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Virtual reality (VR) is an exciting addition to the eLearning family, but the enthusiasm can wear off quickly if people feel uneasy or outright sick while using it. One of the biggest challenges for VR applications is to create an authentic and realistic experience while keeping people comfortable. One prominent issue is motion sickness. This is caused by internal conflict between various sensory inputs, such as as the inner ears, visual fields, and bodily positions. However, motion sickness isn’t the only way to make someone using VR queasy. Let’s look at six ways you can make people sick in VR, and importantly, how to avoid them.
Six Ways to Make Your Audience Sick
Let’s start with the actual headset devices. Without getting into the technical aspects of “3DoF vs. 6DoF,” the key element for comfort is the environment’s movement relative to the user. Think of a planetarium. It surrounds you similar to a VR environment surrounds you. As you walk about, the shell remains in the same place while you move around inside of it, naturally. How would it feel if the entire shell moved while you moved? Most likely odd, you’re moving but your environment does not reflect your change of position. The early VR devices maintained a fixed position, while many of the new ones, including the Oculus Quest, HTC VIVE, and HP Reverb, provide mobility that feels natural and is less likely to cause disorientation.
Focus and Placement of the Camera
Camera placement is the largest contributor to poor VR design. The camera has certain fixed points where the image is clearest. If the actors/objects are too close or too far, then the user’s ability to focus will be strained and cause fatigue. The worst violation is camera height. If you’re building VR, then you need to take the time to test varying camera heights and their resulting vantage point as a user. Cameras are placed too high, and the VR experiences make the user feel extremely tall, which makes the experience feel unrealistic. Use the rule of thirds. You need your actor(s) in the upper two-thirds of the viewing area (like the upper two-thirds of a TV screen). When in doubt, lower the camera, then lower it again.
Position of Objects and Graphics
Artificial objects in the environment, such as menus, Q&A boxes, or navigational objects should remain relatively in the same place in the environment. For example, let’s say the environment is a room, and a door is in front of the viewer. If you place an interface button (exit, next, help, etc.) over the door, then it should always stay in the same spot (over the door), even when the user looks away from the door. It should not move in an attempt to always be in front of the viewer. That would be unnatural and disorienting.
Text and Reading
Text is hard to read in VR. Devices are getting better with higher resolutions, but text required for any interactive experience should be kept to the minimum. If the VR program involves forms or system screens, then consider blending the program with an alternative modality, like a web course, to present the initial introduction of the forms and systems. Then, use the VR for the context and usage of these items.
Uninitiated Movement and Lack of Control
Remember our planetarium? What if you stood in one place and the shell started moving? It would be disorienting. Any movement or relocation of the user should be initiated by the user. Any mobility should be initiated by the user via physical movement, navigational buttons, or relocation features, such as hot spots. Otherwise, the user will feel the effect of floating and disorientation. The lack of control over their environment will lead them to leave.
Finally, there’s a metaphor we use when building VR programs. It can be used as a positive or negative attribute, depending on how well your program is designed. “Toddler mode” refers to your user’s desire to explore the environment before engaging in your planned activity. They will look around every corner. They will attempt to pick up every prop. If they pick it up, they’ll attempt to throw it. They will work to find meaning with everything in the environment. Failure to allow this exploration will distract them. In short, they won’t hear a word you say until they are done acclimating and exploring the environment. We find it is a useful practice to intentionally designer toddler moments into every program before the learning begins. Oh, and don’t put anything in the room unless it has a meaning.