Will I vomit?

Merlion with VR

Merlion with VR

This puking problem is one of the first question that comes to mind for everyone when VR is mentioned. Will you really vomit when you use the VR Head Mounted Display (HMD)?

Yes…. and no.

Anyone who has ever sat in a simulator before will experience some form of visually induced motion sickness. Normal motion sickness comes from actual motion like the bobbing of a boat or sudden acceleration and sharp turns in a car. VR motion sickness occurs because our eyes tells us that we are moving but our body does not feel it. This conflict results in feeling disoriented, nausea, eye strain and sometimes you might really puke.

Every person has their own tolerance for motion sickness, so likewise for VR. The factors that determine whether you will puke or not are:

1) VR Hardware

Woman Using a Samsung VR Headset at SXSW

Woman Using a Samsung VR Headset at SXSW. Image by Nan Palmero. Licensed by CC-BY-SA

Latency and lag are key buzzwords for VR hardware and is one of the biggest advancement in technology in this generation of VR. What they mean is the when you turn your head to look around when wearing your VR HMD, the display should almost instantaneously reflect how you should see. The holy grail is to go below 20 milliseconds (0.02 second) and current VR HMD are about 50 to 100 milliseconds which is still quite fast and they will reduce over the years.

Flicker is also another issue in that older displays have a slower refresh rate so it is very irritating to have the display flashing if you can notice it. Recent display have a higher refresh rate of 75Hz or more, so majority of users will not be able to notice it.

Also of note is that every person’s eyes are physically different. Some are wider apart, others are closer to each other, so it is very important to adjust the lens position in every VR HMD to fit properly for each individuals so that you are able to see the display properly. Other stereoscopic display like 3D TVs also face the same problem but in some of the current VR HMD, we can solve this problem as the lenses position are adjustable.

IPD adjustment on the HTC Vive Headset

IPD adjustment on the HTC Vive Headset. Image from HTC Valve Setup Guide

2) VR Software & Content

Even with the perfect hardware, puking is also possible if the software and VR content was not design properly. That is why after much experimentation with their own HMD, Oculus released a set of best practice guidelines for developers to refer to when developing software and content for VR.

It is not really obvious to the layman because in the real world, what we see and feel is not something we have to think about and is naturally inbuilt into us as we are born into the world. On the other hand, to create a virtual world, and simulate what we see to correspond to how we feel is something that require proper design to produce high quality content that is not vomit-inducing.

Here is some tips for developers on how to make your users puke:

  • low framerates (lag can be due to lousy software too)
  • in-game head movement bigger than real life
  • accelerate quickly and frequently at irregular time intervals
  • bob the user’s virtual head as the user move around
  • lower point of view so you can see the floor change more rapidly
  • display flashing bright high contrast images
  • zoom in and out to highlight scenes
  • take away control from the user to move them to a location
  • place the user interface or objects less than 0.5 metres from the user’s eyes
  • design the content such that the user has to turn their head a lot to see things

3) Experience

Generally like looking at a computer screen for too long, excessive use of VR HMD without breaks is not recommended as well. Having said that, the longer time you are exposed to VR, the more resistant you will become to simulator sickness, hence developers and hardcore gamers will feel less woozy after using VR compared to a casual or first time user.

SO….

you will vomit IF you use a lousy HMD with poor software and jerky content especially if it is the first time trying VR. Which might be what you want if you are bulimic but I hope not.

Choose a good HMD. Play good content.

Give VR more than one chance.

(Featured Image is a remix of Oculus Rift Press Kit Image and Singapore Merlion BCT by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen  Licensed under CC BY-SA )