Video Games and Motion Sickness

What you need to know

Motion sickness while playing video games affects a lot of people. Unfortunately, it seems an almost taboo topic among gamers, because you might not be seen as “hardcore” if you can’t play certain things.

But, getting motion sickness from playing games is not something to just ignore. You might be suffering from headaches, dizziness, nausea, heavy sweating, and excessive production of saliva—nothing enjoyable, to say the least, and especially nothing to brush off lightly. Here's what you need to know about the ailment and what you can do to help prevent it.

Person playing a video game and getting motion sickness
Lifewire / Catherine Song

What Is Motion Sickness?

Motion sickness caused by video games sometimes called "simulator sickness" (it was first identified during use of flight simulators), is caused when there is a disconnect between what your eyes are seeing and what your body is feeling. The same experience can happen any time you think you're moving when you're really not. For example, if you've been in a parked car when the car next to you starts to back up, you might think you are moving even when you're not, and it can trigger a sick feeling in your gut.

The most common theory about why you get sick is that your body thinks you've been poisoned and you're hallucinating the movement you're seeing but not feeling. This causes you to get nauseated and—if you don’t stop playing right away—vomit in order to flush the "toxins" from your body.

How Do Games Cause It?

Obviously, not all games cause motion sickness, but what is it about certain games that do? For some, it can be the low field of view that makes you feel like you're falling or too low to the ground. But, in most cases, it all comes down to camera movement and having something on which to focus your eyes.

No single motion sickness standard can be applied to all people. Where one person might get sick from a game like Guitar Hero or Rock Band, someone else might be able to tackle any 3D experience without even slight dizziness. It's completely subjective.

That said, some things that happen in video games are more likely to cause sickness. One of the biggest contributors to video game motion sickness are games that have two types of movement going on at once, which is often the case with third-person and first-person shooters.

For example, a head bob (as you walk, your view slightly bobs up and down) and weapon bob (your weapon moves up and down) paired together can easily cause motion sickness for some people. When there's only one movement— a head bob or weapon bob, but not both—there might not be any signs of motion sickness at all.

Basically, if you can focus on something stationary, like the on-screen gun or the wall in front of you, you might notice a reduction or elimination of motion sickness. When everything is moving at different speeds and you can't hold your focus on one thing, that might be when motion sickness creeps in.

Here are some games that might cause motion sickness, and why:

  • Call of Duty has head bob.
  • Halo has gun bob.
  • BioShock has gun bob.
  • Gears of War has a camera following you around in a sort of realistic way, so while the camera bobs on its own, Marcus' head bobs, too.

Other games can make you sick from just watching. You don't even need to be involved in the gameplay. These are usually games with player-controlled cameras. When you're watching someone else play and the camera isn’t reacting and moving the way your head thinks it should, you feel motion sickness.

Treatment and Reducing the Risk

If you feel any symptoms of motion sickness, stop playing immediately. Try to open a window, or go outside, and get some fresh air.

If you do experience motion sickness from video games, you can do a few things to hopefully prevent it in the future.

  • Turn on more lights. Playing in a dark room is bad for your eyes anyway.
  • Sit farther 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. Do this until you stop getting sick entirely and your brain finally realizes that what you're seeing and doing isn’t actually harming you. That process of getting used to it can take a while and isn’t pleasant, though.
  • Some medications can help (Dramamine, Bonine, Meclizine, and Benadryl), but they might also make you drowsy.
  • If you're not having any luck reducing motion sickness while playing certain games, you might be left having to withdraw from those games altogether. Stick to games with simpler movements.