How to Avoid Virtual Reality Sickness

It's a real thing, believe it or not

woman using a VR headset
Benjamin Torode/Getty Images

You just tried virtual reality (VR) for the first time and you absolutely love almost everything about it, except for one thing, something about the experience made you very nauseous. You feel disoriented and sick to your stomach, which is upsetting because you really enjoy everything else about VR and you would hate to miss out on all the fun. Especially those VR puzzle games that your friends told you about!

Are you going to be left out of the VR party because you can't stomach it? Does this mean you'll have to miss out on this wonderful new technology?

Is there anything you can do to avoid “VR Sickness”?

Thankfully, there are some things you can do to help you get your “sea legs” or “VR legs” as they're known.

Let's look at some tips for getting rid of that sick-to-your-stomach feeling that some people may experience during (or after) their first time in VR.

1. Start With Seated VR Experiences First, Then Work up to Standing Ones Later

You've probably heard the old saying “you've got to crawl before you can walk” right? Well, for some people, that's also true for VR. In this case, if you're experiencing VR sickness, you've got to sit before you can stand.

When you first step into a fully immersive VR experience, your brain may become a bit overwhelmed with everything going on. Add the complexity of balancing yourself while this new VR world is moving around you, and it may overload your senses and bring on that sick feeling.

Look for VR experiences and games that offer a seated option, this may help to reduce problems with the effect VR may have on your sense of balance.

At this point, if you're experiencing nausea, you should still probably avoid games such as VR flight simulators and driving games. Even though they are seated experiences, they still might be too intense, especially if they simulate things like barrel roll maneuvers.

These can make even people with iron stomachs feel sick.

Once you think you're ready to try a standing experience, you might want to start with something simple like Google’s Tiltbrush or a similar art program where YOU are in complete control of the environment, and the environment itself is relatively static. This will give you experience navigating and exploring a room-scale type environment while giving you something to focus on (your painting). Hopefully this will give your brain time to get used to this brave new world and not bring on any motion-induced VR sickness.

2. Look For “Comfort Mode” Options

VR app and game developers are aware that some people are more sensitive to VR-related side effects and many developers will add what have come to be known as “Comfort Settings” to their apps and games.

These settings usually consist of various techniques to try and make the experience a more comfortable one. This can be achieved by changing things such as the user’s field-of-view, point-of-view, or by adding static user interface elements that move with the user. These visual “anchors” can help reduce motion sickness by giving the user something to focus on.

A great example of a well-implemented comfort setting option is the “Comfort Mode” available in Google Earth VR.

This setting narrows the users field of view but only during the time that the user is traveling from one location to another. Narrowing focus during simulated physical motion makes that portion of the experience much more tolerable without taking away too much from the overall experience because, once the travel part is complete, the field of view is widened and restored so that the user doesn't miss out on the sense of scale that Google Earth so grandly provides.

When you start a VR game or app, go look for the settings labeled “comfort options” (or something similar) and see if enabling them helps improve your VR experience.

3. Make Sure Your PC Can Really Handle VR

While it may be tempting to just buy a VR headset and use it on your existing PC, if that PC doesn't meet the minimum VR system requirements established by the maker of your VR headset, it could ruin the whole experience and induce VR sickness, due to system performance issues).

Oculus, HTC, and others have established a benchmark minimum system specifications for VR that VR developers are told to target. The reason for these minimums is to ensure that your PC has enough power to achieve the proper frame rate needed to make for a comfortable and consistent experience.

If you skimp on hardware and don't meet the minimum recommended configuration, you're going to be in for a sub par experience that is likely to induce VR sickness.

One big reason these specs are important is because if your brain notices any lag between the motion your body is making relative to what your eyes are seeing, any delay produced by substandard hardware is likely going to break the illusion of immersion and generally mess with your head, possibly making you feel sick.

If you’re prone to VR sickness you may want to even go a little bit above and beyond the minimum VR specs to give yourself the best possible chance for a VR sickness-free experience. For example, if the minimum video card spec is an Nvidia GTX 970, maybe purchase  a 1070 or 1080 if your budget allows. Maybe it helps, maybe it doesn't, but additional speed and power is never a bad thing when it comes to VR.

4. Increase Your VR Exposure Time Slowly

If you've resolved all the technical issues and tried the other tips above, and you're still having VR sickness issues, it may just be a matter of more time and more exposure to VR.

It may take you a while to get your “VR Legs”. Be patient. Don't try to push through the discomfort, your body needs time to adjust. Don't rush things. Take frequent breaks, avoid VR experience and games that just don't sit right with you.  Maybe come back to those apps at a later time and try them again after you have more experience.

It's important to note that not everyone who tries VR ends up getting sick or feeling nauseous. You may have no problem at all. You really won't know how your brain and body will react until you actually try VR.

In the end, VR should be an enjoyable experience that you should look forward to and not something you dread. Don't let VR sickness turn you off to VR as a whole. Try different things, gain more experience and exposure, and hopefully with time, your VR sickness will become a distant memory.