In the race to provide the best virtual reality system, companies like Sony, Samsung, and Oculus are competing to make the tech that’s least likely to make you puke. But the persistent concerns that VR will cause motion sickness doesn’t mean that the VR on market still doesn’t cause dizziness and nausea. Most recently, consumers who purchased the newly released Playstation VR have been forced to reckon with the realization that a $400 system won’t keep them from becoming sick.
The larger issue at play may not be that VR continues to cause particular users to experience motion sickness, but rather that it may leave a whole sex behind. It’s a scientific fact that women are far more susceptible to motion sickness than men. It’s a fact that persists across car rides, boat voyages, and yes, VR experiences.
“I don’t think that this design is intentional, but it just so happens that the design of these systems push the instability buttons on some sorts of bodies,” says University of Minnesota kinesiology professor Thomas Stoffrege to Inverse. “They tend to affect shorter bodies with a lower center of mass. That is to say, females.”
Stoffrege concluded this from his own research concerning motion sickness and the Oculus Rift, and believes that the fact that women are more susceptible than men will have social and political implications.
“There will at some point be a big legal explosion about this, because now you’re marketing these technologies that are sexually discriminatory,” says Stoffrege. “This is going to be a legal problem at some point.”
To understand why VR makes women feel motion sickness at a great extent than men, you have to understand the basics of why motion sickness happens. Stoffrege explains the experience as when there is a situation that challenges your ability to stabilize your own body. When you play a VR game, especially a very realistic one, you’re more likely to try to place your actual body into the virtual environment.
“The virtual environment isn’t real and gravity is real.”
“That’s a bad idea because the virtual environment isn’t real and gravity is real,” says Stoffrege. “You never leave the physical world of gravity and you always have to control your body relative to the actual Earth. So if you try to start to control your body relative to the VR world, then what you’re actually going to be doing is destabilizing yourself relative to the physical reality that your body lives in.”
The sex differences comes in because of the physical differences between men and women. These physical differences lead to a difference in the way each sex moves and how much control each has over their body. There are also the differences in how the body responds to motion stimuli. So far, all evidence points to reality that women, with their lower centers of mass, are more likely to experience motion sickness.
Until the technology improves, there are some ways that both men and women can cope with VR motion sickness. Like some fans of the Playstation VR have theorized, consuming a little ginger before the game is likely to help although there are no guarantees (Stoffrege says ginger is understood to be beneficial but the reasons why are unknown). Chewing gum will do nothing, drinking alcohol is a terrible idea — basically, treating VR motion sickness mimics what you need to do to help motion sickness in any other situation.
“Just as in a car, I would suggest that people sit down, use a headrest, recline your chair, and get as laid back and relaxed as they possibly can,” says Stoffrege.
“Once you start to feel sick, there’s not much you can do.”Photos via Giphy, Nan Palmero/Wikimedia Commons