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'Emotionally evocative' storylines may decrease VR cybersickness

19 Feb 2020

If you feel disoriented or dizzy when you put on your VR headset and jump headfirst into virtual worlds, you’re not alone – and there’s even a term for it: VR cybersickness.

Researchers from the University of Waterloo have discovered an interesting theory about cybersickness: A storyline with ‘emotionally evocative’ details may be able to reduce VR cybersickness.

Yes, context and details immerse people in VR experiences, and can reduce feelings of disorientation, eye strain, and nausea – but it all depends on how experienced a person is with gaming.

“We found that people who had little to no experience playing video games had reduced cybersickness if they received this enhanced narrative, but regular video gamers did not need it because they were not predisposed to feeling symptoms,” says Waterloo Games Institute member and postdoctoral fellow in kinesiology, Séamas Weech. 

“What that tells us is that the actual design of the VR simulation’s storyline itself can reduce the negative impact some people experience with VR technology.”

Researchers tested their theory on 42 participants from the University of Waterloo, and then another 156 participants from a media technology exhibition.

All participants got a first-person experience with virtual reality. Before entering the VR experience, the participants listened to a story about what they were about to experience, but half were given bare-bones details, and the other half were given an enhanced narrative, which included emotionally evocative details.

According to the study’s findings, participants who had heard the story felt more ‘present’ in VR, although some non-gamers experienced reduced cybersickness.

“People with little gaming experience are highly sensitive to conflicts between VR technology and the information they are taking in,” says Games Institute member and kinesiology professor Michael Barnett-Cowan. 

“Enriched narratives seem to enhance presence and reduce cybersickness due to the decreased focus on problems with the multiple inputs to their senses.”

Games Institute postdoctoral research Sophe Kenny adds, “What’s really striking is that we saw the benefits of enriched narratives across a sample of people from 8 to 60 years of age. This brings us closer to an inclusive way to enhance experiences in virtual reality through game design.”

According to 2019 research from Global Business insights, the VR in gaming and entertainment market was worth US$4.15 billion in 2018. This is predicted to reach US$70.57 billion by 2026.

Asia Pacific is predicted to be one of the largest markets for VR in gaming and entertainment, particularly as countries such as China, Japan and India develop these technologies.  

An increasing number of professional gamers in the region will help to grow the market size in future.