This story has been updated. It was originally published on February 2, 2021.
Some people just cannot play first-person video games, no matter how much they like them. It’s not a question of talent—the games just make them physically ill. We’re talking about gaming sickness, a kind of motion sickness some people experience specifically when playing video games, and that comes with all the symptoms you probably already know: dizziness, nausea, sweating, headaches, and even vomiting.
If you suffer from cybersickness and are looking for a solution that will let you play long enough to finally finish Elden Ring, let us break the bad news: Unfortunately, there’s no scientific evidence that you’ll ever free yourself from the annoying grasp of gaming-related motion sickness.
But just like with regular motion sickness, there are things you can do to delay your symptoms, decrease their intensity, and even train your brain to stop triggering them.
And as much as you may want to play through the pain—don’t. It won’t work.
What causes motion sickness in gaming
We’ve got more disappointing news for you: we don’t really know what causes motion sickness while you’re gaming. But the most popular theory points to sensory conflict as the culprit—this is when your brain receives information that doesn’t match its expectations for how the world should work, causing it to get disoriented.
For example, when you walk down the street, your eyes see buildings go by and the movement of the people around you. Meanwhile, your inner ear—the organ in charge of your balance and sense of motion—corroborates this information by telling your brain that yes, you’re indeed moving. There’s no conflict. Everything is peachy.
Video games can mess up this sensory balance and affect certain people in different ways. If you’re prone to motion sickness while gaming—especially when playing titles from first-person series such as Call of Duty, Dishonored, and Borderlands—there may be a disconnect between what your eyes see and what your inner ear detects. On one hand, you see realistic movement on the screen designed to make you feel immersed in the game. On the other, your inner ear tells your brain there’s no movement at all—that you’re just sitting on your couch or your very expensive gaming chair. Those mixed messages make the brain freak out and generate a stress response, and that’s when gaming sickness occurs.
Keep it short
If you’re concerned about the negative effects of video games, the most reliable counter to video game-induced motion sickness is to play challenging games slowly, over a series of brief sessions, says Séamas Weech, a postdoctoral research fellow at McGill University, whose work focuses on understanding cybersickness in virtual reality. This allows the brain and body to build up a tolerance—a process those in Weech’s field call “getting your legs.”
“Training users to become immune to motion sickness is an intensely active area of research. Although we have no Holy Grail, we have learned a lot,” Weech says. “The best safeguard is to avoid challenging the sensory systems in the first place.”
That’s why struggling through the discomfort won’t help you—it overloads your senses. Instead, take a break as soon as you start feeling sick, wait until your symptoms have subsided, and only then try again.
Your previous experience with video games and the particular title you’re playing is key to whether this method will work for you, and how well, says Weech. These variables are the reason why there’s no saying how fast you’ll be able to increase your play time or how long it will take you to get fully used to the game you’re playing—if ever.
Avoid the big screens—and the small ones, too
We like huge displays because they allow us to see pictures in more detail, but also because they make it easier for us to immerse ourselves into what we’re watching, be it a movie or a video game. But this is exactly why you should not use one if you suffer from cybersickness.
Smaller screens are better: they won’t take up your entire field of vision, constantly reminding your brain that you’re actually in a room and the movement you see is only an image on a screen. “The room provides a stable visual reference that keeps the player grounded in the real world, which will reduce sensory conflicts,” says Weech.
If you already have a big flat-screen TV or monitor that is now making you nauseous, you don’t need to throw it away—sitting farther away from it will have a similar effect.
But don’t go too small and confine your gaming to your smartphone. Tiny screens require you to strain your eyes to make out fine details, so you’ll most likely end up with a headache, another common and annoying symptom of gaming sickness.
Keep it lit
This has a double effect. First, playing games in a well-lit room will prevent you from exerting your eyes, which will help you avoid a headache. Second, illuminating your surroundings will help your eyes understand that you’re actually in a room, not fighting zombies on the Titanic.
Control the elements
Because cybersickness is a form of motion sickness, most things that alleviate the symptoms of one work for the other—including getting some fresh air on your face and drinking cool water.
You can enjoy the breeze while you walk or sit outside on one of your breaks, or you can point a fan at yourself while you play. Weech says the latter can actually help generate the sense of physical motion that is usually absent when gaming, which will lead to less sensory conflict. Meanwhile, cool water will help settle your stomach when you start feeling sweaty or nauseous.
Get some backup
Some in the gaming community see gaming sickness as a weakness, but there’s absolutely no shame in getting some help if it means reducing discomfort and playing for a while longer.
Some studies show that ginger can have a therapeutic effect on nausea, though whether it brings significant or mild relief varies from person to person. You can try ginger tea, ginger beer, or even ginger candy. If you prefer to try ingesting it as a supplement, be sure to consult your doctor before you do so.
Another method designed to fight regular motion sickness but is also used by gamers is wearing acupressure wristbands. These bracelets look a lot like something John McEnroe might have worn on a tennis court in the ’70s, but they have a plastic insert that applies pressure to a point on the underside of your forearm, just below the wrist. Known as the P6, this acupressure point is three fingers (about 1 to 2 inches) below the base of your hand, and pressing it constantly can help relieve nausea and dizziness. If you don’t have these bands, you can achieve the same effect with your thumb.
Motion sickness glasses like the Seetröen use liquid to act as a visual reminder to your brain of the location of the horizon line. Citröen, the French car company that developed them, say they cure 95 percent of motion sickness, but there is no evidence whether or not they will work for cybersickness. If you already have some or are running out of options, though, they may be worth a shot.
Gaming glasses, on the other hand, reduce eye strain and blue light, so they may be able to prevent headaches. But just as with motion sickness glasses, there are no studies that prove these spectacles are good at calming or preventing cybersickness.
If all else fails, change the game
Some games are worse than others when it comes to motion sickness. First-person shooting games are the No. 1 culprit, while anything with super-realistic graphics can make some people’s world spin round and round in a second. If nothing’s working for you, we’re sorry, but you might have to stop playing that title entirely.
But before you give up your favorite game, see if it’s possible to change the sensitivity settings or the player’s point of view. Going from only seeing your character’s hands to seeing their entire back can help a lot, while reducing the speed of the camera movements and the bobbing of the head and guns can also make a huge difference. Don’t forget to check your screen’s settings, too—high refresh-rate displays can be nauseogenic, so bump those frames-per-second down a bit or change your display to something slower.
And if you’re still getting motion sickness, you may want to try another kind of game: third-person narrative, puzzle games, a vintage 2D title, or pre-Nintendo 64 Mario Bros., to name a few. It might be disappointing, but you may have to build up your tolerance so you can finally play titles like Halo or Apex Legends. Getting your body used to less-complex games first is a great segue into highly realistic graphics and fast camera movements.
Remember: torturing yourself by enduring your symptoms won’t help them go away any faster. Take it slow and enjoy your playtime. Games should be fun, after all.