How do I deal with vertigo from playing 3D video games?
December 26, 2003 3:41 PM   Subscribe

I get really ill when playing 3D video games. I can only take them for about an hour before I have to lie down (it goes away after 10 minutes.) I'm no moving-image slouch, I can (and in my youth, have) played 2D platform games for the entire day if I want and of course I stare at a computer all the work day with no problems. I'd like to know if anyone else deals with this problem and what they do to combat it. I'm not generally motion sick (no problems on cars, trains, planes, boats) but any game with a free camera does me in within the hour.

I guess it needs to be said that this is no important problem but it really bothers me that I can't see what they've done with the Legend of Zelda, for example! :)
posted by neustile to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I've never suffered from this problem (though I get queasy if I try to read in a car) but I've heard it told that some people suffering from this ailment can be rid of it by controlling their bodily reactions to the game. It's possible that your involuntary movement during play is giving your inner ear just enough jostling to disorient you.

Another solution -- for PC games at least, and assuming you're using a CRT and not an LCD display -- might be to play a game at a somewhat lower resolution so that you can crank up the refresh rate to something in the 80s or higher. That 60 to 75Hz blinking could be contributing to your discomfort.

Also make sure you play in a well-lit room. The stability of your peripheral vision does help control motion sickness, and if your surroundings are too dark, you'll perceive only the screen.
posted by majick at 3:48 PM on December 26, 2003

also, if you are taking any medication that might add to it -- i never had a problem playing 3d games until i started taking paxil.

but that was only a part of the side effects -- i generally kept a low grade nausea for a while until i adjusted.
posted by sugarfish at 3:53 PM on December 26, 2003

I had that problem when Mario 64 came out...for some reason, years later I was able to drag out the 3d Donkey Kong games and play with no problem.

To me it felt like some kind of eyestrain which indeed did lead to nausea. And it didn't take long-about ten or fifteen minutes-for the video sickness to hit. I do need to mention that I was on absolutely no medication when I was having the trouble-and that when I was able to play the 3D DK games I was on anticonvulsants/mood stabilizers. I have no idea if that had any bearing or not.
posted by konolia at 3:58 PM on December 26, 2003

Only advice I can give is move back from the screen. Especially if the screen is big.
posted by duckstab at 4:10 PM on December 26, 2003

I have this problem with certain games--they tend to be "bad" games, and I've always assumed that the physics in the game were sub-par, and so my brain was all, like, confused and stuff.

One thing I've tried is to make sure I'm right in front of the screen. It seems to be exacerbated if I'm looking at the screen from an angle. I've had mixed results.

Thanks, all, for the other tips, and good luck neustile.
posted by jpoulos at 4:24 PM on December 26, 2003

This is a computer specific thing to do, but try to raise your refresh rate as high as it will go, depending on your monitors resolution. If you are playing a game at 60hz, it will not be as smooth as 85hz. This is the number of times your screen refreshes itself.

Also, do you have a good video card? Dropped framerates in games can make me dizzy, so see if your computer games run smooth.
posted by Keyser Soze at 4:47 PM on December 26, 2003

What duckstab said. Also, if possible in the games you play, turn viewport bobbing and such off. A large part of motion sickness is caused by the brain not being able to handle the contradictory information coming from the eyes and inner ear regarding orientation (which is why getting on deck where you can see a lot of the horizon if you're seasick often helps. They also have gyroscopic artificial horizon projectors these days, but I digress). So first and foremost, make sure most of the picture going into your brain is of the actual world, and secondly, if you can help it, avoid having your character's direction-of-view angle to the ground change a lot.

Of course, you could also go for the traditional carsickness home cures, I have a friend who swears by ginger. I've never seen any studies showing it to be more than a placebo, but who says a placebo isn't all you need?
posted by fvw at 6:28 PM on December 26, 2003

Response by poster: Wow -- some great info. Thinking more about it, I imagine it's because the perspective changes so drastically while I'm playing; something that doesn't happen in real life. (What brought this up is playing Prince of Persia on a Gamecube today on a television. It looked like a great game but there's a lot of spinning camera and zooming stuff.)

It's interesting to me that there's millions of kids who play these games all the time, I wonder if I'm simply "too old" to get used to it; is not getting ill a learned skill from early-age practice?
posted by neustile at 7:19 PM on December 26, 2003

I also have this problem. I can play 2-D games like old school NES just fine, but 3-D makes me completely sick. I got sick playing Quake and Doom on the computer in jr. high, and I get sick playing GTA and Halo on XBox on a huge TV now. It makes me so mad because I absolutely love video games, but I have basically given up on them because of the extreme nausea it causes. The best I can figure is that maybe we suffer from a mild photosensitivity disorder. If you google it, theres are some similarities between the symptoms we have and epileptic seizures brought on by video games... it is just (obviously) not as severe for us.

