “This is even more of a challenge for your brain,” Weech said. “I think I’ve never heard anyone complain about the comfort of walking simulator games. There are good reasons for this.”

Over the years, developers have provided players with a way to fight nausea. In the New Blood game, head and weapon swings can be easily disabled, and the most important peripheral vision can be adjusted according to personal preferences. “A lower FOV will make your head more concentrated,” Oshry said. “I think people with motion sickness will reject it-raising the FOV above 120 will definitely cause some illness. The FOV slider is really easy to add, so obviously we have them in all games.”


However, with the rise of Nintendo Switch, new areas of disgust have opened up. Although the newly released Dusk port on the Switch is very beautiful, I couldn’t complete the first stage without feeling uncomfortable. This is not a problem unique to Dusk-from Doom 2016 to Void Bastards to Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, handheld FPS does not agree with me at all. Weitch doubted he knew the reason.

“I think a lot of what is happening is related to eye fatigue,” he said. “The same is true for a neck strain, because if your gaze is smaller, you must maintain a more stable head. Maintaining a very stiff neck will definitely cause headaches and in some cases nausea.”

These factors can be classified as oculomotor nerve discomfort, which describes general visual fatigue. “Working on a small screen really poses a strong challenge to these things,” Weech said. “You have to work very hard to solve the visual details, because all the functions of the screen will become small.”


With the launch of Steam Deck, this problem may become more common, which will allow thousands of games designed for large displays to run on handheld devices. “Things on the PC are definitely not designed to work on such a large screen,” Weech said. “This will completely become a bigger problem.”

Obviously, many players have a higher tolerance for this discomfort than me. I am also prone to motion sickness and seasickness, which is caused by the inverted form of the ears and eyes that do not match the Internet. But Weech said that the increasing fidelity and sense of space in today’s games may cause nausea to become more common.

“You can think of it as an uncanny valley, where the closer you are to reality, the more troublesome any deviation from reality,” he said. “If you have more sense of presence and presence, then when conflict does occur, you are more susceptible to conflict.”


A good example is seeing your hand in a VR game. In principle, an additional connection to the environment is a good thing. “What it does is get you rooted in the environment,” Weech said. “Instead of feeling like these invisible eyes, just floating around the world, it is better to feel more attached to virtual space. All this rich sensory information can tell you where you are in the environment relative to other things.”

But it can be counterproductive: “Whenever there is a big mismatch-between the way you move your head [for example], If you rotate it to the left and there are some calibration errors-it will be very bad if you are immersed in the environment very strongly. ”

This is an obstacle discovered by game developers themselves. Although New Blood has never released a VR game, it has dabbled in it and learned that it is unwise to control the player’s head-“otherwise people will get sick”. However, in a highly complex game world where players can move around freely and push boundaries, a certain degree of stuttering is inevitable. As developers perfect the photographic landscape and accurate physics, improve their technology, and allow players to take root in their world, occasional mistakes will inevitably destroy this illusion — and cause more severe nausea.


“We will almost certainly encounter the problem you are talking about because you almost feel like you are there, and your body interacts with the environment almost like a real one,” Weech said. “But it’s really not ready to react to artifacts that do appear.”

So, are we paying attention to vomfest in the next few years? That depends. As a player, you can do something to reduce nausea. Weech recommends keeping yourself stable in the physical world-avoid using exercise balls and bean bags, and choose stable chairs. When you are there, open the curtains or keep the lights on-so “you can see the frame of reference around you”. If you use a large screen, it will double.

“Wait until you play the game, and then expose yourself to the long game,” Weech said. “Relax yourself through simpler games, and then turn to more obvious provocative games.” Ginger chews or ginger tea can calm your stomach, and cold water can help you calm down: “It’s all about lightening Body and nervous system stress.”


If you are modifying FOV and other settings, please do so only in a short time. “Don’t try to pass,” Weech said. “Otherwise, you will associate the disease with this environment. Then every time you return to the environment, you will feel sick again.” This is especially common in VR. “If someone gets sick after using the headset, they will associate the smell of the headset with the disease,” Weech said. “Then they can’t use it anymore because they often have this very plastic smell.”

The most important thing is to do what you think is best for you: “If a certain speed or a certain field of view works, that’s great, that’s fine. Don’t change it.”

The good news is that game developers will do their best to reduce the final nausea. After all, they are professional problem solvers. “This is one of the problems that is easy to solve as a developer,” Oshry said. “There is really no reason not to add sports and camera options, which are very standard today. We will continue to do this because we least want people to get sick while playing games.”