3D Movie Sickness, Computer Game & Simulator Sickness





With the advent of 3D movies, high-resolution computer games and virtual reality simulators, travelers are not longer the only ones to suffer from motion sickness.

Of course, visually induced motion sickness (or simulator sickness, as it's often called) is rather less distressing because there is almost always the option of stopping the game or leaving the movie theater... or simply closing your eyes! But for the dedicated gamer or movie fan it's important to find ways of controlling and minimizing the symptoms.

Visually induced motion sickness occurs when your eyes see rapid and repeated movement, but your body remains stationary. Unsurprisingly, this results in sensory confusion for many people. Reports by the US Army suggest that as many as 60% of flight trainees suffer from motion sickness during simulator training, while 3D movies such as the 2009 blockbuster Avatar made so many people nauseous that some doctors went as far as to proclaim it a public health concern.

This page is divided into three sections:


3D and IMAX Movies

Motion sickness triggered by movies and on-screen movement is not a new phenomenon. People have experienced motion sickness symptoms in movie theaters - particularly, but not exclusively, when watching footage of ships in rough seas - since the first films were screened at the end of the 19th century. Shaky camera work can also be a problem for viewers. Nausea and other motion sickness symptoms among audiences watching the Blair Witch Project and, more recently, Cloverfield - both of which were shot largely on hand held cameras - is well documented. But it is IMAX cinemas and the recent trend for 3D movies that has really focused attention on the problem and has made 'movie motion sickness' a phenomenon.

So, if you're a movie fan, what can you do? Well, for a start, don't even think of sitting in the front row in the movie theater! Looking up at the IMAX screen or viewing 3D effects at a 45 degree angle will distort your view even further.

Sit as far back in the movie theater as possible and as central to the screen as you can. A central position will give you a direct view of the screen and therefore the least distortion. It will also allow you to keep your head straight while you are watching, where as sitting to the far left or right of the screen will give you an uncomfortable oblique view and force you to crane your neck.

Try to look away from the screen regularly. It only has to be for a moment - a quick glance at something stationary (such as the row of seats in front, a doorway or even your own hands) may be enough to 'ground' your senses and prevent the onset of motion sickness.

Of course, if you start to feel ill you can always close your eyes. But before you do this, first try closing just one eye - by cutting down on the visual simulation this may give some relief (particularly in 3D movies).

It is probably better to keep your 3D glasses on, even if you start to feel unwell. Taking them off will force your brain to try to make sense of the blurry overlapping images, which is unlikely to make you feel better. Close your eyes instead.

This article has interesting info on film techniques and developments regarding the 3D glasses that may reduce audience sickness in the future, while an optometrist suggests that inability to comfortably watch Avatar may be evidence of an underlying vision problem, a treatable condition called Convergence Insufficiency. 3D sickness is something we're going to hear more about as 3D entertainment goes mainstream.

In the meantime, if you're having problems, you may just have to stick to the 2D version.


Computer and Video Games

Computer and video games have introduced motion sickness to a whole new audience! Surprisingly, considering how widespread the problems appear to be, this issue isn't much discussed - the reason seems to be that not being able to play certain games because of nausea is generally seen as a weakness among gamers.

As with every form of motion sickness, this 'computer game sickness' affects everyone differently. Some can play any game for hours on end with no problem at all. Others can manage only a few minutes on certain games. First person shooter (FPS) games, with their fast-turn speed and motion blur, seem to be the worst ones for triggering motion sickness - both for the person playing and anyone watching. However, I'm not going to go into which games particularly cause motion sickness (there are plenty of games forums that will help you with that question...), but rather suggest a few ideas that may help.

Some gamers experience a period of motion sickness with each new game they play, and find that the symptoms recede and eventually disappear after three or four playing sessions (i.e. they become desensitized to the games unique movements). Others, however, find that the symptoms don't go away, no matter how long or often they play. In these cases, your options - other than switching off of course! - are fairly limited, but there are a few things you can try:

  • Play in a brightly lit room. I know many gamers prefer to play in the dark, but putting on all the lights may be a simple way to 'cure' your motion sickness. This can work for some people because having the light on makes your brain more aware that the game is just that - a game, and that you are still sitting in the real world. Turning off (or turning down) the game's music and sound effects may also help to 'ground' you.
  • Talking of sitting, good posture will help to prevent nausea. Sit up straight and try to keep your head square on your shoulders, rather than slouching, slumping or hunching in front of the screen (which will all distort your view of the action on the screen). If you find it hard to maintain good posture try using a kneeling chair.
  • Moving around on your chair can also help, especially if your movements echo what's happening on the screen. Perhaps try using a rocking chair, or swiveling on a desk chair? Rumble Paks, intended to immerse players further in the game, may actually help relieve mild motion sickness, as being able to feel some vibrations and movements that fit with the action on the screen will lessen your brain's sensory confusion.
  • Glance away from the screen every few moments. It only has to be for a second or two, but by looking at something real and not moving, you'll remind your brain that you are not inside the game. If you don't feel you can look away from the screen then bring your hands up into your field of vision and focus on them for a moment.
  • Take a break for a few minutes every hour or so. Get up and move around. And have a drink - dehydration is a big trigger for motion sickness and nausea.
  • Don't sit too close to your screen. Sitting further back will give you a little more peripheral vision, which helps to anchor you in reality. As with playing with the lights on, you may find that this is a toss up between relief from your motion sickness symptoms and full enjoyment of, and immersion in, the game.
  • Wide screen monitors can also be a problem as they block much of your peripheral vision. Again, push your screen back a little, or experiment with using a different (smaller) screen and see if it makes a difference.
  • Set your monitor to the highest possible refresh rate (if you have an old CRT monitor, this does not apply to flat screens/LCD screens) and the game to the highest possible frame rate, and experiment with the various view options. Using the 'always centered' view may help. Where possible, use the game options to turn off the 'bobbing' action of your avatar and weapons. You may find that without the constant bobbing movements you can play fine.
  • Of course there are a number of remedies available. Ginger is always worth trying (munch a ginger cookie or drink ginger ale), and you may find that acupressure wristbands give relief. As most gamers play very regularly, medication is probably not a good idea.
  • Finally, have your eyesight tested, and in particular your binocular vision. As with an inability to watch 3D movies (see above), it is possible that motion sickness when gaming is down to Convergence Insufficiency - a treatable condition.


Simulator sickness and Cyber sickness

Simulator sickness caused by flight and driving simulators and cyber sickness in virtual reality environments is well documented. The problem is on such a scale among military recruits and trainees (it appears to be a particular problem with head-steered virtual reality combat simulations) that the US Army is funding extensive research on finding ways to reduce and/or control it.

Again, the nausea and dizziness are caused by the incomplete and inconsistent information received by the brain: the eyes report rapid movement while the inner ear and other sensory organs report that the body is not infact moving at all. Non-motion (i.e. screen only) simulators are generally much worse for causing motion sickness than full-movement hydraulic ones (where the on-screen movement is matched by the movements of the simulator pod).

For those unable or unwilling to avoid simulator and virtual reality situations, the best advice is to use regular time-outs. Limit the length of your sessions and get out of the simulator and walk around before starting the next session. Giving yourself a time-out as soon as you start to feel the first symptoms of motion sickness has been shown to be more effective in building up tolerance and desensitizing yourself to the experience than continuing until you are actively ill.




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