Whatever it is, it sucks.
posted by gatorae at 9:27 PM on December 26, 2003

Oops, and I forgot to add that I know it is just me, since my friends can sit next to me and play the game for hours while I have to lay down and rest from being nauseous (and no, I don't do it anymore!). So it isn't a refresh rate problem.. it is something with my eyes. And I'm 21 and have played videogames for years and years, so I don't think it's some mutation that young people have adapted. ;)
posted by gatorae at 9:33 PM on December 26, 2003

I haven't played much xbox, ps2, etc., but I've noticed that I felt the worse when playing 3D games that featured lots of spinning around but little action. Perhaps my eyes were trying too hard to take in everything. I can play a 2D game like Robotron for hours and hours without troubles. In that game it's very important to track every moving item on the screen. But some 3D games I've played consist of seemingly going around and around in circles and not doing all that much. It's mostly eye candy. My head might be trying to make it more complex than it actually is. I don't know. Someone send me an xbox and I'll experiment some more.
posted by gluechunk at 10:51 PM on December 26, 2003

"The best I can figure is that maybe we suffer from a mild photosensitivity disorder"

Then why wouldn't that apply to the 2D games? More than likely it's a form of motion sickness and you should look at some of the solutions outlined above. Motion-sickness when playing videogames is a recognised phenomenon, and just because you don't get it in the car doesn't mean you won't playing 3D computer and videogames.
posted by nthdegx at 12:52 AM on December 27, 2003

Well, I dunno-gatorae may have a point. As I posted above, I no longer have the nausea problem- and the meds I am on are also prescribed to epileptics for seizure control. Coincidence?
posted by konolia at 5:27 AM on December 27, 2003

I get carsick very very easily. These wristband things help quite a bit -- might be worth a try.
posted by JanetLand at 6:12 AM on December 27, 2003

I've found that if you can "play through the sickness", like perhaps stopping when you get ill, recovering, and then going back and playing some more, eventually your body does get accustomed to most 3-D games. At least, that's how it worked in my case, and it's only when there's really drastic camera shifts that I'm not expecting that I might start to get that ill feeling again.

I used to think I couldn't play these games (I remember having real trouble with Half-Life), but after a while, I got used to it and have had relatively little trouble since.
posted by Big Fat Tycoon at 6:25 AM on December 27, 2003

Anecdote-based theory:

I have a friend who does not play 3D games because of this. He gets nauseous after about fifteen minutes of Quake, Half-life, etc. Also, he is, as the kids say, teh suck at these games.

My girlfriend: same problem to a lesser extent. Sometimes nauseous, not very good at FPS games.

I've never, ever had the problem when playing a 3D game myself, but I have gotten nauseous watching others play -- specifically the newbs who are (to be impolitic) amusingly twitchy and lousy with a mouse.

theory: it's the shakiness that's at the root of things. Depending on the game and on the player, there's gonna be a greater or lesser degree of wacky camera antics. This ties in well with fvw's viewport bobbing notion; the well-lit peripheral vision idea rings true too.
posted by cortex at 9:16 AM on December 27, 2003

There are a few things that I've discovered regarding quesyness and video games....

Often, the distance between you and the screen can make a big difference. If you're sitting really close - try moving back a little. If you're sitting really far away - try moving forward. Also, try to make sure that you're sitting in a relaxed position. I find that if I'm sitting "indian style" hunched over my controler, I can only last a little while before the whole thing makes me sick.

Another thing that can make a big difference is lighting. Many people will get sick if the screen is the only source of light. It makes the motion sickness worse because the spinny movey thing (your screen) is the only frame of reference in the room. Turn on some lights, and your eyes are less likely to think that YOU are spinning around, while your say "nope. not us."

If you're on PC - make sure your resolution isn't too high, and there are two reasons for this:
1. if the resolution is too high for the monitor, then you'll be stuck running at a low (60hz-ish) refresh rate, which can be really annoying, especially if there are lights on.

2. if the resolution is too high for the video cards - then movement won't be smooth. Either you'll have jarring, stuttering movement, or shearing (shearing is when part of the screen is updated before the other part and it looks like someone grabbed half the screen and ripped). I've only encountered shearing on a couple of games, and it made me sick and headachey.
posted by jaded at 10:34 AM on December 27, 2003

For the record, shearing shouldn't be (as opposed to isn't) a problem these days -- any decent piece of game software should do double buffering of some sort.
posted by cortex at 8:16 AM on December 29, 2003

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