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How VR Games Are Trying Not to Make You Sick

A common negative refrain about virtual reality is that it will make you motion sick when not done well. VR creators strive for “presence,” when your body and mind fully believe you’re in whatever fantastical location put in front of your eyeballs, and when presence is broken — whether due to faulty tech, inadequate controls, or poor design — that harmony falls apart and your stomach gets real angry real fast.

When I visited Sony’s press area on the final day of E3 2016, the space was largely empty, so I decided to put my stomach to the test and try a number of PlayStation VR games in quick succession. Three of those games — Resident Evil 7: biohazard, Robinson: The Journey, and Final Fantasy XV VR Experience — all utilized the first person perspective, and all tackled controls in a slightly different way to combat motion sickness — to varying degrees of success.

Final Fantasy XV VR Experience

Final-Fantasy

The Final Fantasy XV VR demo took the safest approach to navigating VR: You can’t actually move your character freely. Instead, you remain fixed in place, controlling the camera simply by moving your head. If you want to, say, avoid the tail swipe of the nasty boss character you’re fighting against, you turn your head to one of the points of light scattered throughout the area, push a button, and voilà: You’re instantly warped to that location.

While few people will likely get sick with this control scheme, it has the disadvantage of not being very fun. It felt like being at a shooting gallery at your county fair, except that you could switch between any of the guns down the line to give you a marginally better angle on your target. In other words: It didn’t really add much to the experience.

Resident Evil 7

ResidentEvil7

Resident Evil 7 leaned hard in the opposite direction, giving you free movement with the left analog stick and free camera movement along the x-axis with the right stick. A rep told me before I strapped in to take it easy on the right stick, he was right: the first time I spun around to investigate a noise behind me, I felt queasy — and not just because the game is absolutely terrifying.

After that, I treated the right stick like I was shooting a movie, with slow pans to round every corner or peer down into a darkened basement. The game subtly encourages this, intentionally or not, by placing you in the role of a camera operator for a “ghost hunting” TV show.

Once I mastered the slow pan, I actually appreciated the degree of control given to me, and of the three games Resident Evil 7 engendered the firmest sense of presence.

Robinson: The Journey

Robinson the Journey splash

Robinson: The Journey was the best of the three games purely from a gameplay perspective — think of the time you first saw the Brontosaurus in Jurassic Park as a kid and you’re close to what it feels like. It was also the most innovative with its controls.

While you can move freely with the left analog stick, as with Resident Evil 7, flicking the right stick will “warp” your view 45 degrees to the left or right. So if you want to look behind you, you just hit the right stick four times and you’re there, without any of the head-spinning motion you’d find in Resident Evil 7.

Like in all the games mentioned here, you can also look around by moving your head, but in a smart consolation to how people behave in real life, if you look at a point ahead of you slightly to the left or right, you’ll move in that direction simply by pressing up on the left analog stick. So in essence, you can control the majority of the game simply looking at where you want to go — just like in real life.

These two features combined will likely give new VR users the best chance at presence without causing motion sickness. That makes it the Goldilocks of the three VR games I played, and one you should absolutely try for yourself when it launches alongside the PlayStation VR on October 13.


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