One Too Many Loops: Trying to Be a Gamer with Simulator Sickness

sickness

I like video games. I like the idea that there are hundreds of worlds just waiting for me in their cartridges, wanting me to escape from reality for a few hours to beat their levels or defeat other players in their arenas. I like video games, but I don’t play video games.

I usually conclude that I’m not a gamer because I never had a console growing up, but that’s really only part of the story. With how much video games interest me, you’d think I would’ve saved up for a console at some point. Or, you know, I could play one of the millions of computer games that are available. But I don’t, and I was reminded why yesterday.

Yesterday, I tried to play the free How to Train Your Dragon MMORPG available on Steam. I love the movies, and the idea of an immersive game experience sounded awesome. I could have my very own dragon. My own dragon. That’s all I needed to install the game and get started.

I didn’t last more than 30 minutes. I was able to play the game long enough to get my dragon (she’s an adorable Monstrous Nightmare) and do a couple rounds of flight school. Then I had to quit. Well, I had to desperately exit out of the game as quickly as my computer would let me. Not because the game is bad; those beginning stages were actually quite fun. No, I had to abandon my dragon and the game, because I was going to be violently ill if I played any longer.

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All that flying…

You see, I suffer from moderate to severe motion sickness. I’m someone who can’t be in a car for extended periods of time without feeling ill, unless I’m driving or force myself to fall asleep in the first 15 minutes. When I went to New York, I couldn’t look up, or I would get sick from the sheer massiveness of the skyscrapers. Heck, I once tried a flight simulator in a space museum in Florida and passed out on an exhibit until my band director gathered everyone to leave. My motion sickness impacts many aspects of my life and, clearly, gaming is one area that must suffer as a result.

This isn’t actually that uncommon. Lots of people get motion sick while playing video games, to the point that doctors have given it the name “simulator sickness.” You’ll know that you’re experiencing simulator sickness if you’ve had any of the following symptoms while playing an electronic game:

  • a general feeling of illness
  • sweating
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • headache
  • drowsiness
  • fatigue
  • apathy
  • general discomfort
  • and/or disorientation

If you’ve ever experienced simulator sickness, you know it’s not fun. It can really impede life experiences and what’s worse, doctors aren’t sure what causes it. In general, they believe motion sickness is caused by the inner ear (responsible for balance and general sense of direction) telling your brain something different than your eyes. For instance, if you’re playing a first person shooter, your eyes might say you’re running, but your inner ear knows you’re sitting on a couch. This confuses the brain and leads to the negative symptoms.

simulator sickness

Some even believe that the discrepancy between the inner ear and the eye messages leads the brain to think you’re suffering hallucinations due to poisoning. The brain would then instigate the nausea and related symptoms in an attempt to remove the toxin from your body. Still, these are unproven concepts. Ultimately, doctors have no idea why some people suffer motion and simulator sickness while others don’t.

Regardless, there are some things you can do to combat simulator sickness. For some, simply sitting farther away from the screen, so that stationary objects are in the sight line, fixes the problem. Theoretically, this gives the eye a stationary object to focus on so that the brain doesn’t received mixed messages. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work, especially in severe cases.

Some other minor changes that can treat simulator sickness include turning on more lights so the room is brighter, repeatedly playing the game over time so your brain gets used to it and stops making you feel sick, taking an anti-nausea medicine such as Bonine or ginger pills, or putting on acupressure wristbands that put pressure on the nerve which sends signals of nausea to the brain.

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Unfortunately for me, I seem to be one of the more severe cases. I’m lucky in that I’m able to stop gaming before I can experience the messier symptoms of simulator sickness, but I also don’t experience relief with any of the above treatments (I’ve heard that each of these treatments has worked for others though). For me, I’m relegated to not playing the games that give me problems.

Basically, any video game that looks similar to Jumper (watching that in theaters was such a bad move on my part) I need to avoid playing and, in most cases, watching. So I don’t play games that are FPS or MMORPG. I have a 3DS, but I keep the 3D part firmly shut off. I focus on games like Pokémon Y, which don’t bring me down to my character’s eye level. And I don’t play more than three rounds of Pokémon Snap in one sitting, because that’s my body’s limit.

It sucks. There are so many games out there that I’d love to play that I just can’t. And what’s worse, to me, is that there are tons of people who suffer simulator sickness, but don’t say anything. There seems to be this idea that suffering from simulator sickness somehow makes you less tough in the gaming world.

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But I don’t think that’s true. There are people out there who literally become ill by playing games, but do they stop? No. Most find a way around it, and for those who haven’t yet, I hope the advice listed above can help. I thank Cthulhu that there’s a way to turn off the 3D on my handheld so I can keep playing the games I love, even if I have to compromise and not play all of the games I love. Luckily, there are literally millions of games out there, so I don’t feel all that limited. Even if I can’t play one game, there are probably hundreds out there I’ve never heard of which are perfect for me. So, to all of my friends who suffer simulator sickness, I say…

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Do you suffer from simulator or motion sickness? Have you found anything that helps? Let me know in the comments!

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One thought on “One Too Many Loops: Trying to Be a Gamer with Simulator Sickness

  1. Pingback: E3 Day Two: FIFA 16, | Nerdy But Flirty

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