Tips to avoid motion sickness caused by VR gaming

Spending a ton of money on a VR system and realizing you can't play for more than 30 seconds might make you tear your hair out when the dizziness abates. Also: throwing up all over the crowd of people watching you play VR is an ultimate buzz-kill.

Hardware and software developers are working hard to lessen and potentially remove motion sickness from VR. Until then, there are some home remedies you can try in order to enjoy VR to the fullest.

Why do I get motion sickness?

Motion sickness as a result of inserting your head into a VR rig is also known as cybersickness or simulator sickness. Sounds cool, right? It's not. What's your current favorite activity? Imagine starting that activity, but wanting to puke about three minutes after starting.

Cybersickness is different from motion sickness as it doesn't actually require your body to be in motion for you to get sick. Cybersickness is common among VR users, and it's incredibly frustrating.

Why does cybersickness occur? Although VR is relatively new and explanations aren't exactly concrete, a common belief is that discord between ocular input and vestibular stimulation is the cause — what your eyes see don't match up with what the balance-nerves in your ears are feeling. Your brain tries to figure out what's going on, and in the process you get sick. Nausea, headache, sweating, and dizziness are all common symptoms.

Other causes of cybersickness are believed to be poor refresh rates of VR lenses, low resolution images, and balance disorders.

What's been done to combat motion sickness?

Oculus lenses

Those of you lucky enough to have used the Oculus Rift DK1 remember how nausea-inducing the LCD displays were. Oculus was smart enough to distribute the DK2 with OLED displays, effectively cutting down on a lot of motion sickness. The Vive also employs OLED displays, and both the Vive and Rift CV1 have a 2160 x 1200 resolution. That's a big step up from some of the original VR rigs.

Speaking of a big step up from the original VR headsets, motion tracking has come a long way. In the Oculus Rift DK1, users would often experience a disconnect between their head's movement and what their eyes saw in the game. Whether caused by poor optimization by the game's developers or by poor tracking hardware, the result was the same: cybersickness.

To have an idea of how far motion tracking has come, imagine having the Vive headset on while a friend holds the controllers; that friend can toss you the controllers (with you only seeing them in VR) and you'll be able to easily catch them. That's pretty impressive. Controllers aren't causing motion sickness, though. The Rift and the Vive both boast sub-millimeter head tracking, and PSVR, if not sub-millimeter, comes close enough to not notice a difference.

Vive controller toss

Framerate can also be a catalyst for motion sickness, but only if it's too low. The Vive and Rift have both set 90FPS as a benchmark for their headsets — this is so frames-per-second (FPS) can match the refresh rate of 90Hz. If FPS dips too low, say down to the 30-60FPS range, there's going to be a lot of jumping and stuttering that can make you sick.

Your PCs performance dictates framerates, which is why keeping hardware up to date is important. It's also the reason why VR PCs are so expensive; game developers want to constantly push the boundaries, and if you want to play the latest games without getting sick you're probably going to need the latest hardware (CPUs, GPUs, RAM).

Games are now being designed based on more motion sickness information than ever before — developers understand that acceleration, FOV, refresh rates and FPS, and even user's height can contribute to a sickening VR experience. This is especially important in the PSVR; you won't be able to upgrade hardware in your PS4 to achieve higher framerates. Performance is based on game developers and software tweaks directly from Sony, so it will be very interesting to see what they come up with.

What can you do to combat motion sickness?

Here is a list of tips you can employ immediately in order to hopefully solve your cybersickness — some might seem quite basic, while others might seem advanced. No one, and I mean no one, wants to be left out when it comes to playing games in VR.

Take regular breaks

Do you feel a little sick after that last battle? Did the flashing lights, quick turns, and slashing swords give your stomach a bit of a churn? Pause your game, remove the headset, have a sip of water. Heck, have a look out the window to see what time of day it is.

Ignore cutscenes

Closing your eyes when your head's movement isn't tracked (e.g. during a cutscene) can greatly reduce symptoms of cybersickness. This is directly related to the aforementioned sensory disconnect between eyes and ears. Cutscenes aren't that important anyway, are they?

Change your FOV

Vive FOV knob

Low field of view (FOV) is less likely to cause sickness, but it also subtracts from your VR experience. Those knobs on the left and right sides of your Vive headset where the strap connects? Pull them away from the headset and rotate them to change your FOV while you game. Click them in (toward the headset) to lock the FOV in place when you've found a suitable distance.

The Rift DK1 and DK2 both had lenses that adjusted for FOV, but the Rift CV1 does not. There is only an adjustment knob for interpupillary distance.

Focus while you spin

Stand up, put your arms out, spin around five times. You're dizzy, right? Now do the same, but this time focus your eyes on one point in the room for as long as you can while you spin. Less dizzy, right?

The same is true while VR gaming. If you keep your eyes focused on one point while you turn your head or spin your body, you should cut down on cybersickness symptoms.

Get a buzz

Adults only, of course! Many users claim having one or two or six alcoholic drinks before playing reduces or even completely removes symptoms of cybersickness. Is VR the ultimate party machine? Do I really need alcohol to have a good time? So many questions...

Build a tolerance

Subjecting yourself to extended VR gaming sessions sounds like a joke penance, but it can be painful if you suffer from cybersickness.

Many users have reported cybersickness lessening the more they experienced it. Who knows what deal your brain works out with your body, but we'll take it. Don't forget to take regular breaks when you're feeling sick (don't overdo it), and keep a positive attitude.

Developers are constantly aware of reducing cybersickness — more users = more sales — so even if one game makes you sick, another might not. Don't give up! Keep trying! VR is awesome!

Optimize your PC

GeForce Experience

Low frame-rates and stuttering is a definite contributor to cybersickness. If you have an Nvidia GPU, use the GeForce Experience app to optimize your PC for each individual game. AMD GPU users can use the AMD Gaming Evolved app to do the same thing.

Don't forget to keep your drivers updated, and, if absolutely necessary, upgrade your hardware. More RAM, a new CPU or a new GPU can go a long way in reducing cybersickness. Plus, what better reason is there to buy PC parts than to not be sick anymore? Who can refute that?

Overlay your game

This is definitely the most advanced way on this list to avoid motion sickness. Based on a National Center for Biotechnology Information article, a Reddit user found that adding an overlay to the Rift display cured motion sickness.

Following Reddit user thelonglurkends's direction, serveral users also came to the same conclusion — their cybersickness was cured. There's only one way to find out if this method works for you: test it out!

Do you suffer from VR motion sickness?

What is your experience with motion sickness in VR? What lengths have you taken to avoid it? Are you a lucky gamer who doesn't get motion sickness? Let us know all about it in the comments section below.