A Twitter search for the terms “PSVR” and “sick” occasionally brings up people saying things like “PSVR Thumper the game is so sick!!!” and “PSVR is so sick.” But the more common usage is from people complaining that Sony’s new virtual reality system at some point made them feel sick.
Since PSVR’s launch on Thursday, there have been a trickle of Tweets about the topic, most often from users complaining about the first-person racing game Driveclub.
One YouTuber Tweeted that “I’m enjoying PSVR” but noted that “Driveclub VR took all of 20 seconds before it made me totally sick.” Another said nausea struck in 10 minutes.
Another Twitter user said they could “barely get through a full race in Driveclub VR without feeling sick”
The outlet Games Radar even announced last week that they could not review the game because it made everyone on the staff feel ill. “Simply put, we just couldn’t find anyone who could handle playing the game long enough to review it,” editor Sam Prell wrote. “We tried several victim—er, volunteers, but no luck.” (A writer for the website Digital Spy reported similar problems, saying it was only the second VR game since 2013 that had made them feel sick.)
Not everyone gets sick playing VR games. Far from it. Mentions of PSVR nausea on social media are sporadic. A handful of Tweets about this should be weighed against the thousands of people who show up on Driveclub’s in-game leaderboards, at least 15,000 of whom already outrank me in the game’s initial racing challenge despite my first-place finish. Most of these thousands probably didn’t get sick or at least not badly enough to Tweet about it. (Note: We’re assuming that Driveclub VR’s leaderboards are separate from those in the non-VR version of the game, though we’ve not been able to confirm this.)
I’ve had mixed results with the game. When I first tried Driveclub in VR last week, I felt a little queasy. Nausea in VR hits immediately. You feel warm and a little ill. Usually a bad turn will do it, though when I tried Driveclub again today I felt mostly fine. I aced the game’s initial race, a high-speed two-loop oval run, with no discomfort. The game’s second driving challenge is a slower-paced yet still speedy drive through windy roads. During a rapid succession of tight turns I felt slight motion sickness, but not enough to make me stop playing.
VR gaming nausea is by no means automatic, but it is certainly an element of the discussion of this new style of gaming being ushered in by Oculus and Valve earlier this year and now by Sony with this month’s PSVR. It’s a physical fact of how VR gaming works. A user’s brain and inner ear can easily get confused by VR imagery, especially if the movement a user thinks they are seeing doesn’t match the movement (or lack thereof) of their own body.
VR game designers have been able to avoid nausea in their players by keeping action in their games relatively slow and by offering blinkered or stuttered first-person camera movement. Smoother, accelerating movement can quickly make a user feel ill. The PSVR sports game Rigs clouds the user’s peripheral vision with blackness if they turn their head quickly. The system’s Batman game, Arkham VR, has its players run forward via a series of non-nauseating short teleports.
The PSVR game that most severely made me feel ill was Rise of the Tomb Raider’s Blood Ties first-person side mission, but only when I removed the game’s comfort settings and tried to play it with standard, smooth first-person movement. A few steps, a turn and I got hit with a bellyful of nausea. I switched the settings back to comfort mode, which locked my character’s foot position until I teleported her ahead and I felt fine, with zero nausea.
Driveclub was always going to be the PSVR game most likely to make people sick, so much so that I was surprised Sony was even making it. Here’s Sony’s head of game development, Shuhei Yoshida telling me in early 2014 that a speedy racing game in VR is a risky thing to make:
“We had a demo for a driving game with the tech, and that was really great when I drove slowly,” Yoshida said. “I could view the scenery. It’s no longer racing. It’s driving, driving through scenery. But when I put on the gas and started driving [fast], it was too much.” He said that “many people” who tried it felt ill.
“Mostly, the biggest learning is what makes people sick,” Yoshida said. “That’s something we definitely want to eliminate.” Latency, he reiterated, “is killer.” Get that number down and the comfort of VR goes up.
There may be people complaining on Twitter that Driveclub made them sick, but there are others thrilled to say it didn’t. “Driveclub VR didn’t make me sick,” one user wrote. I LOVED it.” Another said that Driveclub didn’t make him feel bad, except for one “fleeting” moment. The website IGN color-coded PSVR launch games to indicate how ill they made the staff and gave Driveclub a green for “no discomfort.”
When a user starts up PSVR, the system warns them about potential motion sickness, but there’s no easy way to figure out which users will or won’t feel ill.
Motion sickness in VR varies. It varies from game to game and person to person, all the more reason to research the games and find a way to try them before you buy. VR gaming can be magical as long as you’ve not made a terrible match and found the VR game that will make you barf.