Oculus Rift creator Palmer Luckey explains why virtual reality can make you feel sick

It's all about matching what you see with the rest of your senses

Doug Bolton
Friday 18 March 2016 12:26
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Nicole Scherzinger tries out virtual reality
Nicole Scherzinger tries out virtual reality

Palmer Luckey, the creator of the Oculus Rift virtual reality (VR) headset, has explained why some people can get motion sickness when immersed in virtual worlds.

2016 has been hailed as the year of VR, with the launches of the Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR headsets coming up in the next few months.

However, VR device manufacturers and games developers have one big problem to solve - how to prevent users feeling sick when using their products.

Speaking to MIT Technology Review, Luckey explained what causes unpleasant feelings in some VR users.

He said that "changes in velocity" are the biggest causes of upset stomachs, since players wearing VR headsets don't get any other sensory feedback when appearing to 'accelerate' in the virtual world.

"Moving at speed doesn't actually make people sick; once you're moving and at equilibrium that's fine," he said. "The issue is constant deceleration and acceleration. It's actually the duration of that change, rather than the magnititude, that makes people change."

The problem tends to arise when the camera is moved in a way that doesn't match with users' vestibular systems - the network of senses that gives us balance and spatial awareness.

For example, doing a barrel roll in a fighter jet in a VR game would probably make some people sick, because of the mismatch between what they're seeing and the rest of their senses. As Luckey says, there's no "silver bullet" that can solve this problem.

However, Oculus has been working hard on solving the motion sickness issue over the past year, treating it like a software problem. Reviews from the gaming press at the recent Game Developers Conference, where Oculus unveiled a range of launch games, suggest that the company's work has paid off.

Luckey said that Oculus will offer 'comfort ratings' in the platform's store, to warn customers about the dangers of motion sickness before they guy a game.

He said: "I think most people are going to be able to use most things in our store, but we don't want someone who knows that they're susceptible [to nausea] to buy things not knowing what they're getting into."

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