Video Games and Motion Sickness

Teenagers playing video games in living room

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Getting 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” since you can’t play certain things.

However, 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.

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 really are 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 that you have been poisoned and that you're hallucinating the movement that you are 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 due to the low field of view that makes you feel like you're falling or too low to the ground. However, 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 being said, some things that happen in video games are more likely to cause sickness. One of the biggest contributors to video game motion sickness has to do with games that have two types of movement going on at once, which is often the case with third-person and first-person shooters (FPS).

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 be the reason behind motion sickness for some people. When there's only one movement — a head or weapon bob — there might not be any sign of motion sickness at all.

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

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

  • "Half-Life" has rapid camera movement and “close, but not quite realistic” graphics that could trigger the feeling of motion.
  • "Call of Duty" has head bob.
  • "Conflict: Denied Ops" has slight head bob, but also severe weapon 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.
  • "F.E.A.R" has slight head bob.
  • "Two Worlds" is one of the worst offenders because it couples head bob with weapon bob.

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.

Games like this include "Ace Combat 6," "Blazing Angels," and "Devil May Cry 4," to name just a few. FPS games, even the "good" ones mentioned above, can set off motion sickness just by watching someone else play.

Treatment and Reducing the Risk

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 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 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.
  • Some medications can help (Dramamine, Bonine, Meclizine, and Benadryl), and while they can work, they might also make you drowsy, which isn't good for gamers and most people in general.
  • If you're not having any luck reducing motion sickness while playing certain games, you might be left having to withdraw from those games all together. Stick to games with simpler movements.