Bioshock Infinite skyline

Motion sickness, also called travel sickness, is a common condition associated with travelling and is thought to be caused by a discrepancy between what the inner ear and vestibular system sense and visually perceived movement. It can also be experienced when playing games, particularly from a first person perspective, in which case it is also called simulation sickness.

Bioshock Infinite skyline
First person titles, like Bioshock Infinite, are more likely to trigger simulation sickness

Some games are more likely to cause motion sickness than others and there are a few things developers can do to make games more accessible to anyone who suffers from simulation sickness. There is also a few things that players can do to decrease and hopefully avoid symptoms. Triggers are not the same for everyone and so what may work for some will not work for others, but here are some tips that have helped other players reduce or avoid simulation sickness:

Game settings

  • If there is an option to turn the reticule on/off, enable it. Having a point to focus on serves the same purpose and looking at the horizon when traveling in a car.
  • Turn off head bobbing, walk/weapon bobbing and shaking cam. The discrepancy between and head and weapon bobbing is a major culprit, so even if there is only the option to turn off one of these, take it.
  • Turn off the 3D display on Nintendo 3DS. Three-dimensional visuals are more likely to trigger motion sickness than two-dimensional.
  • Be aware that some genre’s are easier to tolerate than others. Two dimensional games, titles with a fixed viewpoint, god games, strategy games and isometric viewpoint games are less likely to trigger symptoms than games with a player controlled camera in an open world environment.
  • Some perspectives are much harder to tolerate. First person titles, racing or other motion simulation games and games with dynamic viewpoint changes are more likely to trigger simulation sickness.
  • Turn down sound effects, vibration and brightness. Reducing the amount of stimuli can sometimes make it easier to tolerate simulations.
  • Avoid gaming videos with player controller camera/view point.
Cities In Motion screen
The amount of movement required to view the map in Cities In Motion triggered symptoms in an otherwise very accessible game.

Tips For Game Sessions

  • Don’t fixate on it. The more you think about getting motion sickness, the more likely you are to feel sick and the more you focus on any symptoms you do have, the more likely they are to be more severe. Play the games you want to play. It’s rare for motion sickness to kick in violently, usually it builds slowly over time, providing players with plenty of time to stop playing before symptoms are severe enough to be distressing.
  • Once it starts, stop playing until symptoms subside. It’s a big temptation to keep playing and if symptoms are mild and you are playing a game that does not have many triggers, playing a little while longer usually do not have dire consequences. However, if you start playing a first person shooter and symptoms kick in early and quite severe, stop immediately and wait for it to subside.
  • Keep playing regularly. If you play often, you are less likely to experience motion sickness over time. Repeated exposure does desensitize most players against the effect to a certain extent. Simulation sickness does not disappear, but it does take longer to appear, last for shorter afterwards and is generally less severe when exposed to a familiar trigger.
  • Don’t play mobile games in a car, train, bus or other transport.
  • Focus on the reticule. Having a focus point and making use of it can reduce the effects.
  • Adjust room lighting. Try playing in a darker room, it works for some and try playing in a brighter room, which works for others.
  • Sit further away from the screen so that it doesn’t fill your vision. Personally, I prefer playing on a 24″ computer screen instead of the 40″ TV, it is just that much easier to keep the edges of the screen within my field of vision.
  • Have a healthy snack. Don’t play on either an empty or full stomach and have a few healthy light snacks at hand. Avoid excessive alcohol or caffeine whilst playing as these can aggravate nausea.
Strategy games with static screens, like FTL, are often the most accessible
Strategy games with static screens, like FTL, are often the most accessible

I suffer from motion sickness in all forms – car sickness, seasickness, air-sickness, amusement park ride sickness and I can’t watch car chases in films. It is a pretty big obstacle for me when gaming. I can’t just watch when friends play, “Let’s Play” videos on YouTube are out of the question and many game trailers cause symptoms. I don’t play racing games, I tend to avoid first person titles and struggle for even mild triggers. I have tried all the tips above and they do work for me, but even taking as many precautions as possible, I still experience symptoms when playing video games.

Simulation sickness is not something that can be programmed out of video games and with 3D, augmented reality and virtual reality as most definitely a significant part of the future of gaming, motion sickness when playing video games are here to stay. However, there are so many games being made and with the current trend of diversification, I am confident that there will always be plenty of games accessible to anyone who gets simulation sickness.

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