At its best, virtual reality is one of the most immersive forms of entertainment. At its worst, VR makes its users feel motion sick in a matter of seconds.
Why do some people get really sick inside VR? It begins with the disconnect between what the eyes see and what the brain processes, or dissonance. When you’re sitting in a chair in real life but you’re moving forward in VR, chances are you’re not going to feel great pretty quickly.
Developers have created quite a few ways to navigate VR environments that reduces the dissonance between the eyes and the brain. First we’re going to examine the traversal method that only those with the strongest stomachs can handle and finally we’ll examine a few methods that heighten immersion.
This is the traversal method that some people can handle
If you enjoy gaming and you have a strong stomach, you’ll love the first-person VR shooter Onward. Here’s how traversal works in this game: You hold the Oculus Touch controllers in your hands and you push a joystick forward (or backward) to move yourself. Seems intuitive and it theoretically provides users complete freedom of movement.
The thing is, the human brain isn’t used to this because you’re not actually moving in real life and as an instinctive response, your brain will trigger motion sickness. Tell that to the pro gamers of Onward though, who seem to be able to handle this.
Forward movement in Onward
These are a few traversal methods that heighten immersion
Traversal in cockpit experiences, that use teleportation, or that use a few over-the-shoulder third-person hybrids have the ability to heighten immersion. We’ll examine each of these together.
- Pros: Stable, immersive experience with a clear expectations
- Cons: Limited freedom of movement
The cockpit is a safe, stable choice. You sit in a cockpit, typically a sci-fi spaceship, and you press a button to move forward. You can explore and move in all directions but you might be limited to vehicle-like experiences inside a cockpit.
Traversing in the cockpit of Aircar
You can whittle away hours at a time in VR piloting your starship in experiences like Elite: Dangerous as well.
- Pros: You can “walk” around and navigate a whole environment
- Cons: Have to spend mental energy actively deciding every step you take
This is one of the most common implementations of traversal. You hold a trigger forward then press a button to teleport to the location that you want to be at. It’s a good bridge option that eliminates motion sickness at the cost of immersion. You know theoretically that you’re in the experience but it doesn’t completely fool the brain. It’s a somewhat unnatural movement that takes a big cognitive load, since you have to actively choose where you want to go every time.
Teleportation in Obduction
Paired with most of these traversal methods is a tap-to-look option. In Obduction, you can tap your left joystick left and right in order to look around. This is an alternative for folks where head movement might cause motion sickness.
Tap-to-look in Obduction
There are a few traversal methods that combine a few of the elements from those above. In Rez Infinite, your third-person avatar always floats and moves toward where you’re looking. By combining camera control with movement, you can seamlessly explore immersive open worlds at length without feeling motion sickness but only from the third-person view.
I’d encourage you to try out all these existing VR experiences and get a feel for traversal yourself. You might learn a lot by figuring out what’s comfortable and what isn’t for you.
There are many ways to move around virtual reality because developers are trying to solve for immersion and motion sickness. If you have a strong stomach, you might be able to navigate VR traditionally as you would in a first-person shooter. For most people, experiences involving sitting in a cockpit or teleportation will be comfortable and immersive.