Still Sick of Games!
By Jeff "nonick" Solomon
irst things first: thank you! I've never received so much feedback to anything I've done before, and I've got to say that all of the criticism, insight, and positive remarks (and some negative, as well) that followed my Sick of Gaming article were incredibly refreshing and informative. I've learned more about sickness as it relates to gaming from reading the feedback than I think anyone can learn from reading the article itself!
With that in mind, I'd like to re-visit the issue with the benefit of all of the insight that I've gained from the shared remarks of the loonygames audience at large. So much more was discussed in the feedback, and so many interesting issues were raised, that the topic clearly deserves another run.
While the original article focused primarily on describing how games can make people sick, several additional issues were raised in the feedback. I received numerous reader testimonials about personal experiences with sickness and gaming, as well as additional hypotheses as to the cause of gaming-related sickness; a few suggestions as to how to handle and cope with sickness; and some thoughts as to other kinds of gaming-related problems and the issues that we will face as reality simulation technology improves.
First off: is this problem really simulator sickness? Clearly, having to ask a question of that magnitude indicates that there is a lot more to be said on the issue. From the research that I had conducted for the original article, it certainly seemed as though it would be logical to conclude that people who got sick from playing games were suffering from the same problem that people who became sick in game-like simulators were experiencing. However, I received a healthy amount of feedback from people who exhibited symptoms and effects that did not match my theory.
To recap, the simulator sickness theory that I posed in the original article implied that sickness from playing games arises from confusion in the body as to what is real and what is simulated. The eyes and ears might be receiving one set of stimuli (for motion and action), while the legs and arms are experiencing the sensation of staying still. The conflict between these stimuli causes the body to become confused and can lead to feelings of nausea, vertigo, and headaches. This theory is referred to in the world of reality simulators as the cue conflict theory; I didn't coin this theory myself, but I did choose to apply it to gaming as well.
However, this might not be the explanation behind every case of gaming-related sickness. For the purposes of this article, then, I'm going to refer to these symptoms (nausea, vertigo, headaches, and dizziness) as "gaming sickness," since we're not positive that it's actually simulator sickness.
Well, then, what else could it be? There has been plenty of reader feedback in direct contradiction of the cue conflict theory that shows that people have experienced gaming sickness in games that involve very little motion and action, and that there is no consistent combination of elements that lead to sickness. People have been experiencing gaming sickness for much longer than I originally speculated, and from playing games that do not necessarily ask our bodies to pretend that they're in a different environment. In a nutshell: the answer is not so simple.
Along these lines, Rich Wyckoff offers a more nuanced theory. In his words:
...what many of us may be experiencing may actually be something more akin to the Pokemon phenomenon, where all the Japanese kids got sick or had seizures due to the bright flashing lights - if this wasn't a purely psychological effect. It has been well known that epileptic fits may be triggered in a similar way. I think that it is quite possible that the less stable and more stroboscopic an image is (like the omnipresent flickering lights in Doom), the more likely these effects are to occur, which may seem similar to genuine simulator sickness.
This theory of gaming sickness is quite different from the cue conflict theory. According to Rich, gaming sickness can be brought on from a fairly static environment- even a completely unrealistic image or sequence of images- that somehow messes with receptors in the brain and causes a very severe physical reaction. Extreme cases of this phenomenon might result in seizure, but it's possible that less severe exposure might result in simulator sickness-like symptoms.
Jesse Reisman offers yet another theory:
Another contributing factor, in my opinion, is color blindness. Being Red/Green colorblind, I have problems with everyday aspects of life, such as traffic lights. My assumption had been that my eyes' confusion over reds and greens amounted to problems being able to discern clearly the game's walls and floors.
This is another interesting point, and one that raises an issue that I had not previously seen mentioned in the research I conducted. Perhaps color blindness plays a significant role in this affair.
So, we have two entirely different theories now, and I'm beginning to feel as though I'm a bit over my head. Where do we go from here? There is probably no single scientific theory that can explain every case of gaming sickness, and the answer to this question probably lies in a combination of existing theories, playing circumstances, and the biology and mentality of the people involved.
|Credits: Illustration © 1998 Mike Sanzone. Still Sick of Games is © 1998 Jeff Solomon. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited, so don't do it...it can totally make you (or us, for that matter) sick.|