What is Video Game Motion Sickness?
Motion sickness caused by video games, sometimes called simulator sickness, is caused when there is a disconnect between what your eyes are seeing and what your body is feeling. The most common theory (taken from many medical websites) about why you get sick is that your body thinks that you have been poisoned and you are hallucinating the movement that you are seeing but not feeling, so you get nauseous and (if you don’t stop playing right away) vomit in order to flush the toxins from your body.
What Specific Game Mechanics Cause Motion Sickness?
Obviously, not all games cause motion sickness, but what is it about certain games that do cause it? Basically, it all comes down to camera movement and having something to focus your eyes on.
I can’t cover every single thing that causes motion sickness, as there are some people that get sick from pretty much any 3D game and others that get sick from things like the scrolling note charts on Guitar Hero/Rock Band. I’m going to just cover a couple of specific things that will affect Xbox 360 owners most of all. The Xbox 360 has become the king of the shooter consoles, and third and first-person-shooters are some of the biggest offenders when it comes to causing motion sickness.
I don’t have any polls or surveys or science to back this up, but I have figured out what makes me sick and I’m pretty sure it applies to other people that are affected with simulator sickness as well. Games that have two types of movement going on at once, such as head bob (as you walk your view slightly bobs up and down) and weapon bob (as you walk your weapon moves up and down) make me sick every single time. When there is only one movement, either head or weapon bob, then I’m fine. When I can focus on something stationary, either the onscreen gun or on the wall in front of me, I don’t get sick. But when everything is moving at different speeds and I can’t really focus on anything, that is where problems come in.
Looking at some of the biggest games on the Xbox 360 confirms my theory. Halo 3 only has gun bob. Call of Duty 4 only has head bob. BioShock only has gun bob. Half-Life 2 doesn’t really have either, or it is very slight. I do know of many people that got sick from H-L 2 from, I’m guessing, the rapid camera movement and the “close, but not quite realistic” graphics. None of these games makes me sick. Gears of War, on the other hand, makes me ill. The camera in GoW is meant to be like a battlefield cameraman following you around, so there is a little bit of bob as the cameraman walks around, and Marcus is bobbing around as he moves, which causes the problem. F.E.A.R. also has slight gun and head bob. That awful Oblivion wannabe Two Worlds is one of the worst offenders because it couples chunky graphics with head and weapon bob. Also, the recently released Conflict: Denied Ops has slight head bob, but also severe weapon bob that makes me sick enough after just a couple of minutes that I actually can’t play it long enough to review it at all. At least the other games I mentioned I was able to play in 30-45 minute increments.
Other games can also make you sick from watching them, but not playing them. They are usually games with player-controlled cameras, and when you are watching someone else play and the camera isn’t reacting and moving the way your head thinks it should, you feel motion sickness. Games like this include Ace Combat 6, Blazing Angels, and Devil May Cry 4, just to name a few. FPS, even the "good" ones I mentioned above, can set motion sickness off as well for some people if you watch someone else play. And, honestly, I don't have a theory on that quite yet.
Motion sickness is pretty easy to recognize. Headaches, dizziness, nausea, heavy sweating, and excessive production of saliva are signs that something is definitely wrong.
Treatment and Reducing the Risk In The Future
If you feel any of the above symptoms, stop playing immediately. Things are going to get worse before they get better if you keep playing. Try to open a window or go outside and get some fresh air.
If you find that you do experience motion sickness from videogames, there are a few things you can do to hopefully prevent it in the future.
- Turn on more lights. Playing in a dark room is bad for your eyes anyway.
- Sit further away from the TV.
- Your body can get used to it after repeated sessions (a pattern of playing and getting sick, stopping, and then restarting later when you feel better until you stop getting sick entirely) when your brain finally realizes that what you are seeing and doing isn’t actually harming you. That process of getting used to it can take a while and isn’t pleasant, however.
- There are some medications that help (Dramamine, Bonine, Meclizine and Benadryl) and while they can work, they also all make you drowsy. Not good for gamers and I do not recommend them.
- Recommended Treatments: From my first hand experience, I recommend a couple of things. Ginger pills work tremendously well and don't have any side effects. You can also try special wristbands called "Sea Bands" that put pressure on a nerve in your wrist that sends the motion sickness signals to your brain. Take a ginger pill and put on the wristbands before you start playing. Combine the two for better results.
If you have any other theories about what causes your videogame motion sickness, or have any other ideas about how to prevent it, please e-mail or post advice on our User Answers page. The more people that share and the more theories we can put together, then the more people we can potentially help.
Disclaimer: I think that I have figured out at least part of what causes the problem, but I do have to state that I am not a doctor and don’t have anything other than personal observations to back up any of the statements made in this piece. If your symptoms are particularly severe, see a doctor.