The first time I tried a roller coaster game in VR, I regretted it almost immediately. I suddenly felt nauseous and took off my headphones—but the nausea lasted for hours.
I made a rookie mistake: triggering motion sickness right from the start of an intense race. There was such a disconnect between what my eyes saw and what my body felt.
Since then, I’ve found that I can play gentler, less disorienting games, but the nausea still starts to creep in. I began to feel dizzy from my surroundings; I developed a dull pain behind my eyes. I was starting to feel hot – it was time to stop playing.
Illnesses in VR affect many people. But finding a solution is crucial if you want to create a virtual world in which people spend a lot of time.
“The biggest problem people report is still motion sickness, but that’s getting better,” he said last year.
So, last week I tried out Meta’s latest upcoming headphones.
Unlike its predecessor, its camera lets you see the real world in full color through the headset. This means the game can be played virtually, but within your physical environment. Imagine a digital character sitting on your coffee table and you get the idea.
It’s not the first “mixed reality” headset, but it is the first to be affordable – priced at $499 (£411).
So I put on my headphones and waited for the disease to come.
I first demonstrated a technique called “first encounter.” It started in the room where I was standing. As I fired projectiles, the walls began to crumble, revealing a virtual world that I could peek into. The little green fur ball started jumping towards me.
Now, I can’t say this game is my cup of tea – but I didn’t feel uncomfortable at all.
When I play, I can see the people in the room and I can see the walls. I can move around my surroundings with confidence. The same was true when I tried other games – this is a mixed-reality game version of the hit Netflix series.
I didn’t feel uncomfortable.
I spoke with Meta’s chief product officer after the demo and asked him what his favorite thing about the new headphones was.
Mixed reality “dramatically changes the comfort level of the experience,” he said. His team knows that “context switching” – from reality to virtual reality – “can be tough.”
But here’s the thing: If the solution to VR discomfort is to avoid playing full VR, is that really the solution?
Zuckerberg believes motion sickness can be reduced through better graphics and less latency (the delay between doing something and seeing it on the headset). He hopes the better the headphones are, the fewer people will report problems.
But part of the discomfort is simply because your eyes are seeing things that the rest of your body isn’t experiencing.
So I tried a full VR boxing game. I pulled the headphones over my eyes and suddenly my surroundings disappeared.
I played for a few minutes, hitting imaginary targets. Graphics feel sharper – light years ahead of earlier models. But for me, that’s not enough. I didn’t feel uncomfortable, but an unwanted dizziness started to creep over me – my brain was still telling me it didn’t like the experience.
As Zuckerberg acknowledged, people experience motion sickness differently. Some people get seasick, some don’t. Some people have no problem playing VR for hours on end.
but I can not.
Mixed reality is still very new and there are few games yet. But for people like me who like to play games virtually but have no interest in doing so, this might be a solution.