Cure for FPS induced nausea (simulator sickness)

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Do you remember Goldeneye 007, or how about Perfect Dark? Yeah, I remember them well – that’s how I knew that FPSs made me nauseous. No, not because of content of the game, but because I (like about 50% of the population) suffer from simulator sickness. Don’t worry, though – there is a cure.

Let’s start at the top. What causes the motion sickness to begin with? In a first-person game, the game engine creates a complex environment that can be quickly navigated with the touch of a mouse or analog stick. Players can turn 90 or even 180 degrees with great speed, generating a dramatic perspective change while the body remains stationery. Like car sickness, this can induce all the classic symptoms of motion sickness: drowsiness, sweating, nausea and even vomiting.

This particular form of motion sickness has been documented by the US Army as simulator sickness. They researched this phenomenon when pilots reported ill affects after using driving and military flight simulators. In essence, the problem comes down to cue conflict theory:

For example, the visual system may perceive that the body is moving rapidly, while the vestibular system perceives that the body is stationary.

Alright, so we know what it is and essentially what causes it. So, how do we fix it? This has been my question for years. In general, I just avoided any games in first person, missing out on a lot of really awesome experiences as a result. No longer, it appears that I am on the mend, now able to play FPS and other games that used to bring me to my knees. The solution is actually really simple. You need to retrain your brain.

Okay, I know that sounds complicated, but it actually isn’t. As explained above, your brain gets confused when it sees fast moving perspectives on the screen but your body is still stationery. That inner-ear, balance and perspective part of the brain (look at my technical understanding right here) gets confused, causing motion sickness. Now, you need to retrain your brain to handle these issues – something that can be done, simply by playing more first person games.

Now, before you jump into running around in The Stanley Parable, there are some important caveats to make. Most indie games, as awesome as they are, have awful frame rates and animations. There’s a reason why even some seasoned FPS veterans can’t handle Minecraft or Gone Home. Sure, there are excellent first person indies, but if you’re prone to simulator sickness, these will be your final hurdle, not your initial brain training ground.

First things first, arm yourself with some anti-nausea cures. I used Valoids, but you can also nibble on ginger or have a fan blow in your face. Set up a high-end FPS on your gaming rig of choice, but try to sit a bit further from the screen than usual, or at least sit back in your chair – you want to be able to glance off-screen occasionally as this can help prevent the motion sickness. If possible, adjust your Field of View (FOV) to be wider – this can prevent the claustrophobic, nausea-inducing view. Additionally, some people find it helpful to put a small dot (use Prestik so you can remove it) in the middle of the screen – this gives a stable focal point. And now, play.

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The first week or so I played L4D2, I could not manage more than about 20 minutes without becoming violently ill. I would take tablets, but often still needed to lie down after playing. However, over time it has become way better. Last Friday I managed to play for an hour before feeling sick (I don’t think the heat wave helped), and last night I didn’t experience any nausea whatsoever while playing. It seems my brain is slowly becoming accustomed to the experience.

It is worth mentioning that while playing you should strive to be deliberate with your movements. I used to find myself staring at the ceiling in many FPSs – I simply panic, swung the camera around and became violently ill as a result. Take your time, move with care – although you can move quickly with a mouse, at least in the beginning try to train your hand to control the camera that way you would your head. If you whip your head around at high speeds, you’ll probably also get nauseous, so don’t do that in-game.

Finally, if possible, play with other people (who you know). By playing with friends who are aware of your problem, you can take a game slower if you need to. Also, you will have more fun and focus less on the task at hand and more on the social interaction – oh wow, doesn’t that just sound nauseating?

That’s right, I seem to have cured my motion sickness, and you can too. I can’t take all the credit for this – Geoff prescribed this cure of “just play until your brain gets used to it” and it really did work. I just want to give a big thank you to the community – it has been a lot of fun playing L4D2 with you all, and you’re definitely part of my cure. So, think I’m ready for COD? Or maybe I can finally play Dishonored.

Last Updated: March 10, 2017

Zoe Hawkins

Wielding my lasso of truth, I am the combination of nerd passion and grammar nazi. I delve into all things awesome and geek-tastic. You can read more of my words over at www.borngeek.co.za, or just follow me on all the social networks to get the true range of my sarcasm and wit.

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