Video games suddenly make me sick?
January 7, 2008 8:09 AM   Subscribe

So, I guess I'm getting motion sick now?

I've been playing electronic games - video games, computer games, that sort of thing - for an awful long time now.

Maybe 15, 20 years.

The first FPS I can clearly recall playing is Descent, way back on my 386/SX20.

I've never had any kind of physical reaction to playing a video game, save one - for some inexplicable reason, playing Quake 2 used to cause me some sort of awful motion sickness. I would get a headache, get nauseous, get incredibly hot and tingly. It was not a good scene.

I attributed it, at the time, to just being something particular about Quake 2. The lighting, the color palette.. I don't know, exactly.. but since it had never happened to me before, and hasn't happened since, I just kind of chalked it up to some kind of oddity and moved on.

In the time since, I've played a lot of FPS games - Quake 3, Half-Life, Half-Life 2, No One Lives Forever, Call of Duty, Halo... on a console.. on my PC...I mean, if it's been a popular FPS game, I've probably played it, and aside from a slight case of carpal tunnel, everything has been fine.

Except - about a year ago, I bought an X-Box 360 and a copy of Gears of War. A friend and I hunkered down in front of my 27" TV and started to play through the game on the cooperative setting, and several hours later, I found myself in that strange place again - a headache, nauseous, hot all over - and I thought to myself, "Oh my God! Another game that makes me sick! How crappy!"

I've tried to play Gears of War several other times, and the result has always been the same.

Over the last year, I've continued to play FPS games on my PC - Half-Life 2: Episode 2, Portal, Team Fortress 2 - and I haven't had any trouble.

Two weeks ago, a bunch of friends and I got together to play some Halo 3 multiplayer... I was on the TV downstairs (a big 42" HD dealie) with a partner, playing with a matching pair of friends upstairs. After about 45 minutes, I felt the getting-more-familiar grip of sickness, so I stopped playing.

Later in the day, I convinced myself that it, perhaps, had something to do with the cooperative mode of these games. With both Gears of War and Halo 3, my experience has been almost exclusively in a split screen environment. I rationalized that perhaps the movement of the 2nd player was somehow getting caught up in my peripheral vision and was causing some sort of schism in my brain, resulting in me getting sick. I based this conclusion in part on the fact that my motion-sickness seemed much less prone to occur when I was playing a multiplayer versus game, as opposed to a cooperative game. The logic being that in a co-op game, I need to be aware of where my partner is, so I look at his screen much more often than during a deathmatch, where I try not to look at my opponent's screen.

So, later in the day, I performed an experiment - I claimed a TV for myself, and forced the rest of my friends to play on another machine. We played for three or four hours straight, and I felt fine.

Well, that's great - except last week I bought Call of Duty 4 for my X-Box. I hunkered down to play it by myself and, wouldn't you know it, after the first mission I felt like I was going to die.

This was, again, on my 42" HD screen. I mention this only because yesterday, being stubborn as I am, I took my X-Box over to my girlfriend's house and played Call of Duty on her 27" TV and played for about two hours without any ill effects.

What the hell!

This is very, very, very irritating. I do not like getting sick, yet I do not want to stop playing games.

So, I've considered the possibility that it has something to do with split-screen gaming, but that doesn't seem all that likely.

I've considered it has something to do with having it be on such a large TV - but when I got sick playing Gears of War the first time, it was on a smaller screen.

Someone also mentioned it might be a side-effect of some medication I'm taking - Cymbalta for about the last 6 months, Celexa before that.

Any ideas of how I might prevent motion sickness, aside from, um, if I were to stop playing these kinds of games? I know there's medication to address motion-sickness, but I've often heard that it can cause drowsiness.

Also, any ideas on what might be causing it? I mean, it seems like it's really only been an issue for the last year or so, whereas before that I was pretty immune.
posted by kbanas to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Concur on the weird side effects explanation. I have known other people on these meds who also had very unusual effects. Suggest you see a doctor...
posted by arimathea at 8:22 AM on January 7, 2008

I have heard that people are experiencing motion sickness in CoD4 because of the field of view. Some people say that typing /fov_80 into the console will help (default is 65).
posted by Comrade_robot at 8:26 AM on January 7, 2008

I've had these bouts of nausea as a gamer from time to time, almost always from playing games on a TV. I'm not a doctor (or an optical physicist) but I recall the main culprit being the refresh rate (old, non-LCD TV's operate at 30 Hz, and you can push your computer monitor up to 70-85 Hz and higher [which I once read was the point where your eyes cannot discern the actual refreshing, and it virtually removed all eyestrain I got from my computer]).

But with an LCD TV, there's no refresh rate, so that theory is bunk. I've experienced the motion sickness with playing on a big LCD TV, and for me it was the fact that I was sitting far too close (I was visiting a friend). Googling for TV distance notes that for 42", the comfortable viewing distance is 5.25-8.75 feet. Not sure if that's much help.
posted by BenzeneChile at 8:34 AM on January 7, 2008

I've had this, most memorably in two different scenarios:

- playing Unreal tournament on laptop or old desktop LC displays
- playing Wolfenstein 3D

I'd blame #1 on subtle timing/ghosting issues caused by a slow display and suspect it's what's happening with your TV. Since #2 seemed to happen even on my 21" CRT with 100Hz refresh, I'm pretty sure it was an FoV issue. Seconding a variation in viewing distance to toy with the apparent FoV
posted by themel at 8:46 AM on January 7, 2008

This happened to me. Though it was only Katamari, which I had played for a very long time. All of a sudden, I cannot play it because it makes me really ill. Everyone else seems to have better answers, and they don't apply to me, so it could be unrelated. At any rate, I'm surprised that anyone else had a similar experience. I assumed it was just a freak thing.
posted by unknowncommand at 9:05 AM on January 7, 2008

You might try motion sickness wristbands. They are out of stock on Amazon, but most drugstores carry them.
posted by happyturtle at 9:18 AM on January 7, 2008

This first occurred to me playing GTA - VIce City and again playing San Andreas - I attributed it to the odd POV featured in those games - since you are looking over the main character's shoulder, every turn is a weird pivot which after a while made my stomach lurch.

