Virtual Reality is Sickening

Put on that headset, prepare to feel ill

Escaping into a virtual world through clunky headsets is now a reality, thanks to companies such as Oculus Rift and HTC, who recently released their systems to consumers. Expect the phenomenon to only grow bigger and hit the mainstream harder as more companies jump into the mix (Sony in October) and as virtual reality moves beyond the realm of gaming.

But after being on the market for less than a month, various issues are already plaguing virtual reality headsets, and one of those has to do with health. They make people feel ill. From the time virtual reality prototypes were being shown off at events like South by Southwest and Comic Con, motion sickness has been a serious issue.

Users put on headsets that lets their minds move through different worlds and experiences. However, there’s a disconnect between the perception of feeling something and actually feeling it. It has led to many complaints about motion sickness and nausea when removing a VR headset.

E McNeill, an award-winning game creator, told NPR in 2014 about the motion sickness he was experiencing from working with virtual reality. “I just wanted to lie down and close my eyes until it went away, which usually took about half an hour.”

McNeill said the sickness passed as he was more exposed to virtual reality, but regular consumers would not have the luxury of constant exposure to combat side effects.

Companies like Oculus Rift did their best to deal with the issue before putting their products on the market, but it still seems to be a problem. Some reviews have complained about motion sickness, and companies are already working to combat the setback.

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Research facility Mayo Clinic, which has worked to help military pilots fight nausea caused from flight simulators, has developed technology that is supposed to help users combat feelings of motion sickness and nausea brought on by virtual reality.

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Called “galvanic vestibular stimulation,” it has long been used to study balance in people. It is the same electrical stimulation behind the technology from the Mayo Clinic, which has licensed out its tech to vMocion in the hopes VR headset developers will purchase and make it part of their next generation of headsets.

The electrical stimulation would include future VR headsets sending electrical currents through your head, specifically your inner ear, in the hopes of tricking your body into thinking it is actually on the move while having virtual experiences.

While exposing your brain to electrical currents just to play a video game seems a bit extreme, the researchers stand by their findings.

“The level and degree of presence that the technology conveys when you’re watching a sequence with galvanic vestibular stimulation, and when someone switches it off, is quite striking,” said Jan Stepanek, co-director of Mayo Clinic’s Aerospace Medicine and Vestibular Research Laboratory, according to Technologyreview.com.

Oculus Rift founder Palmer Luckey has already expressed interest in using the electrical currents, and Samsung is reportedly incorporating similar tech into their future VR headsets.

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While getting electrical shocks to the brain would ideally be enough to convince people virtual reality is a bit premature, it has not stopped enthusiasts and serious gamers from leaping at the chance to try VR products whenever possible.

Some have also said virtual reality’s effect on the brain has yet to be discovered as well. The American Psychological Association has reported various studies linking heavy smartphone usage to things like anxiety, depression, and nausea. Some worry virtual reality will take the next step in introducing the negative effects of technological overstimulation.

Still, like virtual reality itself, research about the health effects is in its infancy. Extreme motion sickness being an issue with consumers is the only clear truth so far, for both the public and those creating and pushing virtual reality headsets.

There are no clear answers, but it is evident that virtual reality has a long way to go before developing a real relationship with the public. The health concerns, added to other various issues VR companies are facing, suggest virtual reality may be the latest in overhyped technological breakthroughs. There’s a chance VR headsets could go the way of Google Glass and 3D TVs and wither away due to public apathy. However, with companies like Facebook betting billions on the future of virtual reality, we shouldn’t count it out just yet.

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