Are You Sick of Games? (continued)
By Jeff "nonick" Solomon
This theory can be illustrated by what I call the "simulator sickness hump," because it traces the prevalence of simulator sickness in conjunction with technology advances along a line that curves upward for a while (more simulator sickness with newer technology), then moves back down (less simulator sickness with even newer technology).
In my theory, which is illustrated in the diagram below, technological advances in gaming will continue to contribute to greater instances of simulator sickness for quite some time. At a point in the future (it's hard to make an estimate of when), these advances will begin to reverse the trend, being so advanced that they actually can mimic reality in a nonthreatening manner. Once these technologies are commonplace, simulator sickness will not be a common side effect of playing video games anymore.
In the above diagram, the red area represents the "danger zone," which is the period of time that we're currently occupying on the timeline. In the danger zone, our technology is good enough to invite us to immerse ourselves in games, but not quite ready to hold up its end of the bargain. Simulator sickness can result. We'll get beyond this problematic period of time eventually, but until we reach a point where we can develop hardware and software that is capable of providing a safe and accurate representation of reality that "works" for our senses, there are going to be increasing numbers of people who simply can't play these games.
This is still just a theory, of course, as is much of the information contained in this paper. There is no clear-cut cause for simulator sickness, and no easy way to eliminate a particular game's tendency to induce it.
How can developers help fix this problem?
With this in mind, what can developers do to lessen the ill effects of simulator sickness in the games they create? Focus on the rendering engine, and make sure it is as accurate, stable, and realistic as possible. Sacrificing CPU cycles from the rendering engine so that enemies look detailed and menacing can lead to situations where the "reality" of the game breaks down. It is essential that the 3D world of the game is presented as realistically as possible, and that objects with physical properties behave as expected. Compromises such as lag, dropped frames, outright pauses, and compensational jumps ahead- things that we're all used to and take for granted in even the newest and most sophisticated games and hardware- wreak havoc on our senses.
Sound is also critical. Games that calculate sound effects based on the intrinsic physical properties of a given environment will most likely help to ease simulator sickness, if done well. In these kinds of games, the sound cues that we hear will most likely match up with our mental image of the environment in which we exist. An enemy stomping through a room right behind us will sound much closer than someone firing a bazooka three floors below. The echo of a shotgun blast in a large chamber will be much louder, and will last for longer, than it might in a room shrouded with luxurious satin curtains. Again, we know this to be true, and can make intellectual allowances for games in which things don't work this way, but these little details really help to put our senses to ease, and the absence of them can causes problems.
In terms of realistic sound design, Trespasser comes to mind, because it is one of the first games to use a physics based sound system. It will be very interesting to see if Trespasser helps solve simulator sickness problems or actually makes them worse. In other words, how far along the simulator sickness hump will Trespasser fall? Is it simply a better version of our current technology, which invites us into the game but then confuses us, or does it really work to make us feel more at home in the world of the game?
It boils down to a simple statement: make virtual reality less virtual, and more real. That's the bottom line. All of these problems arise because we are trying to recreate reality and, so far, we have not been able to do a realistic job.
But we're getting there. The "some point in the future" on my simulator sickness hump diagram will surely come sooner than we expect. Despite the fact that the games we have today are "not good enough" in terms of how they present reality (at least as far as our senses are concerned), this period of time is a necessary adjustment while we continue to improve our technology and learn from our mistakes.
Five years ago, developers didn't have to worry about making people sick from sacrificing frame rates. Now they do, and they will work to improve their games. In a sense, we're now in the "touching the stove" phase of development. Once we've burned ourselves seriously, we'll probably never make the same mistake again.
|Credits: Are You Sick of Games? is © 1998 Jeff Solomon. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited, so don't do it, as it can make you (or us, for that matter) really sick.|