The one thing stopping PSVR being truly mass market

It seems like it was Project Morpheus forever, but PSVR is right here, right now. 

Virtual Reality has come a hell of a long way since the days of those great big machines that could just about shunt around untextured polygons.

PSVR, or virtual reality in general is in a bit of a precarious state despite how ‘new’ it all is right now. We’ve already heard how Rossko might already be done with the VR scene, but there is one thing that was a problem back when we had to endure the first attempts of VR and still is a problem today. And it could be the ruin of VR.

That problem is motion sickness, or VR sickness. However you want to call it; It’s a problem.

Particularly for me as I actually have a phobia of being sick (emetophobia) which has stopped me doing a lot of things in my life. Travelling, partying too hard, and eating foods that look and smell divine. Hell I have enough grief with it in the real world, I sure as hell don’t need it in the virtual world too. It doesn’t affect everyone of course, but some, and that’s enough. PSVR is Sony’s attempt at bringing VR to the masses, the masses include me and many others like me.

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If VR is to take off in the way Sony hopes, this issue needs to be addressed.

Recently I played, or at least tried to play and review Crystal Rift, a first person dungeon crawler title that had some potential in VR. The trouble is, I just couldn’t play it. Movement in this game made me feel really sick. A short tap of the thumb stick to move forward and I thought I would need a bucket. It was the worst example of VR sickness I’ve yet encountered. Strangely though, turning was ok. I have played most of the games available for PSVR at the moment at least in demo form, in this collection and there are few FPS games; Until Dawn, Here they Lie, EVE Valkyrie, DriveClub and so on. Yes to a degree they all make you feel a bit weird, but nothing like Crystal Rift. In the case of Here they Lie, moving forward is slow and steady and turning is used by turning your head or 90 degree ‘jumps’ with the thumbstick. This reduces the effect a little, but not enough for me to make it to the end of the demo.

VR Luge is another example. I say example, but I haven’t even tried this game, just in case it does make me vom raz everywhere, which for me is the worst thing that can happen. And this is the problem. I really want to try VR Luge, but I can’t (or won’t) because of the nausea, and I know I’m not the only one who feels like this. Take Robinson the Journey for example, a £50 game that uses a similar control scheme to Here they Lie. I know that I won’t be playing it for more than 5 minutes at a time, which means I’ll be missing out on one of the BIG games coming to VR and wasting a lot of money, and so will many other people who don’t like the ‘VR Hangover’.

At the moment it’s early days in the life of PSVR and eventually over time there will be more games coming out, more proper games and not just tech demos. Think about it. At some point there will be a proper Call of Duty VR game. Titanfall 2 in VR would be immense in every conceivable way, but how could I play them? Crystal Rift was bad enough and that’s just four walls and a ceiling, imagine CoD? No thanks.

Even simple platformers like the one found in Playroom VR, I just about managed to finish but I didn’t feel good doing it. For the sake of argument, imagine if Super Mario 64 came out in VR, there is no way I could play that, one of the greatest games ever made. So, for me personally my £380 VR kit will soon be gathering dust and it won’t be anyone’s fault. It won’t be from boredom, or lack of games, it will be simply because I can’t play them.

So why does this happen? Well it’s couple of factors. Firstly it could be the VR headset itself not being able to track the movement of your head at a 1:1 ratio leaving you feeling a little nauseous and with a VR headache. Although this has improved a bit with the release of the PS4 Pro and the extra power it brings.

Mostly though, it’s because the brain and your senses are receiving mixed signals. The eyes are detecting movement, like in a FPS or driving game for example in the virtual world. The ears however, or the vestibular system of the inner ear, which relays motion and balance isn’t quite matching up because, well, we’re not walking or driving a car, we’re sitting on the sofa. That’s why we feel sick when playing VR. Not nice.

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What can be done about it? Well, I don’t really know, short of getting some implant in the ear, or having an operation to remove everything,  I have no idea, I wish I did as I would do it right now because I love PSVR. Batman Arkham VR, The London Heist, Ocean Descent, Danger Ball and Sports Bar have done a great job with VR, mainly because you’re standing still. Batman allows you to ‘teleport’ around levels so there is no worries about movement there. The trouble is they are stationary games, not really why we signed up for VR. What do we do about games with movement? Well there are those VR treadmills which could help a lot, I’ve not tried one myself but that’s a big bit of kit for the front room to be practical. I think the answer lies in what the developers can do with their games. Maybe it is the teleporting style from Batman. Maybe it’s an evolution of the slow walk and head turning from Here they Lie. Maybe there is something else out there we’ve not yet seen. I really hope there is a solution that can be found with some clever programming, or else VR could just end up a niche thing for those that have cast iron stomachs, which would be a great loss as I genuinely think VR is the future of gaming. I would hate to be missing out on the future just because it makes me feel sick.

If feeling sick wasn’t a problem, I would be on a plane to somewhere exotic rather than having to rely on VR for the experience.

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