Simulator Sickness and VR Legs

So it should be fairly evident that I’ve been bitten by the VR bug. Ever since the Oculus Rift Kickstarter back in 2012 it’s been on my mind, and has turned into my primary tech hobby since.

I got my DK1 back in May 2013, and since then I have demoed the unit to a plethora of people. Co-workers, family, friends, relatives, strangers… more people than I can remember. A common thing is that people get sick, although to very varying degrees. In some cases after a few minutes, in other cases not at all, ever. I figured I would try to write down what I think is the cause for this, and how it has been for me. Keep in mind that I’m not a doctor or a researcher, just a thinker :P

Motion Sickness

The demos that turns people green are mostly games with locomotion, experiences where you can either walk around or you are taken for a ride. This basically makes it the reverse of motion sickness from riding a car.

If you are a passenger in a real vehicle and you are looking at your phone or reading a book, your eyes are telling you that you are stationary as the inside of the car is not moving. This while the vehicle turns, breaks, accelerates which tells your balance that you are in fact moving.

From what I’ve heard this discrepancy makes your brain think you that you have eaten something poisonous that is affecting your senses, and the way to fix it is to make you feel ill and eventually throw up, to get rid of the poison. That makes sense to me, but I’ve never actually gone that far with motion sickness, this while I am prone to it in smaller vehicles.

Simulator Sickness

So what does this have to do with VR? Almost the same thing is happening to make you sick, just the reverse! When you are wearing a headset you are probably visually closed off from your surroundings, this means you only see the rendered computer world. This image can convincingly convey locomotion, that you are moving through the world, this while your balance tells you that you are actually stationary.  Again we have a discrepancy between inputs and your brain acts accordingly. Alas, you get simulator sick.

VR Legs and Me

For me I have gotten motion sickness in cars since I was a child, and it has hardly changed at all since growing up. When I first tried the Rift I got quite sick after just ten minutes, this had me think that I would never be able to enjoy virtual reality fully. Though, a few months later come July and my vacation, I got to play HL2 for a few weeks on a proper gaming PC. It was hard to stomach at first, but I got more and more used to it.

Eventually I could sit for as long as I wanted to, except that my head hurt from my heavy headphones combined with the headband of the Rift. Simulator sickness though? It seemed I had grown my VR legs so to speak. It is still there in the background, but the ceiling for it has been lowered. I think a graphic will help here.


For me it seemed like I would still get simulator sickness, but as I mentioned the maximum amount of sickness seems to get lower and lower. At the same time it would take me longer and longer to reach that ceiling. Again I first thought that I would never be able to acclimate, but evidently it was possible. I still have friends that get sick immediately when trying it, but they don’t own a Rift of their own as I do. Now when I have a DK2 I have lent my DK1 to one of my brothers, and he usually becomes sick after about 15 minutes. From what I’ve heard he’s already up to 30 minute sessions now! It will be interesting to hear about his progress later :)

About Andreas Aronsson

Professional app- & web-developer. Spare time multimedia experimenter, VR-enthusiast, motorcyclist. In Sweden.
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