I have experienced similar (but reduced) symptoms playing HL2 for the first time recently. I have been able to manage the problem in GTA by gradually inoculating myself and limiting game-time to short segments until I become inured to the effect. After a week or so of gradually increasing the segments of time I was playing GTA, I could play it for hours on end without any ill effects. However, after months of not playing I went back and immediately got sick playing GTA.

So try to play for short spans of time at first, then gradually increase your exposure. This may result in the problem going away.

I have always been unusually sensitive to motion sickness, seasickness, etc,: so these problems came as no real surprise for me.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 9:26 AM on January 7, 2008

You don't say how old you are. But if you're in your early 40s + it is possible your eyes are not as good as they used to be (age related). And this may be contributing to your nausea. IANAD.

That being said, when was in my early 40s I started experiencing what I thought was vertigo. To make a long story short (with a couple trips to "dizzy" specialists) it turned out that my eye muscles were spasming. Essentially, I was working my eyes too hard trying to focus but I wasn't consciously aware of it. In addition, my eyeglass prescription wasn't right. Once I understood what was happening, got the right prescription, and took it easy on the video games, it got better.

I'd recommend getting a good eye exam as a place to start.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 11:37 AM on January 7, 2008

Is it possible to sit further away from the tv? How about a different position (lying down vs. sitting, etc.)? Our bodies are tuned to match input from the eyes to information we get from the ears about balance. When they're out of whack it's assumed we've eaten something bad and need to get it out before it kills us, hence the nausea. And just to complete the picture, if it continues after that point the body assumes there is blood loss and shuts down blood flow to the limbs to keep as much as possible in the abdomen, where all the really important stuff is. That might be the tingling in your limbs.

You've already centered on the FOV perspective, which is important because of how much information your eyes are taking in that doesn't match with what your ears are saying. Outside of the game you can accomplish the same things by sitting further away, or you might try moving your head slightly in the directions you are looking in the game. It might feed just enough info via the ears to address the problem.

Like BLB, you might also try training your brain to accept the differences using the FOV settings people mentioned above. Play a week or two at one setting, increase by a few every other week, and see how far you can take it. One specific thing there though - be sure you sleep enough (8 hours if possible) every night so your brain can process the changes. Time off when you are awake doesn't cut it for whatever reason.
posted by jwells at 12:05 PM on January 7, 2008

Just to let you know, the same thing happened to me. I played games for years with no problem. Then I started getting really sick when I was playing Goldeneye (ages ago!), except what was odd is I had been playing Goldeneye for several months and not had a problem, it just came on suddenly and it didn't happen with any other games. I assumed it was due to the POV of the game, as someone mentioned above. I don't have much in the way of advice unfortunately, but I have heard that the wristbands help.
posted by triggerfinger at 12:17 PM on January 7, 2008

I also suffer from this same fate. I'm usually relegated to playing 2-D games as a result of it (I love my DS for this very reason).

However, when I need to play 3D games for short periods of time, Ginger pills are the only thing that have helped. If I take two ginger pills 20 mins before I start playing (about 1000mg), I'm usually good for about an hour. Then, I need to take a break.

Without the pills, I'm lucky if I can last 10 minutes. Some say it's a placebo, but I don't think that's it. I'm extremely susceptible to motion sickness, so I'm fairly certain there's something more going on here than just the placebo effect.

Ginger pills are relatively cheap and you can easily find them in supermarkets/health food stores.
posted by plasticbugs at 9:27 PM on January 7, 2008

I'd also like to add that the Mythbusters also tested Ginger for motion sickness and confirmed that it worked.

Go get some ginger!
posted by plasticbugs at 9:36 PM on January 7, 2008

I'd also like to add that the Mythbusters also tested Ginger for motion sickness and confirmed that it worked.

For two people. Check the other threads, like a lot of home remedies (and pharmaceuticals, actually) ginger appears to help some folks but has no effect on others (me, for instance).
posted by mediareport at 11:32 PM on January 7, 2008

Nausea sounds like motion sickness alright, but from my own experience of it and accounts of motion sickness I've read "headache... incredibly hot and tingly" not so much.

Those seem to be edging over into seizure territory to me. Both Celexa and Cymbalta are contraindicated for people with seizure disorders, and seizures are listed among the side effects of Celexa here.

I think you should go back to your prescribing physician, tell him or her what's happening to you, and try to get a referral to a neurologist.
posted by jamjam at 9:04 AM on January 8, 2008

I've gotten this only from games that have a 'head bob' effect, where the players hand or head is always subtly moving. And, like you, I played games for years before it ever happened.
posted by Four Flavors at 5:10 PM on January 8, 2008

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