Frustration Nation

Frustration Nation
Wired Differently

Nova Barlow | 23 Jun 2009 12:02
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Unfortunately, many game developers seem oblivious to the plight of those who suffer from VSS. There are several fights in World of Warcraft that involve flying or piloting vehicles. They're designed to showcase the variety of ways your character can interact with the world. But for someone susceptible to VSS, they're extremely difficult. By building fights that depend on "first-person" mechanisms into a massively multiplayer game, the developers insist the affected player suck it up or avoid the situation all together. For example, the final phase of Malygos, the last boss of the Eye of Eternity, requires everyone to mount flying drakes and stay clustered together in the air. It's inevitable to hear the healers shouting "Group up! Group up, dammit!" but there's only so much you can do when twisting around in the air makes you queasy.

After tackling Malygos, I thought I was done with the stupid stuff. Then came Ulduar, an instance whose first fight involves prolonged vehicular combat. To me, making such a fight mandatory in an instance filled with other, easier, optional bosses was deplorable. The first few attempts left me curled up in a ball in my computer chair with my eyes closed until the "all clear" came out over vent. With a couple weeks of adjustment, I could participate in "the gauntlet" without debilitating VSS but I knew I had fallen behind the learning curve as a result.

People don't usually choose to endure VSS unless there's some incentive, whether it's playing with their friends or simply seeing new content in a game they otherwise enjoy. The developers of Mirror's Edge helped promote awareness of the condition by explaining some of the measures they took to help combat VSS during development, such as removing head bobbing. The reaction was predictable. "Why would they take out head bobbing? Screw people getting sick," and "Why would anyone have a problem with bobbing being an option? If you don't want it, turn it off!" DICE studied the issue extensively, giving players the option to have a reticule to focus on and in using the camera to simulate the player's eyes, not the head. To combat disorientation, the game provides expansive views of the city that help preserve a feeling of stability even when the player moves quickly. As a result, Mirror's Edge, wasn't nearly as sickness-inducing as it could have been.

For players who experience simulation sickness, there's an abundance of well meaning advice, though it's rarely helpful. Articles on the topic suggest straight infusions of ginger, Dramamine and even acupressure wristbands. These are gimmicks based on traditional motion sickness remedies and unlikely to cause anything beyond temporary relief. The only things that work reliably for most players is time and patience . Each new 3-D game requires a short "adjustment" period of playing in stages until the sensation becomes more and more manageable. Unfortunately, adaptation skills don't always transfer between games, because not all 3-D games affect a VSS-prone gamer the same way.

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I've trained myself to play plenty of games over time, but every single one takes patience, and even new content packed in old favorites has the potential to set my brain askew. Mirror's Edge, whose demo initially caused me to flee towards a darkened room, has finally become playable for me. DICE's innovations in this area should not be overlooked by other developers of first-person games. There's no reason to exclude a portion of your audience because you're unaware of their needs.

Gamers with VSS want to experience new content. We want to be just as good as our friends and enjoy the same games they do. We're just wired differently.

Research Manager Nova Barlow is still considered a hardcore gamer by many, even if she had to play Portal by proxy.

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